Current Externally Funded Research Projects by Mary Fulbrook

Reverberations of War: Communities of Experience and Identification in Germany and Europe since 1945

Principal Investigator: Mary Fulbrook
Co-Investigator: Stephanie Bird
Research Fellows: Julia Wagner, Christiane Wienand

This project analyses reverberations of the Second World War across Europe through the Cold War and beyond, shedding new light on the complex legacies of war for generations of Europeans, and, through coordinated in-depth studies, developing a new theoretical approach. It is supported by a grant from the AHRC totalling £848,828.00.

The project focuses on a selection of inter-related themes which intrinsically connect a later present to a difficult past: reckoning, reconciliation, reconstruction and representation. Each implies – despite the linguistic connotations of ‘return’ – an attempt to build anew under changed circumstances. Such attempts are coloured by later social, political, and also emotional and cultural contexts, in which imaginative engagements in film and literature play a powerful role in shaping aspirations and perceptions; hence the involvement of literary scholars as well as historians in a collaborative, inter-disciplinary team.

The research takes a broad European focus, going beyond the writing of parallel national histories by looking at the experience of war-related violence as a phenomenon transcending the (changing) borders of European states. By looking at long-term legacies through a transnational and comparative lens, the project develops a deeper understanding of national discourses and specificities as well as discerning the European dimensions and relatedness of the various experiences and discourses. While German aggression in World War Two is the point of departure, the project does not look at Germany or any other country as an isolated case but in a constantly changing, wider framework. The project seeks to bring a genuinely multi-disciplinary approach to this complex, highly sensitive area, ranging from insights and provocations in the cultural arena, through familial and social reverberations, to political instrumentalisation and intellectual controversy in public spheres. The collaborative approach promises to develop fruitful new insights into areas which, although already extensively treated separately, have not as yet been conceived and reconsidered in this integrated way.

Seminars and informal workshops will take place regularly at UCL. International workshops and conferences will be held annually, including a workshop in Poland in 2012. A larger conference will be held in London in 2013.

Other current research projects

Currently completing a book on Ordinary Nazis. Reflections on Memory, Terror, and a Small Town in Poland (OUP, 2011). This explores the development of Nazi racist policies and genocide in Będzin, a small town in Eastern Upper Silesia just 25 miles north of Auschwitz. More Jews were deported through the ghetto of Będzin-Sosnowiec than from the whole of occupied France; some 50% of the population of Będzin was ultimately murdered as a result of Nazi oppression. Based on a rare and rich collection of sources, the book explores the implications of systemic violence and the role of German civilian administrators as ‘Hitler’s willing functionaries’, and reflects on the character of later ‘memories’, in an effort to probe beyond the familiar focus on acts of physical violence and atrocities.

An  offshoot from other recent research (see below) is a book on Living through the GDR: Life Stories in Historical Context, which presents, explores and contextualises memories of life in East Germany derived from oral history interviews, and raises wider questions about the relations between subjectivities and structures in history. 

Past Externally Funded Research Projects by Mary Fulbrook

1. Leverhulme three-year Major Research Fellowship (2006-09) worth £126,206 to work on a book entitled Dissonant Lives: Generations and Violence through the German Dictatorships (Oxford University Press, 2011).

This book seeks to take a new look at the twentieth-century German dictatorships by exploring the experiences of different social generations from the First World War to German unification in 1990. ‘Living through Dictatorships’ is to be understood in two senses: not merely the ‘chronological’ sense, referring to the experience of surviving ‘through’ a period of dictatorial rule; but also the sense in which people are in part constituted by, and at the same time actively use, the structures of power within and ‘through’ which they seek to make their lives. Both in terms of its theoretical approach – developing a notion of ‘history from within’ – and methodologically, in terms of the presentation of history through a combination of individual and collective biographies and structural analysis, this book seeks to break new ground.

2. AHRC-funded research project (2002-07) worth £281,106 on The ‘Normalisation of Rule’? State and Society in the GDR 1961-1979.

This explored the relative stabilization of the middle decades of East German history in the light of the concept of ‘normalisation’. This is an ‘ideal type’ (in the Weberian sense) referring to processes of stabilization, routinisation, and internalization of new dominant norms, such that people increasingly adapt to and learn to live according to the rules of systems of power that were initially imposed by force, yet over time increasingly coming to perceive their own lives as ‘perfectly normal’. Through a combination of in-depth local studies and broader analyses of the links between national developments and grass roots attitudes, the project sought to develop a new, empirically-based theoretical approach to interpreting the contentious history of the GDR.

The project was based at UCL, in liaison with colleagues in the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam, and with Prof Alf Lüdtke of the Max Planck Institut für Geschichte, Göttingen and the University of Erfurt.

3. AHRC Additional Public Dissemination Award of £10,500 to make a documentary film about GDR history, society and culture, entitled Behind the Wall: ‘Perfectly Normal Lives’ in the GDR?, based on archival material, location footage, and oral history interviews. Copies of the DVD are available on request.

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