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GERM4124 - Social History of the GDR

Value: 0.5 course units / 30 MA credits
MA module code: GERMG006
Tutor: Gaelle Fisher
Teaching structure:
Assessment for GERM4124: one assessed 4 000 word essay (100%).
Assessment for GERMG006: one assessed 6 000 word essay (100%).
Available to: Final Year students and MA students


Module Description:

This module explores politics and society in the GDR in the light of wider controversies over how best to interpret the ‘second German dictatorship’. It focuses on the ways in which a peculiarly intrusive regime sought to bring about a better, more equal society amidst the ruins of the defeated Third Reich, in the context of the Cold War; explores people’s perceptions of the new state, and the ways in which they sought to ‘make their own lives’, despite the constraints under which they lived; and asks how it was that the communist vision of human emancipation culminated rather in political constraint, economic decline, and eventual revolution.

How did the new Soviet-backed communist regime try to transform Germans; and how did the new communist regime in East Germany deal with the legacies of Nazism amid the ruins and rubble of a post-war society? How did people who had so recently fought on the eastern front against the ‘Bolshevik menace’, who had fled from lost provinces in east Prussia, Silesia and elsewhere, and who had experienced rape and robbery by invading Red Army soldiers, come to terms with the official line that they had been ‘liberated’ by their Soviet ‘friends’? Had did people rework their own biographies and ‘come to terms with the Nazi past’?

And how did different groups deal with the new present, a dictatorship of very different ideological colours? Was the East German regime always based on force and fear, or was there ever a period of stability, widespread conformity and acceptance (and if so, among whom)? How far did patterns of behaviour and popular attitudes change as result of regime policies – expropriation of private property, fostering of social mobility, measures for the emancipation of women – and how far as a result of long term social and economic trends such as industrialisation and urbanisation? What sorts of subcultures developed and existed within the interstices of this highly organised society, and with what political and social consequences? In what respects did ever-increasing Stasi surveillance affect everyday life? How did different social groups make sense of the past, intervene in the present, and make their own mark on developments in the GDR?

This is an advanced, research-oriented module. Students are expected to put considerable effort into analysing primary sources in the context of relevant debates in the secondary literature, and formulating their own theses on each topic.