Beyond Glitter and Doom: New Perspectives of the Weimar Republic
An international conference at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London
Thursday, 30 September – Friday, 1 October 2010
Co-Ordinators: Jochen Hung (IGRS, London), Katherine Tubb (Glasgow)
and Godela Weiss-Sussex (IGRS, London)
The Weimar Republic has received more attention in popular culture and academic research than almost any other phase in German history. But despite the plethora of books, films, exhibitions, and articles on the period, its prevailing image remains, in the Anglo-American world especially, surprisingly simplistic. It is often viewed as an era of accelerated socio-cultural progress on the one hand and extreme politico-economic unrest on the other.
This dichotomy has been central to almost every major treatment of the Weimar Republic since its implosion in 1933. Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin, with its flighty flappers, fey gents and Nazi thugs, set the tone, its subsequent adaptations for musical theatre and film cementing the place this stock cast held in the popular imagination over the following decades. Many historians too consider a politico-cultural divergence as ‘typical’ of (Kolb, 1988), even ‘integral’ to (Peukert, 1992), the Weimar period. Over forty years ago, however, Hermand and Trommler pointed out that such dichotomous interpretations were frequently driven by contemporary agendas – social, historical, and political. During the Cold War, for instance, western scholars turned the Bauhaus into an emblem of artistic freedom by conflating its aesthetic modernity with liberal democracy.
The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, but current works on the Republic – often of good quality – still bear titles that encourage dichotomous analyses: Promise and Tragedy (Weitz, 2007), Glitter and Doom (Metropolitan Museum, 2006), Utopia and Despair (West, 2000). A reassessment of this important period in German history, without ulterior agendas, is now overdue. This conference will focus, therefore, on the experiences of the Weimar Republic’s contemporaries, rather than on the demands of its successors. It will provide a flexible forum where points of intersection and divergence between public and personal histories in all aspects of both the period itself and of its historiography can be examined, in order to begin the work of replacing those dichotomies that continue to mark the Republic’s reception to date with a more nuanced image of the era.
Keynote speakers: Moritz Foellmer (Leeds), Gustav Frank (Munich), Debbie Lewer (Glasgow), Anthony McElligott (Limerick), David Midgley (Cambridge).