Crossing the Disciplinary Divide: Conjunctions in German and Holocaust Studies

Credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In studies of the Holocaust as an object of representation and remembrance, scholars of national literatures and cultures have traditionally focused on the particular national and linguistic contexts in which its legacy plays out. At the same time, recent work by cultural critics such as Daniel Levy, Natan Sznaider and Michael Rothberg has brought the history and memory of the Holocaust into the arena of the transnational. We thus find ourselves at a crossroads between localized and global understandings of Holocaust memory. Further complicating the issue are generational shifts that open questions about the future of that memory, as greater temporal and spatial distance from the events of the Holocaust threatens potentially to render them in ways that are ever more mediated, commodified and departicularized. Nowhere is the inquiry into the cultural character of Holocaust memory more fraught and at the same time potentially more productive than in the discipline of German Studies, where scholars have struggled both to address the specific character of German guilt and responsibility and to acknowledge the global impact of the Holocaust without insisting on exclusive ownership of its meaning or interpretation.  In grappling with the larger questions of how Holocaust memory transcends purely national concerns, current scholars of German-language literature and culture are thus increasingly challenged to engage broadly with the interdisciplinary, transnational field of Holocaust Studies.

Credit: US Holocaust Memorial MuseumFrom March 20 to March 22, 2014, the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Washington University will host an international and interdisciplinary symposium that seizes this unique moment to assess the relationship between German Studies and Holocaust Studies today.  Eighteen prominent scholars in German Studies and Holocaust Studies will explore how German Studies engages institutionally, methodologically and disciplinarily with Holocaust memory and representation and probe the attendant issues of pedagogy and canonization raised by this inquiry. A number of critical questions guide the conference:  Where do the borders lie between the discipline of German Studies and the interdisciplinary inquiries of Holocaust Studies?  How do the two fields speak to one another, and what contributions does each make to the concerns of the other?  How do problems of disciplinary territory play out in the engagement of German Studies with the Holocaust?  How do scholars of German-language literary and cultural texts negotiate the difficult terrain between competing national and cultural narratives, such as that between the memory of German perpetrators and bystanders and the legacy of Jewish and non-Jewish victims and survivors?  And how do we reconcile innovative approaches that focus on transnationally transmitted and culturally remediated representations of the Holocaust with claims that the global boom in Holocaust memory either denigrates the event or dilutes its historical particularity?

We expect the symposium to reframe fundamental questions regarding the intersection between German Studies and Holocaust Studies, opening up new avenues of inquiry that will enrich both disciplines and contribute to the ongoing dialogue between scholars representing diverse institutional and disciplinary perspectives. Our aim is to take stock of the current place of the Holocaust in German Studies, locate emerging trends in scholarship, and identify fruitful and dynamic possibilities for reconsidering the position of Holocaust history, memory and representation in German culture.

The symposium will be held Thursday, March 20 - Saturday, March 22, 2014 on the Danforth Campus of Washington University.

The symposium is free and open to the public.

To coincide with the symposium, the Washington University Libraries will host the traveling exhibition “Names Instead of Numbers” in Olin Library from March 14-28, 2014. Based on the Gedächtnisbuch für die Häftlinge des KZ Dachau, this exhibit uses a series of banners to highlight individual life stories of former prisoners of the Dachau Concentration Camp as well as to provide background information on the Remembrance Book project and the history of the Dachau camp. For more information, see the exhibit website: http://www.gedaechtnisbuch.de/namen-statt-nummern/english/index-engl.html

In addition, the Kemper Art Museum will feature the exhibition “In the Aftermath of Trauma - Contemporary Video Installations,” which brings together artworks that address the persistent importance of twentieth-century violence, from world wars to totalitarian mass terror, from social and ethnic cleansing to revolutions, civil wars, radical uprooting and terrorism. For more information on the exhibit, go to: http://www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/exhibitions/9156