The Wende Museum Workshop: A Reflection on Collaborative Research — by Elizabeth Hedge

At the beginning of my senior year graduation already loomed. Decisions about the future, careers, and next steps all felt too close for comfort. I always knew that I loved history but was not sure how to turn that into a career. I got an email from Professor Drummond at the beginning of the semester asking me to take part in the Wende Museum Workshop, in which students from Loyola Marymount University and from the University of Leipzig would collaborate to create an online exhibition from the Wende Museum’s archives. I jumped at the opportunity to participate. I have always loved museums and the work they do, and was eager to explore the field further. The project focused on bringing to life the rich history of East Germany under Communist rule, to give viewers the opportunity to understand everyday life in the German Democratic Republic, through an online exhibit featuring real life artifacts, photos, and eyewitness accounts.

I worked on the “public spaces” portion of the exhibit, which focused on the ideal socialist city and the state’s attempt to promote a “social consciousness.” The Communist state in East Germany aimed to create each city with socialist purpose – from the street names to art and architecture. This was more than mere urban planning: the city was built to inspire those within it to love and live by the socialist political culture. The city, and its public spaces, served to educate citizens. My partner Richard and I wanted to emphasize this unique feature of the GDR’s public spaces through our artifacts. However, working on public spaces meant that we had few physical artifacts to work with. Photos displaying public spaces proved to be our most reliable sources, and we focused on recognizable streets, buildings, and monuments. Our next steps were, first, to think about what exactly we wanted to convey within our public spaces exhibit, and, second, to decide how to properly convey the information in a digestible way for audiences.

Richard and I started by looking through the Wende Museum’s holdings for specific artifacts that highlighted the use of public spaces, in addition to working with our advisors to come up with our thesis: public spaces served to mobilize, politicize, and educate the people. With these three emphases in mind, we settled on four artifacts that would convey our thesis. The first was a mural in Halle-Neustadt by Josep Renau titled “The Unity of the Working Class and the Founding of the GDR,” which provided a visual representation of key ideological principles of the “New Germany.” The second was a picture of several street signs from the East Berlin, which carried the names of prominent communist thinkers and activists, including Freidrich Engels and Ernst Thalmann. These street signs helped keep the memory of these socialist heroes alive. The third artifact was a photo of the May Day Parade, the epitome of a constructed political event. May Day, May 1st, also known as the International Workers’ Day of Action and Celebration for Peace and Socialism, was the most celebrated day in the year, and the public spaces within the city functioned to enhance the celebrations. Lastly, we chose a blueprint for Stalinallee, the most significant boulevard in East Berlin. Lined with magnificent office and apartment buildings designed with the socialist ideal in mind, the boulevard was meant to show the citizens of the GDR, and the rest of the world, that a Communist state was capable of achieving the ideal – according to their own – standard of city design.

Once we chose our artifacts we moved to in-depth research. We created small blurbs for each of the artifacts, quick and simple so that exhibition visitors could understand the purpose of the public spaces. We also gave readers the ability to explore all the artifacts in depth with links to further information and suggested reading. My research focused in particular on the perceptions of Stalinallee at home and abroad. East German city planners and architects celebrated the design of the street, claiming it to be the design of an ideal socialist city. However, I found a 1952 article in the American publication Life Magazine, which questioned this notion of a socialist utopia. The article debunked East German officials’ claims, pointing to a protest that broke out over poor working conditions and food shortages as well as emphasizing Stalinallee’s poor construction. The boulevard was still being built when Stalin died a year later, and officials quickly changed the name to Karl-Marx-Allee. The Life article was a key research item for me because it provided an outsider’s perspective, albeit an American, anti-communist one, that questioned the narrative East Germans presented about Stalinallee.

Richard and I worked well together as a team. Prior to arriving in Los Angeles, the German students had taken courses both in East German history and in museum studies. They were also able to devote all of their time to the workshop, while the other LMU students and I had to balance the workshop with our other classes and work. That meant that Richard and the German students were able to dive deep into the research about the artifacts and focus on the micro level. Richard brought lots of additional insight and knowledge that helped me greatly. But the LMU students and I were able to provide a macro perspective — to look at the exhibit as a whole and see it as a visitor would, to focus on the overall narrative rather than the details. This dual perspective was necessary for the successful completion of our exhibit. Richard and I also worked well together because we were open and able to share ideas with each other. We felt comfortable talking through what we wanted to do, sharing research materials, and offering suggestions, which ensured that our portion of the exhibit had a good sense of flow. Richard shared his knowledge with me so that I could focus on my pieces of the exhibit, but I was able to help him take a step back from all the information and see how all the pieces fit together.

The idea of taking on additional research projects while a student at university might sometimes feel more like a burden than an enriching educational experience. I loved working on the project because I developed a better understanding of archives, public displays of history, and museums, as well as broadened my knowledge about a subject I knew little about. Presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium felt intimidating, but it taught me important presentation skills. From my experience, what is most important for any student research project is to make sure that the subject matter is compelling to the students and driven by their interests so they are willing to devote the necessary time to it. Another important personal takeaway away from the project was that while I prefer to work independently, good partnerships can be of great benefit to both individuals. I could rely on Richard to help and teach me, and vice versa. Through our teamwork we ensured a successful completion of the project that probably would not have happened if we worked alone.

What I loved most about the project was learning about museum work. The “hands-on” work in the museum enabled me to learn about the process, the language, and the idea of “public history.” The information is important, but the way it is communicated sheds the most understanding. It makes history dynamic, creating new possibilities and perspectives. While I found the subject matter interesting, I particularly enjoyed the creation and organization of historical information in a museum. Reflecting on the project in this post has also helped me digest the project and what I took away from it. Beyond my genuine interest and passion for history, reflection and understanding the value of information continue to compel me to keep reading, writing, and learning about history.

Elizabeth Hedge graduated from Loyola Marymount University in May 2012 with degrees in History and Political Science, Magna Cum Laude . She wrote an Honors Political Science thesis on “Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage in America: The Courts Ability to Enact Social Change” and completed the Wende Museum Workshop in her senior year. New Zealand and British bred, Elizabeth was born in Hong Kong, and spent her childhood moving throughout Asia until beginning her studies at Loyola Marymount University in 2008.

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CFP: Fifth Undergraduate Research Conference in German Studies

We would like to announce the Fifth Undergraduate Research Conference in German Studies on Saturday, April 18, 2015. This year the conference, co-organized by Lafayette College and Moravian College, will take place at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

This conference will give students the opportunity to present their research in all German-related fields, including but not limited to the study of German literature, film and culture, art history, music, philosophy, history and politics.

Format: we consider proposals for research papers and posters.

Papers and posters can be presented in either German or English.

Paper presentations may not exceed 15 minutes (2000 to 2500 words). Posters should include a thesis statement, short reference to literature and primary materials, a discussion of the methodology and results.

Please send your proposal of 250-300 words to Axel Hildebrandt at hildebrandta@moravian.edu by December 15, 2014.

The proposal should include:

  • The title of the paper or poster
  • Concise thesis statement
  • Short list of primary and secondary sources (bibliography)
  • Anticipated findings

The program committee will notify accepted applicants by January 25, 2015. For more information and updates, please contact Axel Hildebrandt at hildebrandta@moravian.edu.

Axel Hildebrandt, Associate Professor of German, Moravian College
Margarete Lamb-Faffelberger, Professor of German, Lafayette College
Heikki Lempa, Associate Professor of History, Moravian College

Research, Reflection, and the Road to Grad School — by Rhiannon Koehler

In my second year of college I enrolled in a research seminar that at once thrilled and terrified me (everyone else was going to be so learned and so old, seniors at least!). The title of the seminar was “Germany in the Age of Total War.” I expected to walk out of the class with knowledge of books that I otherwise would not have been exposed to and perhaps having been a part of some interesting conversations. Instead, after participating in the course and doing research for the final paper, I ended up seriously considering history as a career-path.

The texts that we read in class propelled me to do good research in that seminar. I found that you simply cannot be steeped in monographs like Eric Weitz’s Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, Claudia Koonz’s The Nazi Conscience, or William Sheridan Allen’s The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single Germany Town, 1922-1945 without picking up a few things about how history ought to be done. Between the readings and our class discussions, which were expertly led to integrate historiography into our analysis of political, social, and cultural developments in Germany between 1914 and 1945, I found a research topic.

After reading Koonz and Allen, both of whom detail the change in German women’s lives brought about by Nazi ideology, I decided to write about women who deviated from the standard expectation of acting as wife and mother. But I wanted to do so without sticking to an examination of women in one profession. Rather, I wanted to look at the ways that women carved out space for themselves in a nation that left little room for women to diversify their professional status. I hoped to find out more about women who had joined the industrial sector, women who worked in close political proximity to Reich leadership, and women who had been deeply enmeshed with concentration camps.

I was not interested in looking at women who resisted, but rather at women who chose not to conform to ideological expectations even as they acted on behalf of or were complicit with the regime. I didn’t know who these women were at this point, but my professor pointed me in the direction of some comprehensive secondary sources that I might be able to glean for ideas of individuals to focus on. Texts such as Koonz’s Mothers in the Fatherland and Alison Owings’ German Women Recall the Third Reich were predictably helpful—but so too were Frank Buscher’s The US War Crimes Trial Program in Germany and David Crew’s Nazism and German Society, 1933-1945.

A close reading of these texts helped me choose the women I wanted to discuss and flesh out the framework for the paper. It became clear, though, that I would need voices from the era to support my arguments. It was at this stage that I actively began tracking down primary sources that would allow me to have an inside look at these women’s lives. I was lucky in that some of the women I chose to focus on, such as Traudl Junge, had left behind first-person narratives. I filled other gaps by examining primary sources such as the laws enacted in Nazi Germany that pertained to gender and records of public presentations about the cult of the domestic, such as those by Gertrud Scholtz-Klink. The most helpful resource, though, was an online archive of sorts, maintained by the German Historical Institute in Washington DC, German History in Documents and Images, which allowed me to access legal documents, letters, and photographs from the era without having to travel to a physical archive.

This particular online collection of primary sources was incredibly well organized and abundant, and provided me with much-needed evidence for my paper. The paper that I wrote took longer to write than any paper I’ve written since (I am now a second-year graduate student at UCLA). It was the first time that I had ever engaged with an archive of any sort, the first time that I was writing a paper with a true thesis, and the first time that I was closely reading multiple monographs for my research. It helped that I had fantastic support. I had a professor who was always available and always gave constructive feedback. I had excellent resources, and I had the time to invest. It paid off—researching for the paper gave me skills that I would carry with me into the future, and the paper itself even won an award.

My paper, which I titled “Beyond Womanhood: Complicity and Action in Nazi Germany,” paved the way for much of my future research. It also did what the best undergraduate research should do: it gave me the confidence I needed to continue in the direction of graduate school, and it provided me with the skills that I would need for the rest of college. I have siblings, now heading into college, and my main piece of advice is: don’t hold off until you are a senior to take a research seminar. Do it as early as you feel ready, because the skills you will develop in those courses will help you be successful for the rest of your academic career.

Rhiannon Koehler graduated from Loyola Marymount University in May 2012, with Honors, with a major in History and a minor in Theatre Arts. Her seminar paper, “Beyond Womanhood: Complicity and Action in Nazi Germany,” won the 2012 History Department Award for Best Research Paper by a History Major. She is currently a Ph.D. student in American history at UCLA.

CFP: Berkeley Prize for Undergraduate Essays in German

BURG/es is pleased to announce the following opportunity for undergraduates:
The Berkeley Undergraduate Essay Prize is awarded annually by the Department of German for outstanding unpublished papers written during the previous calendar year by undergraduate students enrolled at a North American university/college. Thus the 2015 prize will consider papers written during 2014 on a broad range of topics in German studies. The winning essays carry a cash award of $500 each and will be considered for publication in the department’s electronic journal TRANSIT.

Essays for submission may be written in German or in English; one submission per student. They should be double-spaced, between 3000 and 5000 words in length (including notes and references), and without the student’s name on the paper, since the Awards Committee reads the essays anonymously. A separate cover sheet with the student’s name, major, year of study, title of the paper, address, phone number, e-address, and plans for graduate school (if applicable) should accompany the essay. The essay may be submitted in hard copy or electronically.

The paper has to have been written in the 16 months prior to the essay deadline.

The submission deadline is March 13, 2015; winners announced May 1. Send to:

Undergraduate Essay Prize
Attn: Nadia Samadi
German Department
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3243
e-address: germanic@berkeley.edu

Undergraduate Research Journal in German Studies or History

The best college students spend hours writing research papers — collecting materials, analyzing their findings, and fine-tuning their writing. Too often, though, the products of these efforts end up being read by their professors and perhaps a devoted parent or friend, then to be filed away and never to be seen again.

 This blog post suggests a way that students could build on their semester’s work and share their research findings within their college community. At my institution, Indiana University South Bend, my department has pioneered an undergraduate research journal course for one-unit of credit. In this course, the student editor-in-chief of the journal co-teaches the course with one faculty member, and the enrolled students become assistant editors for the journal. The students in the class craft the criteria for acceptance of journal articles; they select the articles to be published; they work closely with authors to improve the articles, and then they copy-edit the final products. The course is as beneficial for the assistant editors as it is for the article authors in that students have a chance to deepen their understanding of what makes for excellent academic writing. They can see the kind of research their fellow students can produce and learn to debate collegially with the fellow members of their course. In this way, students in this class practice the soft skills that 21st century employers are seeking that relate to leadership, team building, and interpersonal communication.

The students in the department’s research journal have gone on to work as the core of the department’s student club. The sense of community that was created through this course, as well as the common commitment to high academic standards, continues to mold the student culture in our department.

 I teach in a small history department and our journal is a history journal, but there is no reason that this model of a journal production course would not work equally well for a German Studies department or program.

Finally this model of a 1-unit course provides some way to acknowledge the hands-on work of faculty members in mentoring student research. At my institution, after a faculty member teaches this 1-unit the course three times, that faculty member receives a one semester course reduction.

For more information see this semester’s syllabus here
https://www.iusb.edu/journal-hist/

I also welcome questions and comments at this blog or directly to my email at zwicker [at] iusb.edu

To Publish or Not? (Part 2 of 2)

In my previous post, I addressed potential downsides of trying to publish articles co-authored with undergraduate students. I noted that top journals might not recognize these articles as scholarship, damaging faculty members’ tenure and promotion bids, and that the inherent power differential between faculty mentor and student creates a risk that undergraduates will be exploited as inexpensive intellectual labor. I then outlined strategies to mitigate those risks.

With the concerns about journal recognition and student exploitation effectively addressed, I have felt confident about my decision to co-author with undergraduate students. In fact, I treat the project from the get-go as a manuscript destined for publication in a disciplinary journal. As noted before, I gain research productivity through the contributions of committed, intelligent students. Even if I assume that the manuscript will be published in a second-tier journal, the tradeoff in increased productivity is worth it: not only do these students complete some of the reading and writing that the project requires, but the dialogue with students yields insights I would not have achieved as quickly—or at all—working solo. Collaborating with undergraduates has allowed me to manage projects at a faster pace and with better results than I would achieve on my own.

Perhaps more significantly, conceiving of the research project as a co-authored manuscript fundamentally changes the student-teacher interaction and the students’ experience of the project. Although the research contract makes clear that I am the lead author, and principal researcher, it also makes clear that students are integral to the success of the project—a significance that students grasp.

To put it differently, students sense that they are making a meaningful contribution, and this sense raises levels of student motivation. As described by Susan Ambrose, there are three main factors in student motivation, each present in abundance in a well-designed co-authored research project. The first factor is a goal worth achieving. As long as the student is interested in the specific topic—and I carefully vet students to make sure—it is inspiring to work on a paper that will be published in a journal rather than a “just another term paper” that will be read only by the faculty member. (A publication is a nice addition to the student’s resume as well.)

The second factor in motivation is a perception that the goal can be achieved with appropriate effort. This one is a harder sell. Students either intuitively recognize or are told by me during the interview stage that their research and writing skills are not suitable for professional publication, and that they have to trust that I can teach them to research and write at a level sufficient to support the project. To gain this trust, I usually point to examples of the students’ recent work, highlighting basic strengths while also describing the distance between their current abilities and the ability level required by the project. I then remind students that they are not expected to write final sections of the manuscript: a significant part of my role is to iron out differences in writing style and to lend the manuscript a unified voice once it is complete. Much as with a term paper, students will write multiple drafts of “their” sections, and the whole manuscript will be cleaned up by me prior to publication. This reassurance addresses students’ fears that they will not be up to the task.

The third factor in motivation, according to Ambrose, is a supportive learning environment. Students know that the research project is meaningful to me, that their contributions are essential to the project’s moving forward, and that it is in my best interests to teach them the necessary skills. The research contract uses terminology like “co-authors” and “team members,” and I treat the students as such. In addition to the necessary, more traditional interactions (please edit this section for clarity; please read this article and write a 200-word summary), our regular meetings include investigative, critical dialogue in which my own ideas and writing are subject to critique. In recent years, my research teams have included students who have expertise in particular areas that outstrips my own, such as the Communications student who had participated in a grant-funded summer intensive research project and the Political Science major who spoke Arabic and studied in Jordan during the Arab Spring. In these instances, I learned to trust the students’ budding expertise and research-supported conclusions. In short, the sense of being on a research team, and my willingness to respect students’ expertise and submit my work to their critical review, levels the playing field somewhat and creates the supportive environment that Ambrose describes.

To conclude, the potential downsides of co-authoring with students—the worry that top journals might not accept the manuscript, and the worry that students will be (or will perceive themselves to be) exploited—can be mitigated by specific strategies and are offset by the increase in research productivity and research quality. Together with the ability to combine scholarship and high-quality mentoring into one activity, these advantages make publishing with undergraduate co-authors more than worthwhile.

To Publish or Not? (Part 1 of 2)

In an earlier post, I stated that I rarely mentor students’ independent research projects. Instead, I have begun involving students in my own research, a collaboration that increases my research productivity and provides students a highly engaged learning environment. For these same reasons, I answer the question “to publish or not?” with a decisive yes. With few exceptions, every research project I undertake with an undergraduate is targeted for publication, usually with a specific journal in mind.

Before I elaborate the benefits of this approach, it might be useful to consider the potential downsides.

First, there is the risk that top journals will not recognize scholarship that is co-authored with an undergraduate. Although I have no direct evidence that this is the case, let’s assume for the moment that it is true. At many of the institutions where German Studies or European Studies professors work, journal status—often defined through a combination of selectiveness, reach or influence, and related criteria—is a factor in tenure and promotion decisions. An untenured assistant professor might therefore lean towards publishing solo in a top journal rather than publishing with a student in a second-tier journal (assuming that this top-tier bias against undergraduate scholarship is real, and that it does not exist among second-tier journals). Another, potentially more fruitful approach would be to begin a dialogue with one’s department chair and dean about how the institution values undergraduate research. It could be that the institution already values publications co-authored with students, or that it is ready to move in that direction.

As a tenured associate professor at a teaching institution, my decision is easier. Although my institution does weigh journal quality in tenure and promotion decisions, teaching and mentoring are weighted more heavily, with the result that I don’t have to worry too much about publishing in first-tier versus second-tier journals. A solid track record of scholarship generated through sustained undergraduate mentoring will pass muster in my promotion application. To put it coarsely, the fact that I co-authored with undergraduate students would offset the fact that I might have published in less selective journals.

Second, there is the concern that the undergraduate research arrangement exploits students in order to promote the faculty member’s career—that students are treated as cheap intellectual labor. I address this risk by drawing up a contract outlining roles and responsibilities of students and the faculty mentor, which I then file with the undergraduate research office. That contract states that although I am the lead researcher and primary author, students’ contributions are valued and recognized. Ideally, this recognition is achieved by listing students as co-authors. (The institutional review board at my institution holds that anyone who is significantly involved in project design, data collection, or writing should be considered a co-author.) In cases where it is not possible to list students as co-authors, the contract states that students will be recognized in a footnote on the first page. Treating the students as co-authors shifts the nature of the student-teacher relationship towards a more collaborative, team-oriented, mentor-mentee relationship, mitigating concerns about exploitation.

In short, when deciding whether to publish work that is co-authored with undergraduates, faculty members must think about potential downsides, including journals’ recognition of such work and the risk of unfair exploitation of students. With appropriate steps, however, these concerns can be satisfactorily addressed. In my next post, I’ll speak to the advantages of trying to publish together with undergraduate students.