Each month, the WIGS blog presents the research of one WIGS member from around UK and Ireland in order to provide a glimpse into the diverse and fascinating projects that other Wiggies are engaged in and to enhance a sense of our postgraduate community. This month, Jen Grogan tells us about her work on memorialisation in postwar East and West Germany.
Heimat, Monuments and Museums
The German concept of Heimat has been an interest of mine for a long time, since I first came upon it when studying German with the Open University in 2002. I came to German studies late, after working in local government in Sheffield. I had tried to learn German part-time since my first visit to Germany in 1984 but in 2004 I decided that a full-time degree course was the only way forward. While on my year abroad (half-year in Kiel as a language assistant at a Berufschule and a semester at Friedrich-Schiller Universität, Jena) I met many expellees or families of expellees and developed my interest in Heimat further with respect to Heimatvertriebenen. As a late starter I struggled with German, and still do, but my passion for German Studies grows. I was fortunate enough to get AHRC funding at the University of Nottingham for my PhD commencing in September 2009, and the AHRC also gave me funding to spend ten months of the last two years in Germany where I have visited museums, viewed hundreds of monuments, interviewed expellees and museum staff and grubbed about in archives.
‘Following the expulsions – an East/West German comparison of Heimat memorialisation in museums and monuments’ is the title of my thesis. My PhD compares how museums and monuments in postwar East and West Germany commemorate the old homeland territories that were lost after 1945. I am looking at how the old Heimat is memorialised, as well as how the event of expulsion is commemorated. I investigate how the taboo in East Germany up to 1989 affected memorialisation and I am concentrating particularly on the four federal states of Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia and Saxony.
The University of Nottingham has a great supportive postgraduate network. We present papers and work in progress regularly to each other at PG seminars. I’ve received financial support from the university for travel and conference expenses and WIGS also gave me a travel grant for my Master’s dissertation. Friends I made on my year abroad, either teachers at the Berufschule in Kiel, or fellow students at Jena have been invaluable in finding expellees for me to interview and/or driving me around to look at monuments that are often in places not easy to access by public transport. My first ever conference was a postgraduate one at Swansea University in July 2009, which was fantastic in terms of learning and sharing and I still keep in touch with some people who I met there.
My biggest challenge is the year ahead, my final year. I’ve loved doing the research and have lots of ideas, but how to present them in conjunction with established theories is the real test; I’m not alone in that I know. I’ve read literature on cultural memory, art history, Heimat, museums theory, the history of the expulsions etc. etc., and now need to combine this with my own original research; a challenge but one I’m looking forward to. Two photos are attached; me in Regensburg, a great base from which I researched Bavaria last year and my friend Fritz, a teacher at the school in Kiel, who is now almost as obsessed as I am about Heimat and who has tirelessly driven me about to find monuments, like the one here at Flintbek cemetery near Kiel.