DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in History and Social Sciences
The DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in Best Book in History and Social Sciences is funded through the North American office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), awarded annually by a GSA committee, and carries an award of $1,000. The winner receives the prize during the banquet of the GSA Annual Conference.
2023 Recipient of the DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in History and Social Sciences
Bettina Stoetzer’s innovative anthropological investigation of the relationship between urban nature and the legacies of violence, division, and colonization in Berlin revolves around a compelling metaphor: the German metropolis as symbolized by the ruderal plant. “Ruderal” derives from the Latin word for rubble, rudus; in the language of ecology, it describes a plant that is the first to grow in a disturbed landscape: the small green leaf that pokes through the debris in the aftermath of destruction and exploitation. Many non-native plants, such as the sticky goosefoot and the tree-of-heaven, were found growing out of the rubble of the destroyed city of Berlin in 1945. They had arrived as stowaways on soldiers’ boots or commercial packages. Yet despite these origins in war and greed, Stoetzer’s vivid deployment of that spike of leaves poking out of the cracks of a destroyed building paints a picture of resilience. We are asked to see the kinship between these plucky natural adventurers and their human equivalents – the people who have migrated to Berlin’s destroyed urban spaces and have put down roots in often inhospitable environments.
The setting of this book is gloomy: an urban landscape in which it is impossible to escape the legacies, emotions, and prejudices of racial and colonial violence and where the surrounding forests harbor the ghosts of fallen soldiers and their victims. Stoetzer does not let us forget that racism and the devastations of twentieth-century history still hang over human relations – not to mention the relationship between humans and nature – in the modern German metropolis. But the ultimate message of this masterfully structured and engagingly written account is hopeful. If we stop to witness the miracle of that intrepid globetrotting plant growing out of the rubble, perhaps we can begin to perceive how prejudice about who belongs within a given landscape endangers us all. If we give up the myth of untouched nature – a myth with very deep roots in German romanticism – and instead focus on how urban ecologies “trouble” arguments about the relationship between humans and the natural world, we might begin to heal the scars of colonization, nationalism, and rapacious capitalism.
This ultimately optimistic message might not be immediately apparent. Stoetzter takes some time to weave the argument together out of strands of storytelling about the lives of Berliners and Brandenburgers who have struggled to find a sense of place in a land where the very word for home – Heimat – has carried “the idea that Germanness is rooted in the land and that racialized bodies are foreign and threaten the natural” (p. 21). The book highlights this cultural challenge while demonstrating how relative newcomers to the city have negotiated new relationships with the natural urban landscape. We are given intimate glimpses into the lives of Turkish immigrants who have bent the rules to cultivate vegetable gardens in courtyards, parks, and forgotten triangles of land. We are drawn into the long-running dispute about barbecuing in the Tiergarten, and we follow the complicated bureaucratic dance that makes it possible for Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Laotian food to be sold by unlicensed vendors in Preußenpark – now colloquially known as the Thai Wiese or Thai Park. In both cases, economically marginal Berliners have searched for ways to counteract structures of austerity, obstacles to economic advancement, and limited housing options by embracing outdoor spaces as their own.
The book also follows the tendrils of its subjects outside the city. Stoetzer travels to Istanbul to discover that conflicts about barbecuing meat in parks are common there too. As in Berlin, the consumption and cooking of meat is associated with a barbarous (in this case Anatolian) masculinity and is frowned upon by urbanites who consider themselves more civilized. We also travel with Stoetzer to the forests of Brandenburg, where African refugees are housed in former army barracks run by private companies and where entrepreneurs capitalize on the cheap labor to open Ostrich farms advertised as having “African flair.” Refugees desperate to begin new lives are separated from opportunities in the city and face the psychological torments of isolation and boredom in the depressing Unheimlichkeit of sparsely populated “no-go” zones. Meanwhile, former East Germans with disrupted career paths reinvent themselves as tour guides for nature-seeking urbanites. Although it is hard not to laugh at the image of a Land-Rover-driving safari guide named Lars who conquers the steppes of “wild Brandenburg,” Stoetzer’s point that colonial tropes about mastering and domesticating nature still endure is a serious one. If there is still a thirst for the thrill of conquering untouched nature, then we are still governed by city/country and wild/civilized dichotomies that do more to imperil than remediate our relationship with our natural surroundings.
Far more can be learned, Stoetzer insists, from the efforts of new Berliners to make peace with the landscape and to use natural spaces – however damaged and constrained – to cultivate a sense of belonging. No one can read the description of the living conditions of the Africans confined to dingy Brandenburg barracks without understanding that being close to nature is only healing and nourishing if the experience includes respect for human dignity. And yet even under these circumstances, Stoetzer’s informants approach their lives with humour. They laugh at the hypocrisy of a country that announces its intent to “civilize” refugees and then confines them to quarters rife with corruption and inefficiencies.
But perhaps the most vivid example of the resilience of the ruderal humans that populate Stoetzer’s book is Osman Kalın, whose bad back forced him take early retirement from his job as a construction worker in 1983. Looking for something to keep himself busy, he found a small triangle of land created when East German authorities cut a corner to simplify the construction of the Berlin wall. He planted a garden and built a shed that eventually turned into a two-story house resembling a gecekondu – or Turkish urban squat. Happily free of both Eastern and Western control, Osman’s little piece of nature escaped municipal bylaws and became famous. Today it is being renovated as a museum. Like the sticky goosefoot of 1945, Osman’s garden arose on the territory of violent and exploitative history. It grows directly out of the scars of war and division, and it was cultivated by the hands of a man whose “guest worker” status confined him to physically punishing work. And yet Stoetzer makes this story heartwarming by comparing Osman’s resilience to the presence of the tree-of-heaven that forms part of the gecekondu’s front wall.
While the story of Osman Kalın comes early in Ruderal City, the reader is well advised to wait for the force of Stoetzer’s metaphor to sink in over the course of the entire book. Like any great work of academic literature, this book begs you to read every page – to allow the argument to form in your mind as an assemblage of individually nuanced stories about the experiences of complex individuals. The empathy of Stoetzer’s storytelling is evidence of masterful fieldwork, which is contextualized within a truly transdisciplinary discussion of the history and present social challenges of urban life. Readers who already know Berlin well are guaranteed to see the city with different eyes. Beyond the excitement and pleasure of a “ruderal” reading of Berlin, the book also presents broader and very timely lessons about how the intertwined processes of immigration, deindustrialization, and globalization must make us rethink our relationship to nature.
Honorable Mention for the 2023 DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History / Social Sciences:
Philipp Lehmann, Desert Edens: Colonial Climate Engineering in the Age of Anxiety (Princeton University Press, 2022)
This path-breaking account of nineteenth and twentieth-century French and German efforts to engineer environmental change forces us to acknowledge that the interplay between natural and social worlds has a long history. Through an investigation of German schemes to dam the Mediterranean in the 1920s and to combat desertification as part of WWII's Generalplan Ost, Lehmann develops innovative methods within German history while simultaneously emphasizing the colonialist roots and future political dangers of geo-engineering.
Previous recipients of the DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in History and Social Sciences
2022 Winner of the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History / Social Sciences:
Kira Thurman, Singing like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (Cornell UP, 2021)
2022 Prize Committee: Rita Krueger (Temple University; Committee Chair), Thomas Lekan (University of South Carolina), Maria Mitchell (Franklin & Marshall College)
Kira Thurman's deeply researched and brilliantly written historical monograph on German culture is both sweeping in scope and rich in texture and detail. Embedding the history of music in patterns of globalization, including sexism, racism, and colonialism, Thurman extends her study from the 1870s, when growing numbers of Blacks performed in Central Europe, to the post-World War II, competing German states. Challenging traditional breaks and periodization, Thurman offers a transnational reframing of American, Austrian, and German history, whereby Black musicians’ mastery of an art form regarded as quintessentially German challenged racialized distinctions between German and Black identity and culture.
Thurman’s global history of “musical Germanness” elegantly integrates strands of scholarship to transform our understanding of classical music and cultural practices in modern European history. The work is theoretically and methodologically sophisticated, employing theories of listening, sound studies, racial listening, and gender and sexuality. Thurman's work draws on and resonates with scholars arguing against the expectation that listening is a objective experience. Classical music has historically been “racially un/marked” – whitened more than any other musical form, universalized in a way that denied the limiting realities of race. Central Europeans racialized the music they heard, seeking where possible to explain virtuosity through Black musicians’ white ancestors. German-speaking listeners "tuned their ears for inaudible social cues and drew on racial discourses to make aesthetic judgments..." Thurman notably invokes Katrin Sieg’s theory of the “technologies of forgetting” to explain how the erasure over time of important figures in this history positioned Black performers as existing without precedent or context. By excavating the contributions of Black musicians who shaped the history of modern Austrian and German classical music in hitherto unrecognized ways, Kira Thurman recovers this lost history.
Thurman’s chronological framing also powerfully encourages us to think about German history in new ways. Her transnational examination of the longue durée of modern classical music establishes historical continuities and the simultaneous malleability of Germanness over time. From this perspective, two historical ruptures – World War I and 1945 – represented less decisive breaks than moments of reconstitution and redeployment of racist tropes, even as political change opened and foreclosed opportunities for musical artists and others. Thurman’s transnational lens focused on German immigrants who trained Black Americans, both in the nineteenth century and again in the twentieth after refugees fled the Third Reich. Central Europe as escape for repressed Black Americans represents just one chapter in the history of Black migration driven less by an idealization of the country of refuge, but by a desire to move away from the U.S. Thurman demonstrates the ways that the interwar period offered Black performers unprecedented opportunities to perform in Central Europe. But, these performers also faced rising anti-Black animus during the occupation by French colonial troops and the Black Horror on the Rhine campaign. Rather than a new beginning, the post-World War II era revealed continuities in the reading of Black bodies and sound on the part of Germans and Americans. Black performance and fame also became an ingredient in Cold War competition. Nevertheless, as Thurman shows, despite the powerful racism in Europe and continued belief in the exceptionalism of German music, Black Americans continued to enjoy better opportunities in Europe than in the United States.
Not just casting a critical lens on the transatlantic movement of artists, we also have here a thorough exploration of the cultural and institutional practices that nurtured the classical musical education, knowledge, and expertise of Black Americans. Black Americans’ preference for German instructors in post-emancipation United States and the close teacher-student relationships they created fed into networks of financial and logistical support. These networks – what Thurman calls “Black internationalist cultural politics” – made it possible for African Americans to "imagine themselves in another country altogether," even as racist and colonialism discourses intensified. The book is replete with riveting stories and extraordinary personalities, including the “war of divas” in 1895 Berlin; the story of Claudio Brindis de Salas (the “Black Paganini”), whom Kaiser Wilhelm II reportedly made a baron; Roland Hayes’s affair with a Viennese countess; W.E.B. Du Bois’ trip to Bayreuth in 1936; Marian Anderson’s experiences as the last Black star in Vienna before the Anschluss, and the star of sold-out performances in 1950 in Berlin and Munich; the U.S. State Department’s use of Black classical musicians to counter Soviet criticism of American racism, and many others. Thurman sees new meaning in a variety of images and performances: Rudolph Dunbar conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in September 1945 while wearing a U.S. military uniform; Leontyne Price having a stone thrown through her hotel room window while performing at the Salzburg Festival in 1961; Wieland Wagner’s fashioning of Grace Bumbry as a Black Venus for the 1961 Bayreuth Festival; Paul Robeson’s 1961 visit to the German Democratic Republic to receive a peace prize and honorary doctorate at the Humboldt University; and the asylum claim and emigration of African American Aubrey Pankey.
Magisterial in scope, Thurman's work is richly sourced throughout, drawing on more than thirty archives in three countries, integrating photographs, concert programs, historical newspapers, musical scores, music criticism, interviews, private letters, memoirs, diaries, and university course catalogs into her analysis. In no less an achievement, Thurman has provided this complex, nuanced story of Black musicians in Germany in clear and sparkling prose. This is a work that is beautifully written and accessible – an important, path-breaking historical excavation that is told with lightness and verve.
2021 Winner of the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History / Social Sciences:
Thomas M. Lekan, Our Gigantic Zoo: A German Quest to Save the Serengeti (Oxford University Press, 2020)
2021 Prize Committee: Benjamin Marschke, Jörg Echternkamp, and Astrid M. Eckert.
Thomas Lekan’s book takes the reader on a transnational journey from the ruins of Frankfurt’s bombed-out zoo to the savannas of East Africa. At the center of Lekan’s study stands Bernhard Grzimek (1909-87), a household name in Germany for his long-running television show, Ein Platz für Tiere (1956-87, the German equivalent of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom), and his Oscar-winning documentary, Serengeti darf nicht sterben (1959). As Frankfurt’s first postwar zoo director, the charismatic Grzimek, turned the city’s animal park into an instrument of conservation, an endeavor that eventually led him to the homeland of many of the zoo’s popular mammals. There, in former German East Africa, he single-mindedly pursued his quest to carve out a “gigantic zoo” by pushing local politicians and international nature conservation agencies into creating a national park, the Serengeti. What was lauded by the contemporary West German public as a noble and selfless endeavor is expertly contextualized by Lekan as a project that collided head-on with the needs and desires of newly independent African states and became entangled with the political tensions of decolonization and the Cold War. This is the work of a Germanist “going global,” a book that stands out as a postwar German history but represents our academic discipline equally well in the fields of environmental and African history.
As Lekan demonstrates, Grzimek had established his academic credentials as a veterinarian scientist and made his career when the biological sciences were pervaded with eugenic thinking. Alongside the vast majority of (West) Germans, Grzimek rehabilitated himself as a “good German” after the war. Behind his avuncular image, however, lay a “notoriously cantankerous personality” (7) and someone who sought to deny his role during National Socialism and his disdain for his fellow human beings through select “good deeds,” such as the adoption of a black Besatzungskind.
One of the many strengths of this book is that Lekan pays particular attention to the unreflected ideological baggage that Grzimek injected into his postwar activities when he mused, for instance, about the limits of the savanna’s “carrying capacity” for the herds of cattle and goats tended by local Maasai as well as the alleged dangers of unchecked fertility among Africans. By advocating for the removal of the Maasai herders from the savanna, Grzimek peddled a particular vision of nature protection that Lekan aptly calls “fortress conservation.” It called for the “evacuation” of humans (Africans) from wildlife habitat. This vision betrayed not only a disregard for autochthonous environmental sovereignty but was also premised on a profound misunderstanding of the savanna’s ecology; far from being a wilderness, the East African grasslands had long been cultural landscapes precisely because of the presence of the nomadic Maasai. As Lekan shows, Grzimek’s (mis-)understanding of East African nature was shaped by misanthropy, malthusianism, eugenics, and declensionist anti-modernism.
Lekan explores other telling blindspots in Grzimek’s approach to conservation in Africa, namely the many colonial legacies that the German zookeeper chose to overlook, an approach he shared with the leadership of the international nature conservation agencies with whom he collaborated. Grzimek and his son Michael flew their famous zebra-striped airplane over Tanganyika (formerly Deutsch-Ostafrika). Absent in their considerations of the ecology of the region were the colonial origins of big game reserves, founded for the pleasure of European colonizers and their enthusiasm for trophy hunting. Grzimek pretended that nature conservation was apolitical, and he saw himself as an “honest broker,” even if his activism meant collaborating with unsavory politicians like Idi Amin.
Despite the focus on Grzimek, however, the book should not be mistaken for a biography. The significance and timeliness of Our Gigantic Zoo lies in how it incorporates German contemporary history with environmental and colonial history by placing Grzimek’s activism on behalf of the Serengeti in the broader historical context of the first-world conservation and environmental movements: The book highlights their origins in colonialism and racism, and erstwhile NSDAP member Grzimek is emblematic of “avocado” environmentalism: green on the outside, brown on the inside. It problematizes these movements’ insistence that Africa’s wildlife was a “world heritage” whose preservation exceeded the competence and therefore trumped the sovereignty of (newly independent) African governments. It also highlights the inability of these international “green networks” to back up their demands with financial support; ultimately, Tanzania became stuck with the cost of protecting the “world heritage” that external conservationists sought to protect, because the tourism revenue that Grzimek had promised never materialized on a scale required to finance the park.
Lekan tells a fascinating, ambivalent, and highly relevant story. Grzimek’s legacy of raising funds and awareness for African wildlife is unsurpassed, however, Lekan complicates the cozy image of Grzimek among those who watched his TV shows by highlighting the problematic origins and many unintentional consequences of the activism of this “charismatic megascientist.” What is more, his study is an impressive example of how a variety of new material systematically organized by a transnational perspective can make a valuable contribution to modern German history.
Honorable Mention for the 2021 DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History / Social Sciences:
John P.R. Eicher, Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age (Cambridge University Press, 2020)
John P.R. Eicher’s Exiled Among Nations surprises readers with its broad scope, innovative approach, and irresistible appeal. In tracing the trials and tribulations of two communities of Germanophone Mennonites who migrated from Russia to ultimately settle in Paraguay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this book presents an in-depth investigation of cultural, national, religious, ethnic, and racial identity. One group voluntarily departed Imperial Russia in the 1870s, settled in Canada, and then left Canada in the 1920s to put down roots in Paraguay as the “Menno Colony.” The other group was forced out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, briefly took refuge in Germany and China, and then alighted in Paraguay as the “Fernheim Colony.” Though the two colonies abutted each other, they remained separate, both in administration and worldview. Exiled Among Nations is an exemplary work at the nexus of German studies and global history, not only tracing its research subjects over three continents, but also focusing upon and problematizing their self-identification and ascription as “German” during a time of hypernationalism.
Eicher has not only painstakingly researched the complex stories of these two meandering groups, but also presents an innovative method of understanding their self-identities and group cohesion by examining the “mythologies” that informed their worldviews. Both migrating Mennonite groups interpreted their collective experiences, current situations, and broader world events in light of biblical stories, especially in terms of salvation, Babylonian captivity, or deliverance to a promised land.
Exiled Among Nations shows how, against the backdrop of the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the coming of the Second World War in Europe, the Mennonites’ multiple intersecting identities precipitated a crisis. For the members of the Menno Colony, who had chosen freely to move to Paraguay, it was at least a temporary and temporal promised land. They sought to pretend that international politics were irrelevant to their lives and stymied the attempts of government agents who sought to pigeonhole them as “Germans” (who would support Nazi Germany) or as “Mennonites” (who would align with their fellow co-religionists in North America). Even as these Auslandsdeutsche studiously maintained their German cultural identity, they rejected any ties with the government in Germany, and even as they held to their religious convictions, they rejected any allegiance to Canada (equated with Babylon), from whence they had come, or the USA, which sought to unite Mennonites worldwide. For the refugees in the Fernheim Colony, Paraguay was their Sinai, and the Nazi conquest of eastern Europe and Russia inspired the hope that they might find a new promised land there. At least some of them embraced völkisch ideology and claimed “Aryan” bloodlines, and they actively sought to regain German citizenship and repatriation to Europe for their group. For them the defeat of Germany, the dashing of their hopes for deliverance, and the uncertainty of their future was yet another trauma, which led to tensions and violence among them. Eicher also places these two groups in the larger context of German emigrants in Latin America, a group which was generally misunderstood by the regime in Germany (which sought their support), and the Allies’ governments (who believed Nazi propaganda that Auslandsdeutsche were potential fifth columnists).
Exiled Among Nations’ wide topical, temporal, and geographic scope and theoretical sophistication are especially impressive because the book remains relatively brief (<300 pages), and it is Eicher’s first monograph (his revised dissertation). It deserves a readership far beyond those interested in the history of Mennonites.
2020 Prize Announced
The German Studies Association is pleased to announce the following prize, which was awarded at the Virtual Forty-Forth Conference in Sept.-Oct. 2020:
DAAD Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences published in 2019:
Winner: We congratulate Astrid M. Eckert, West Germany and the Iron Curtain: Environment, Economy, and Culture in the Borderlands (Oxford University Press, 2019).
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
Astrid M. Eckert’s West Germany and the Iron Curtain: Environment, Economy, and Culture in the Borderlands achieves what all innovative history aspires to do: open new sight lines that advance both conceptual and empirical knowledge. By focusing on the newly created borderlands that divided the two postwar Germanies, Professor Eckert’s study brings into sharp focus how the Cold War saddled a congeries of regions and towns with the common fate of a border region. Situated along the political frontier of a global ideological divide, these West German locales – from the Baltic Sea to Bavarian villages – underwent dramatic economic, political, and environmental change over the course of the Cold War—and beyond. The Iron Curtain’s domestic and international politics transformed these areas of central Germany into Randzonengebiete: peripheral regions whose socioeconomic development accorded neither with the storyline of the “economic miracle” nor with the political narratives of Bonn and West Berlin. The brilliance of Eckert’s book lies in demonstrating how these peripheral areas – constituting one-fifth of the FRG – assumed a centrality in ways they never had before. Despite its backwater status as the “east of the west,” the borderlands exerted substantial force in reconstituting the West-German state. By reimagining the cultural landscape of West Germany’s social and political development, Eckert’s extensively researched study marks a signal contribution to the fields of German and European history.
Local and regional history is certainly not new to German historiography, yet West Germany and the Iron Curtain combines exceptional sensitivity to a wide range of local issues with a commanding knowledge of the Cold War’s broader history. Rather than replacing history “from above” with an emphasis on grassroots agency, Eckert considers the intricate relations between local practice and the economic, environmental, and military initiatives undertaken by national and regional authorities. By recovering an overlooked border culture, the study amplifies our understanding of the FRG’s social diversity, from 1945 into the new millennium, beckoning us to reconfigure the cultural geography of West Germany and its drivers of change. Indeed, Eckert’s periodization is itself notable. Just as she chooses to focus on the newly constructed postwar political frontier, raising anew the concept of borders as a sociological phenomenon, so too she challenges customary periodization, stretching her study from the immediate postwar and zonal Germany, through the two Cold-War Germanies, and into reunification. In doing so, she demonstrates the dynamism and volatility of circumstances across a half century—precisely in a region that contemporaries perceived as provincial and behind the times.
By entwining politics, economy, culture, and the environment, the book introduces a new synthetic narrative to the Cold War. The opening chapters deftly explore the political economy of aid. The construct of the borderlands, and its perception as a single geographic unit, emerged as an effective means to garner economic support for regions left behind during the economic boom of the 1950s. By branding themselves as Randzonengebiete, these heterogeneous communities (and their equally diverse landscapes) successfully lobbied for loans, subventions, and start-up initiatives, which local politicians successfully sustained over a half century. The concept of borderlands further promoted various forms of tourism. If the attraction of a quiet country idyll of yesteryear lured one kind of visitor, others sought the frisson of gazing upon dangerous border fortifications of the other Germany—an interpretive frame promoted by state subsidized “political education” trips. The tensions that inhered in such constructions of the Federal Republic’s border contributed to the identity of the borderline Heimat, perhaps the quintessential German homeland of the Cold War. Even today, Eckert reminds us, the former border remains a memorial landscape of otherness.
Subsequent chapters on environmental policy, transboundary nature, and Gorleben, the now-famous site of popular protest against nuclear power, amount to the first environmental history of the German-German border. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Eckert shows that transboundary pollution ran generously in both directions; keeping the FRG “clean” often meant contributing to dirty air and water in the GDR. But the weaknesses of East-German environmental protections loomed large for the borderlands; they not only uncovered a failing industrial infrastructure but also framed the dilatory tempo for reaching an environmental accord, which was only signed two years before the fall of the wall. Eckert offers no triumphalism after unification. The land surrounding the Werra river remains a brownfield to this day, and other long-lasting effects continue to plague the land. She equally resists any redemptive message when assessing the accidental animal sanctuary that the wall’s no-man’s land unwittingly created. If birds thrived, terrestrial animals met far less salutary fates—not least through the proliferation of land mines. Furthermore, the incongruity between natural habitats and political borders did not end in 1989. The long-term impact of the cold war on flora and fauna transcend any conventional periodization of the Cold War; rather, one must speak of a longue durée of environmental change. The book’s last chapter is a tour-de-force analysis of the Gorleben protest movement, which Eckert recasts as a border issue, uniting it with the book’s political, economic, cultural, and environmental themes. By foregrounding Gorleben’s borderland status, the anti-nuclear protest blurred the boundaries between geographic, ideological, and national identities, and its success partly derived from the site’s location, which heightened cold-war tensions. Throughout all these chapters, Eckert is alive to the lived social experience of borderland actors and the evolving conditions that acted upon them. Clear-eyed and true to her sources, Eckert furthermore displays a resolutely critical approach in judging regional, national, and international governance.
Astrid M. Eckert’s presentation of the borderlands as a fundamental geographic unit of the Cold War, and her deft analysis of its constitutive process in the postwar decades, breaks new ground in historiography. Written in crisp, pellucid prose and based on years of exacting archival research, the work provides students, scholars, and a general reading audience with a new understanding of West Germany during the Cold War. Eckert’s wide-ranging study demonstrates not only the past and current importance of the German-German borderlands, but also their lasting significance and consequences for future generations. A model of historical scholarship, Eckert’s opus is likewise a broader cautionary tale about the cultural, political, and economic consequences of borders and walls. The GSA/DAAD book prize committee offers its warmest congratulations to Professor Eckert for this outsized achievement.
In 2020 the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences committee chair: Professors James Brophy, Ofer Ashkenazi (Hebrew University) and Belinda Davis (Rutgers University).
2019 Prizes Announced
The DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in History and Social Sciences published in 2018 was awarded to Professor Dolores L. Augustine (St. John’s University) for her book Taking on Technocracy: Nuclear Power in Germany, 1945 to the Present (Berghahn Books, 2018).
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
Dolores Augustine has written a masterful study on the history of nuclear power in Germany since 1945. Taking on Technocracy answers the question of why, among major developed nations, Germany alone has turned its back on atomic energy. But the book is far more than this. Here is a work that takes one of the most distinctive and effective environmental protest movements of the last half-century and fully contextualizes it in the postwar culture of both Germanies. Anti-nuclear activism, Augustine argues, was a “popular rebellion against the rule of experts,” a frontal challenge to technocracy itself. Yet it was hardly an anti-scientific movement, much less a lapse into an irrational Romanticism. Instead, grassroots protestors themselves mastered and made deep use of scientific knowledge to challenge the expert establishment. Working in tandem with maverick scientists who, for their own part, often risked their own careers to help, they popularized technical arguments about the dangers of nuclear power and mobilized that knowledge through teach-ins, pamphlets, and courtroom testimony. Above all, as Augustine recounts in vivid, often gripping detail, they staged demonstrations and protests at proposed reactor sites and waste depositories like Wyhl, Brokdorf, and Gorleben—out-of-the-way places that have since become synonymous with the popular campaign against Atomkraft. Augustine’s study is the best account of these seminal events in English; her study makes clear that the anti-nuclear movement is one of the few truly massive, grassroots movements to have succeeded.
Augustine’s is a beautifully rich and complex argument synthesized from an exciting variety of methodological vantage points and a masterful command of an impressive range of sources, encompassing oral history and individual testimony, archival documents, and media collections among others. Concluding with Angela Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear energy in 2011 and the growth of a vibrant alternative energy sector in Germany—and, of course, written against the backdrop of potentially catastrophic climate change in our own collective future—this is a work that, while deeply historical, could hardly be more timely. Sure to receive a wide reception, Taking on Technocracy is a true credit to our profession and a genuine scholarly tour de force.
Prize Committee: Kathleen Canning (Rice University, chair), Ian McNeely (University of Oregon), Eli Rubin (Western Michigan University).
2018 Prize Announced
The German Studies Association is pleased to announce the following prize, which was awarded at the Forty-Second Conference in Pittsburgh on 28 September 2018
DAAD Book Prize for Best Book in History and Social Sciences published in 2017:
The winner is Jesse Spohnholz (Washington State University), The Convent of Wesel: The Event that Never Was and the Invention of Tradition (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
Leopold von Ranke von Ranke famously called on historians to explore how things actually were, “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist.” In his well-argued, probing study, Jesse Spohnholz guides the reader through what would have been Ranke’s nightmare: the history of an event that never existed. At one level, this is a deft bit of detective work, drawing on archival material scattered across what was then the northwestern corner of the Holy Roman Empire, leading Spohnholz to the striking conclusion that the purported Convent of Wesel, long regarded as a founding event in the history of the Dutch Reformed Church and Republic, never took place. Along the way, he adroitly calls attention to the highly ambiguous, porous nature both of the German-Dutch borderlands and of the religious identities constructed there in the latter half of the sixteenth century. But this is not just a detective story; Spohnholz also scrutinizes how a history of this non-event was constructed and maintained well into the twentieth century. The result is a remarkable series of reflections — about archival structures and the authority historians grant archives, historical narratives, and memory cultures in both German Europe and the Netherlands — that raise profound questions about historical method and the public appropriation of historical “truth.” Finally, by focusing on the long-term evolution of the historiography on the “Convent of Wesel,” Spohnholz achieves that rare feat: a study that successfully and usefully brings the early modern and modern eras into conversation with another.
Prize committee: Anthony J. Steinhoff (chair, Université du Québec à Montréal), Carina Johnson (Pitzer College), Michael L. Meng (Clemson University).
2017 Prize Announced
The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor Greg Eghigian (Pennsylvania State University) is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences published during the years 2015 and 2016. His book The Corrigible and the Incorrigible: Science, Medicine and the Convict in Twentieth Century Germany was published by University of Michigan Press in 2015.
Here is the prize committee’s laudatio:
Greg Eghigian’s book, The Corrigible and the Incorrigible: Science, Medicine and the Convict in Twentieth Century Germany, traces scientific, medical, and administrative approaches to criminality, policing, incarceration, efforts at rehabilitation, and therapeutic practices across 20th century Germany. Impeccably researched, fluidly written, beautifully crafted, and measured in tone, this study is driven by a desire to probe the “correctional imagination”—namely, an aspirational project, both punitive and rehabilitative, that mobilized notions of “good and bad, normal and pathological, corrigible and incorrigible” to shape the management of criminal behavior and the fate of offenders. Revising Foucault, Eghigian astutely emphasizes the chronic disparity between ambitions and reality: the plans of those with power always fell short. Nonetheless, the sum of such efforts had a lasting impact and produced “influential visions of crime, the criminal and human nature.” Eghigian's work shows, among other things, how rehabilitation efforts could emerge as much out of anxiety about the threat of recidivism as out of optimism or progressive social science.
Based upon archival research that spans three regimes (National Socialist, East German, West German), sophisticated in its use of theory, and masterful in its deployment of an impressive range of multi-disciplinary scholarship, the book is written in engaging prose and clearly articulates its substantial intellectual and historiographical contributions. Prof. Eghigian’s nuanced analysis is sometimes surprising and always thought-provoking, undermining conventional views and narratives regarding the Third Reich and its relation to developments in the Weimar, Cold War, and post-Cold War eras. His insights, moreover, transcend the German context, shedding light on conceptions of “criminality” as well as penal and therapeutic practices in liberal democratic states. Erudite and ambitious, this book demonstrates what a specialized historical study of Germany has to offer other fields. It is an exemplary piece of scholarship that makes an original contribution to German historiography and speaks beyond the German context to interrogate the ways that criminality and the human capacity for improvement have been – and continue to be – understood and addressed in the broader North Atlantic world of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Prize Committee: Professors Heide Fehrenbach (History, Northern Illinois University, chair), David Ciarlo (University of Colorado—Boulder), and Daniel Riches (University of Alabama.
2015 Prize Announced
The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that ProfessorH. Glenn Penny, University of Iowais the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences published during the years 2013 and 2014. His book Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800 was published by Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press in 2013.
Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:
Glenn Penny’s book Kindred by Choice crosses time and space in exemplary fashion. His work is rooted in German communities – whether Biedermeier readers marveling at the Leatherstocking Tales, or German settlers in New Ulm, Minnesota, in the 1860s, or East and West German hobbyists camping out in teepees. His work is also rooted in American Indian communities – those who chose to honor German curiosity and enthusiasm by taking part in a long-enduring trans-Atlantic exchange. In a series of well-written, methodically rich chapters, Penny asks us to rethink the attitude of condescension commonly displayed toward German fans of Karl May or Wild West shows. For many Germans, the “elective affinity” for American Indians was a serious and respectful engagement, and it showed remarkable continuity across the political ruptures of the 20th Century. The committee applauds Penny’s provocative, revisionist account for its contribution to German Studies, above all its lucid interpretation of how the encounter with American Indians inflected German identities and German values over time.
The DAAD and the GSA are proud to announce that Professor David Ciarlo (University of Colorado, Boulder) is the winner of this year's DAAD Book Prize for the Best Book in history or Social Sciences published during the years 2011 and 2012. His book, Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany, was published by Harvard University Press in 2011. The prize committee consisted of Professors Carl Caldwell, Rice University (chair); Monica Black, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and Benjamin Marschke, Humboldt State University. The GSA wishes to thank the committee for its hard and outstanding work, and congratulates Professor Ciarlo for his excellent achievement.
Here is the text of the committee's laudatio:
In Advertising Empire, David Ciarlo masterfully connects several different historiographies in order to get at how commercial imagery developed in Germany, how it was wrapped up in national and international colonial projects, and how it shaped German perceptions of race. By looking carefully at the images used in advertising how and when they were patented, how they were used and borrowed he shows the role of American images of black minstrelsy, British colonial and commercial images, and commodity expositions in eventually creating a set of images that persist to this day (such as the "Sarotti moor"). The book stands out for its methodological sophistication, creative and extensive use of evidence, and clear structure and argument. Last but certainly not least, it stands out for its clear writing: even when he is describing the most complex semiotic or cultural theories, Ciarlo does so with a light touch and careful phrasing that renders the difficult accessible to a wide audience.
DAAD/GSA Prize for the Best Book in History and Social Sciences: Call for Nominations
2023 Prize Submissions Open
It gives us a great deal of pleasure to announce the 2023 competition for the DAAD/GSA Book Prize in History and Social Sciences of the German Studies Association.
In 2023 the DAAD/GSA Book Prize for the Best Book in History or Social Sciences will be awarded to the best book in those fields published in 2022*. The DAAD/GSA book prizes are funded through the North American office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and carry an award of $1,000. Under the provision of the DAAD grant, eligibility is restricted to authors who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States and Canada. Translations, editions, anthologies, memoirs, and books that have been previously published are not eligible.
*2022 must be the year printed on the copyright page; titles published in late 2022 but with a copyright year listed as 2023 are eligible for the 2024 award cycle.
The submission deadline is May 5, 2023. The prize is awarded under German Studies Association rules by a GSA committee, and is presented during the banquet of the GSA Annual Conference, which in 2023 will take place in Montréal, Québec, Canada from Oct. 5 – Oct. 8, 2023.
Direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please send a hard copy of the book to be considered to each of the three committee members at the addresses provided below; please also send an electronic copy of the book to Jonathan Bach at email@example.com.
- Annette F. Timm (Committee Chair)
- Department of History
- University of Calgary
- 2500 University Drive NW
- Calgary, AB, T2N 1N4
- Jonathan Bach (electronic copy also to firstname.lastname@example.org)
- European Studies Council
- MacMillan Center, Yale University
- PO Box 208206
- Henry R. Luce Hall
- 34 Hillhouse Ave.
- New Haven CT 06520-8206
- Jason Coy
- College of Charleston
- Department of History
- 165 Calhoun Street, Maybank Hall 202
- Charleston, SC 29401