Discovering new perspectives
In early May 2018, I moved from Toronto to Marburg to begin my summer internship at the Herder Institute, seeking to “develop European perspectives.” I chose to come to Marburg exclusively because of the institute’s focus: as an MA student in European Affairs at the University of Toronto focusing on Central European history, interning at a center exclusively entirely to the study of Central European history represented a unique opportunity that I would not have elsewhere. I was curious to see how people in Germany approached the study of my area of interest, how geographical proximity and shared common history had an impact on the approaches taken, and what was similar and different to the way we approached this study back home.
Acquisition of books on Czech and Slovak history
Some answers to these questions became clear as I began my work at the institute’s research library, where in addition to supervising the acquisition of new books on Czech and Slovak history, I conducted research on interwar Czechoslovak institutions, mainly embassies, consulates, and publishing houses. The main goal was to trace the history of these institutions, particularly when they were founded and when they ceased to exist. This research was conducted as part of the project on Nazi looting at the institute’s library, which looks at a part of the library holdings brought into the institute’s collections in the mid-1960s from the Berlin-Dahlem publication office. As it Is highly probable that these materials were confiscated or stolen by the Nazis, the institute seeks to return these materials to the original owners or their successors.
Collection of historical Postcards
The second project with which I assisted involved working with an extensive collection of historical postcards depicting political or nationalist iconography or propaganda motives. My initial task consisted in transcribing the original printed text on them (most of the cards were in German, Czech or Polish, but there were also some in French, Slovak, Hungarian, English, and sometimes Russian). Working with these tangible pieces of history was a fascinating experience that made me aware of how ideas of nationalism were present in everyday life to the point that even simple Christmas and Easter cards explicitly stated they were meant to send “German” or “Czech” greetings to their recipients. For the last part of my work in the image archive, I will be writing a piece on these exact issues and on the use of historical postcards as sources.
My time at the institute also allowed me to use the holdings for my own research on present-day perceptions of T.G. Masaryk in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The material I have found both in the image archive and the newspaper clipping holdings has been very useful to begin structuring my MA thesis. Moreover, I have also gained insight into the German perspective on certain issues. For example, right before coming to Marburg, I had published a short piece on Czech and American relations using as an example an American stamp with Masaryk issued in the 1960s.
I was surprised to find in the institute’s newspaper clippings a few articles on this specific stamp. Some of these articles, published in German-language around the same time as the stamp was issued, strongly criticized the choice of including Masaryk on a series meant to represent “Champions of Freedom”. Others sought to evaluate more objectively Masaryk’s legacy. These perspectives complemented my initial research and proved that the issues in question had an impact beyond the Czech lands and Slovakia.
In addition to all of this, during my internship, I also had the chance to attend several lectures, workshops, and conferences on topics related to Central European history across disciplines. Interning at the Herder Institute was, therefore, an incredible opportunity to learn more about the field from different perspectives all while practicing my German and using my Czech and Slovak language skills for practical purposes.
Anna Herran – MA Candidate in European and Russian Affairs – University of Toronto