“Not Everything was Good, but Many Things were Better”: East German Everyday Life, Material Culture, and the Museum

  • Author / Creator
    Winkler, Anne
  • This dissertation draws on the rich context of contemporary Germany for interrogating divisive public debates on Germany’s socialist past. Grounded in the analysis of specific places and objects, particularly those relating to museums, it investigates simultaneously three distinct but also closely connected modes of accessing the past: history, memory, and materiality. Fieldwork conducted in Germany between 2008 and 2013 provides the empirical foundation for this work. Through the application and analysis of such concepts and figures as Igor Kopytoff’s (1986) biography of things, Svetlana Boym’s nostalgia (2001), Walter Benjamin’s rag collector (1999) and Michel Foucault’s (1984) heterotopia, the dissertation explicates how marginal cultural practices and products invoking history and memory complicate widely circulating representations of the East German past. The thesis argues that these practices conceptualize socialist Germany in ways that dominant discourses reject or omit and thereby gesture towards the possibility of plurality and nuance in constructions of the past, which in turn have ramifications for imagining the future. I formulate the concept past mobilizing to denote cultural activities that put the past to use strategically and tend to the past, present, and future simultaneously. The methodological approach that informs this dissertation foregrounds the relationship between people and things as it illuminates the role that objects play in creating and sustaining meanings. In this context, I propose the term and practice of research-by-making as an investigative tool that through the technique of publically exhibiting scholarly work affords a focus on the material and creative dimensions of inquiry. In my work, this approach consisted of putting on display toys, kitchen utensils, postcards, as well as other objects relating to quotidian life in a show entitled East Germany on Display: Dictatorship, Nostalgia & Everyday Life. My central aim in the overall project is to ground the analysis of mobilizations of the past concretely in experiences and, most significantly, things.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2014
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Siemens, Elena (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
    • Bach, Jonathan (Public Engagement, New School, New York)
    • Smith-Prei, Carrie (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
    • Thompson, Guy (History)