Teaching Position: Associate Professor, History Department, University of Missouri, Kansas City, Affiliated Faculty in the Judaic Studies and Women & Gender Studies Programs
Area of Research: Modern German History; History of Everyday Life, Material Culture, Space, & Place; Cultural, Ethnographic, & Oral History; Memory; Interdisciplinarity; Critical Theory
Education: 1998, Ph. D, University of Chicago, Modern German history
Major Publications: Bergerson is author of Ordinary Germans in Extraordinary Times: the Nazi Revolution in Hildesheim (Indiana University Press, 2004) New Research Project “The Cultural History of German Bread in the Twentieth Century” and a monograph, “Alt-Hildesheim: a history of normalcy in modern Europe” and a novel, “Plain Sight.”
Awards: Bergerson is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
2006, Research Grant/Research Leave Winter-Summer, Hildesheim, University of Missouri Research Board;
2005, Short-listed for the First Annual Modernist Studies Book Prize, for: Ordinary Germans in Extraordinary Times;
2005, UMKC Trustee’s Faculty Fellowship Award;
2004, Mentoring Honor (student selected), Meriweather Lewis Fellow (Faculty Development),UMKC, Spring;
2001, Summer Study Grant for research on the Cultural History of German Bread in Ulm & Tübingen, Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst;
2000, Faculty Research Grant, Office of Research Administration, UMKC;
1993-94, 2-year, dissertation research grant, Friedrich-Weinhagen Stiftung, Hildesheim;
1995-97, Van Holst Prize Lectureship, & DAAD Competition for the Best Syllabi in German Studies (2nd Place) for “The Rapprochement of History & Anthropology in German Studies” (with Matti Bunzl & Daphne Berdahl);
1992, Summer Mellon Research Grant, Hildesheim;
1991, Wilhelm Meister Prize for the Screenplay “A Century of Karl May,” Germanic Languages and Literature Department, University of Chicago. Additional Info:
In 1998-99, Bergerson was a Visiting Assistant Professor, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA; 1995-98, Adjunct Faculty or Lecturer, Columbia College, Chicago, IL; Governors State University, University Park, IL; Loyola College in Maryland, Baltimore, MD; University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.
2004, Television Broadcast Interview, “Ordinary Germans,” The College Hour, 17 December, Channel 17.
In 2003-04, Bergerson did radio interviews for “Talking History,” which included shows on; Ken Albala, Eating Right in the Renaissance (2002); Bevin Alexander, How Wars are Won: the 13 Rule of War, (2002); William H. Colby, The Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan,(2002). Harold James, The End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression, (2001), and Harry D. Harootunian, History’s Disquiet: modernity, cultural practice, and the question of everyday life, (2000).
In 2002 Bergerson did a radio broadcast lecture, “‘Das hat das Volk erst gar nicht mitgekriegt’: Erinnerung und Wissen um Barbarei,” Radio Dreyeckland Freiburg FM 102.3.
Jürgen Ludewig a pseudonym loved history. He regularly participated in an adult-education class in the local historical museum in Hildesheim, Germany. While I was conducting research there for my dissertation in 1992-4, the teacher of those courses recommended that I interview him. Heide Kaiser, then a student of museum science at the local university, also recommended Jürgen as an interview partner. But she also warned me: he is to be enjoyed with care “er ist mit Vorsicht zu geniessen.” During the interviews, Jürgen turned out to be quite a cunning character. He accommodated himself to the system, be it fascist or democratic, as the situation demanded, and skeptically denied the existence of any ideal moral positions worthy of sacrifice. In many ways I found Jürgen harder to handle than Helmut a 100% Nazi. At least I knew where I stood with Helmut. And yet most Germans were like Jürgen, ethically ambiguous. More accurately, everyday life is often that complicated.
One day in 1993, before my interviews with Jürgen began, Heide and I ran into him at a museum exhibition. He had spoken to us separately about visiting him in his house to view “The Immortal Heart,” a movie directed by Veit Harlan and filmed in Hildesheim in 1938. Jürgen, it turned out, was an avid film connoisseur: he had a copy of the final cut of this movie in his extensive video library and promised to tell us about how he had watched the filming in his youth.
The ethical problem with “The Immortal Heart” is not just a matter of the striking similarity between its motifs and Nazi propaganda, but also its functionality in Nazi society. Within months of filming it in Hildesheim, the Nazi regime initiated a massive antisemitic pogrom‹the so-called Night of Broken Glass. By offering Hildesheimers this romantic fantasy-image of their town, Harlan disguised the violent realities of the Third Reich and indirectly helped the regime realize its racist goals. Yet it was Jürgen and his neighbors who first adopted the habit of imagining that they lived in Alt-Hildesheim, a premodern, cultivated, yet fantastic town. While watching the filming of “The Immortal Heart” in 1938, Jürgen imagined the disclosure, by modern technology, of a historically romantic citiscape that he and his neighbors had already learned to see.
After watching the movie in 1993, Jürgen tried to convince us that “The Immortal Heart” was not a Nazi film. At first, Heide argued with him as I listened in silence, but both of us soon thanked him for his hospitality and excused ourselves in frustration. Once we were alone in her car, Heide and I spoke of our mutual outrage. In his youth Jürgen had collaborated with the Nazis, and in his maturity he continued to justify this behavior. Then the conversation took a surprising turn. Heide did not understand why I had remained silent while Jürgen tried to justify his past. She asked whether I also let unrepentant Nazis make outright antisemitic comments during the interview process. I responded that I did, that it was not my role to try to change my interview partners from fascists into democrats, and that I could not do so even if I were to try. They had lived for eighty or more years one way; one conversation with me would not change their ways. Defensively I argued that, were I to challenge their politics in the interview process, I would not create trust and they would not speak honestly into my tape recorder. I would be ruining the purpose of the interviews. I could criticize them only after the interviews were done for instance, in my written analysis. Heide appreciated my opinion, but she was not convinced. She felt uncomfortable giving Nazis and their collaborators any opportunity to excuse their past behavior in the public sphere. In 1997 I wrote Heide, asking her to respond to my retelling of this story at the annual meeting of the Association for Integrative Studies. In her reply (11 January 1998), she explained her behavior that afternoon: “Given my conviction that National Socialism was possible because Nazi ideas had become tolerable for discussion in polite company “salonfähig” and everyone else had grown silent, I could not and had no intention of restraining myself. I had to contradict Herr Ludewig.”
To fully appreciate this comment, the reader needs to understand that Heide was raised in a postfascist society: one that is still living in the shadow of fascism, in which any respected elder, perhaps even parents or grandparents, could be a disguised murderer. So she has learned never to trust anyone over a certain age. She has also come to believe that democracy requires civic activism: she instinctively responds to fascist rhetoric with public display of democratic virtues. Though a student of museum science, she is also part of the movement of “Alltagsgeschichte.” Since the 1970s these younger researchers, amateur historians, and civic activists have been fighting to reveal the local Nazi past against an entrenched reign of silence. They seek to prevent an artificial, intellectual foreclosure on this traumatic past and to promote democratic consciousness in their communities. There are a variety of such groups in Hildesheim, for example. They have created walking tours of the local Nazi past, restored and preserved Jewish cemeteries, met survivors of Nazi terror, run intergenerational and interconfessional discussion groups, and, of course, conducted research projects in oral history. Through authentic encounters with the Nazi past, these groups try to make that past accessible and relevant to people today. Yet the everyday life historian’s interest in authenticity can be troubling, as Heide is continually reminded. By 1998, she was working at a memorial-museum located on the site of a former Naziconcentration camp. In her letter (1998), she explained that she finds herself always confronted with the desire for clear answers as to good and evil, having to endure the contradiction of wanting to preserve the remains of a horrible past, and trying to keep in mind the question of my own political and scientific intentions. That is, both the Nazi past and the everyday life history movement trying to preserve its memory raise the question at stake here in stark terms: does an authentic experience with the past, through a visit to the site of mass murder or a narrative interview with an eye-witness, in fact foster liberal values and civic virtues?
In the case of our visit with Jürgen, the answer seemed to have been: no. Jürgen insisted that “The Immortal Heart” was not a Nazi film, because he wanted to believe that Alt-Hildesheim had never been a Nazi place. In 1938, he was busy imagining a medieval dreamworld while the Jews of Hildesheim were being robbed, brutalized, and deported to concentration camps. In the 1990s, he still watched “The Immortal Heart” for the same reason: to forget the ethical complications of everyday life, past and present. Jürgen is addicted to this fantasy, and he tried to addict two young historians to it as well to validate his non-ethic of escapism. Heide and I responded with an analogous self-justification: we reasserted our antifascist positions by judging Jürgen to be a Nazi collaborator. The irony of this story is that this intergenerational encounter did not transform our values or virtues. Instead, all three of us repressed precisely what made the Nazi era so disturbing: having to make ethical choices when none of the options seemed reasonable. I am an historian of everyday life now. For my part, however, I can also now see that I did not keep my polite silence with Jürgen just for the sake of recording a truthful account of the past. This authentic encounter with the past had revealed a panoply of ethical conundrums, and I hid my anxiety about them behind a disciplinary obsession with facticity. My ongoing research agenda uses anthropology, critical theory, cultural studies, philosophy and sociology to engage historical questions about how ordinary people negotiate everyday life in the violent context of modern German history.
By Andrew Stuart Bergerson
About Andrew Stuart Bergerson