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Title: The politics of history and the "Prussia-Renaissance" in the German Democratic Republic, 1968-1987
Author: Colla, Marcus Timothy
ISNI:       0000 0004 8501 0928
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This dissertation examines the phenomenon of the 'Prussia-Renaissance' in the German Democratic Republic (the GDR) during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It explores the cultural and political reasons why the official histories of the communist East German state began during this period to recognise and even publicly celebrate figures from Prussian history who had not served a 'progressive' historical agenda. The 'rehabilitation' of Prussian history in the GDR has long been interpreted as a watershed moment in the political and cultural history of the East German state. Yet while it has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, the historiographical focus on the subject has remained statically political, emphasising above all the attempts of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) to invoke the popular, emotional resources of dynastic and regional history as a legitimating strategy in the face of fast-changing political and economic conditions. Arguing against this tradition, the present study contends that the GDR's 'Prussia-Renaissance' represented much more than a merely opportunistic political decision. Instead, it employs the 'Prussia-Renaissance' as a case study into the problematic relationship between popular historical narratives and socialist 'historicity' that was in fact typical of the 'late socialist' era all throughout Eastern Europe. By looking beyond 'high politics' and examining the cultural sphere, intellectual discourses and the international context from 1968 up until the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987, this dissertation maintains that the GDR's 'Prussia-Renaissance' unfolded as a largely improvised and convoluted process that depended in large part on interactions between 'top-down' policy and 'bottom-up' initiative. It argues that the GDR's politics of history during the 'late socialist' era were conditioned by a dramatic shift in public attitudes towards the past and its symbols that political leaders tried to capture and imbue with a distinctly 'socialist' purpose. In this way, the study explores how the proliferation of new historical practices and policies were in fact symptomatic of deeper changes in the ways that the German past was collectively understood and contested in communist East Germany. Finally, it situates the GDR's 'Prussia-Renaissance' within an international context of changing relationships to, and uses of, the past throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in this way seeks to employ the 'Prussia-Renaissance' to reintegrate the GDR into a more transnational European story that transcends the Iron Curtain.
Supervisor: Clark, Christopher Sponsor: Gates Cambridge Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: German Democratic Republic ; Geschichtspolitik ; Politics of History ; Prussia ; Memory ; Culture