Major cultural commemorations and the construction of national identity in the GDR, 1959-1983

Zell, David (2018). Major cultural commemorations and the construction of national identity in the GDR, 1959-1983. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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My thesis asks whether cultural commemorations helped the GDR to build a distinct national identity, and examines the role of political and cultural actors involved in them. Covering different strands of German cultural heritage, the aims, implementations and outcomes of anniversary commemorations are investigated as a longitudinal series of case-studies: Schiller (1959); Kollwitz (1967); Beethoven (1970); and Luther (1983).

Substantial evidence from largely unpublished sources exposes recurring gaps between the theory and practice of these commemorations, essentially attributable to manifest examples of agency by commemoration stakeholders. Each commemoration produced some positive legacies. But driven mainly by demarcation motives versus West Germany, the appropriation of these German cultural icons as socialist role-models to promote national identity was mostly unsuccessful in three commemorations. Kollwitz was the exception as the GDRˈs claimed linkage to her political life was already undisputed in both German states.

These research results are both new and important. They address a gap in both memory studies and GDR history scholarship regarding the relationship between commemorations and national identity. Furthermore, the findings of agency offer an original contribution to historiographical debates, by enhancing a ˈconsensusˈ- /ˈparticipatoryˈ dictatorship model of the GDR in preference to a top-down totalitarian system.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Modern Languages
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Other
Other Funders: Association for German Studies (AGS)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages


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