German Past Futures in the 20th Century

Anne C. Schenderlein Announcement
District of Columbia, United States
Subject Fields
German History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies, Literature, Cultural History / Studies, Social History / Studies


German Past Futures in the 20th Century


Conveners: Arnd Bauerkämper (Freie Universität Berlin), Frank Biess (University of California, San Diego), Kai Evers (University of California, Irvine), Anne Schenderlein (German Historical Institute)


Conference Venue: German Historical Institute Washington

Date: February 23-25, 2017


For several decades now, cultural theorists and historians of Germany have provided ever more nuanced and sophisticated accounts of how Germans in the 20th Century have remembered (or forgotten) the past. Compared to the emphasis on shifting regimes of memory in Germany, however, considerably less effort has been spent on the reconstruction of Germans’ anticipation of the future in the 20th century. This workshop seeks to correct this existing imbalance by engaging in an interdisciplinary investigation of how Germans envisioned and imagined their futures in the 20th century.

The concept of the workshop can build on important theoretical and empirical work that has highlighted the potential fruitfulness of researching past futures. Most notably, Reinhard Koselleck’s work called attention to the emergence of the future as an independent category no longer determined by past traditions from the mid-18 century onward. Given the volatile and catastrophic history of 20th century Germany, however, the “space of experience” often shaped Germans’ “horizon of expectation” in a more extensive manner than Koselleck’s model might suggest. Nevertheless, the two categories have rarely been employed in studies of twentieth-century German history and culture.

The conference aims to bring together scholars who, in one way or another, are engaged in researching Germans’ past futures in the 20th century. We seek to gain an overview over the interdisciplinary work in this field, mainly in History and Literature, and we hope to arrive at a theoretical and conceptual perspective on how to conceive of German futures in relationship to experiences of the past in the 20th century more broadly.


The contributions to the workshop will deal with the following basic questions:


  • Which concepts, imaginations and visions of the future were espoused, voiced and disseminated in Germany by specific actors in distinct contexts?


  • To what extent and how did they relate to experiences of their past and present?


  • Which emotional impulses and regimes are discernible?


  • How did social movements mobilize particular conceptions of the future for their programs?


  • Which fields (e.g. technology and the sciences) and problems (such as the future of warfare, the welfare state, and types of government) were particularly appropriate and prone to debates about the future? 


  • Which fields of inquiry were particularly prominent in producing knowledge about the future and how was this knowledge disseminated, popularized, debated? To what extent were visions of the future shaped by knowledge transfer from abroad?


  • Which traditional and emerging media did specific (individual and collective) actors use in order to develop and publicize their respective visions of the future and the ensuing demands? How did these media limit or enable anticipations of the future in different discourses and disciplines?


Possible topics might include but are not limited to the following:


*the relationship of optimism and pessimism

*competing conceptions of the future

*conflict between prognostic and prophetic approaches to the future

*the link between memories of the past and anticipations of the future

*literary imaginations of utopia and dystopia, including science fiction

*apocalyptical literature and literature of risk

*the emergence and practice of a science of the future (Futurologie) and its popularization

*imaginations of gender, class, race, religion

*the status and significance of experiences of the past and expectations of the future for different political regimes

*economic knowledge/practices and imaginations

*wars and violence

*the relationship between imagining and shaping/influencing the future (utopias)

*emotional regimes and imaginations (anxieties and hopes)

*the impact of the “scientification of the social” on concepts of the future

*security and risk

*technological change.


Interested scholars are invited to send their proposals (1.800 icons maximum) by March 20, 2016 to Susanne Fabricius, German Historical Institute (



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