CFP (conference): GSA panel - "The American West in the German Imagination"

Sara Friedman's picture
Call for Papers
September 30, 2021 to October 3, 2021
Indiana, United States
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, European History / Studies, German History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Film and Film History

CFP: “The American West in the German Imagination”

In January 1848, gold was discovered at the sawmill of Swiss immigrant Johann Sutter near Sacramento, California. That spring, revolutions calling for liberal, constitutional rule erupted across the German speaking lands. The Gold Rush and the Revolutions of 1848 marked watersheds in both of these corners of the world, redefining how the 19th century would play out. But this was only the start of what we see as a shared genius loci between the German and Californian-Western worlds. From Aby Warburg's journey to the Puebloans and his ethnography of the Hopi serpent ritual in 1895, to Wim Wenders' road movies of the 1980s and 1990s, the landscapes, cultures, and aesthetics of the American West have exercised a unique hold on the German imagination.

The aim of this panel is to explore notions of the American West – its people, its nature, its cities and industries – in German-language sources. Although exile and emigration from Nazi Germany deservedly take center stage in discussions of this topic, we would like to look to either temporal side of these better-known stories, not only to trace the lead-up and aftermath to the 1930s refugees, but also to shed light on overlooked dynamics and exchanges.

We welcome submissions that explore the following questions:

What does the American West mean for the Germans and German speakers who came there?

What do their impressions and imaginings of the region tell us about aspects of German culture, what do they tell us about aspects of American or American Western culture?

How have the American West and its German visitors mutually defined themselves, and to what extent is it possible to tell a shared story about German encounters with California and the American West?

Entries might explore the American West’s antinomies-- as locus of settler colonialism and as unspoilt wilderness. They might make use of urban histories and emigration to the area at least since its 1848 takeover by the United States. They could focus on individual personalities like San Francisco’s mayor, Adolph Sutro (‘48er, ‘49er, German, and Jewish) or early Hollywood moguls like Carl Laemmle, for instance. They might look at the region-as-fantasy, as it appears in Karl May’s books or in Eurowesterns. They could thematize academic exchanges, such as the eugenics pioneered at California’s mental institutions at the beginning of the 20th century and its influence on German scientists.

We encourage submissions from all disciplines!

We ask that interested presenters send abstracts of 200-300 words and a short bio by February 8th, 2021 to and


Contact Info: 

Sara Friedman

PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley