Université de Strasbourg

USIAS Fellows seminar: Strasbourg, laboratory of modernity

April 25, 2019
From 12:30 until 14:00

By Alexandre Kostka (2015 Fellow)

Strasbourg, laboratory of modernity.
New perspectives on a shared "German" past: a research project and its development.

The period of 1880-1930 was a crucial time for Strasbourg, then capital of the “Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen”, before being recovered by France in 1918. Strasbourg was used as a “laboratory” by both Germany and France in order to present their aspirations for cultural hegemony to Europe, using the city space as a place to exhibit their visions of modernity.

Past approaches have focused on the nationalist and propagandistic aspect of the cultural policies which took place under the auspices of the Museums, the University and different policies of architecture and town-planning. However, these approaches and the methods of investigation used tend to have a performative effect, which (not always unconsciously) “constructs” the differences which they seek to establish between “German” and “French”.

It is therefore important to examine the specific quality of cultural heritage in Strasbourg as a disputed semantic complex (a “contested heritage”, J. Tunbridge), and to study the city as a specific “space” (a “geography of knowledge”, D.N. Livingstone, C. Jacob) in which complex negotiations between competing cultural self-definitions and projections of identity take place. In close cooperation with the Museums of Strasbourg, this research has brought together academics and museum curators from Strasbourg, Berlin, Paris and Munich and other cities.

The USIAS Fellowship allowed several important steps for research in this area, including the digitalization of the archives of one of the protagonists of the cultural renovation during the period 1890-1914, Charles Spindler, and the renovation project of the Municipal Bath in Strasbourg. Furthermore, it allowed research and an exhibition on Strasbourg and its Eastern counterpart, the now Polish city of Poznan (formerly Posen), capital of the Prussian region of the same name. By the end of the nineteenth century Strasbourg and Poznan became capital-cities of annexed territories of the German empire (1871-1918). They were expected to perform a representative role in the respective border regions and underline the claim of power of the German Emperor, which was was reflected among other things in similarities in urban extensions, architecture and city-planning.

France 2030