Celebrating One Year GHI West in Berkeley

The GHI Washington’s Pacific Regional Office has quickly established itself as trans-regional hub for historical research and cooperation

 

Background and Structure

Due to its pivotal role in global academia the United States remains an important partner for the German research community. Renowned ivy league universities along the American East Coast such as Harvard, Yale, or the University of Pennsylvania immediately come to mind as drivers of innovative approaches, methods, and questions that frequently affect how research is conducted around the world. Leading academic hubs in the east of the United States are, however, but one piece of a continental ensemble that develops its full intellectual impact only as a whole.[1] With this in mind, the German Council on Science and the Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) in 1999 explicitly recommended to establish a West Coast branch office of the GHI Washington in order to address the diversity and size of the American cultural space and the vibrant nature of American historical research.[2] When Simone Lässig became director in 2015, the GHI took on this task: The West Coast had since gained additional significance in American academia. And as former research fellow in Washington, Simone Lässig had experienced the difficulties of reaching out to the west from the U.S. capital before. In May 2016, the council of the Max Weber Foundation (MWS) approved the GHI’s concept for a new Pacific Regional Office and provided seed capital to guarantee quick action.

University of Berkeley Campus | Picture by Charlie Nguyen

After consultation with relevant German and North American partners, the decision was made to establish the office at the University of California, Berkeley. Not only is Berkeley ranked among the top U.S. universities in the humanities and social sciences, particularly in history.[3] Its insertion in the UC university network and location in California’s Bay Area also allows for additional cooperation with leading scholars in the North American West and easy access to key archives such as the Hoover Institution Archives, Magnes Collection, Stanford University Archives, and the West Coast branch of the National Archives. In February 2017, the pacific regional office – now dubbed GHI West – got its first staff, program officer Heike Friedman. And while the official opening was set for November, programming was kicked off in August 2017 with the first public event: a panel discussion on science in times of populism with DFG President Peter Strohschneider and renowned Berkeley faculty Cathryn Carson, Horst Simon, and Thomas Laqueur.

Focus and Objectives

Activities and programs at GHI West reflect the GHI Washington’s full mission and thus foster research and academic cooperation in the fields of German and European history, American and transatlantic history, and global and transnational history. As in Washington, the main tools are academic conferences, lectures and other public events, as well as fellowships for junior – and to a certain extent – senior researchers. One of GHI West’s central pillars connecting German scholars with their West Coast peers are the Gerda Henkel Lectures, which are designed to bring established German historians of all thematical and epochal foci to several West Coast universities. To connect junior scholars from Germany and North America already at an early career stage, the GHI’s long established Transatlantic Doctoral Seminar took place in Berkeley for the first time this year. Likewise, to address the needs of historians based in the United States, GHI West is now organizing an annual workshop on topics in German history together with a West Coast network of Germanists. With the history department at UC Berkeley and the Thyssen Stiftung, the GHI established a pre-dissertation fellowship program in German and European History that offers West Coast doctoral students financial support for archival research in Germany. These formats are of particular relevance since funding in the field of German history and culture has dropped dramatically in recent years, especially for junior scholars. Much like the Gerda Henkel Lecture Tours they serve the GHI’s aim of keeping Germany on the radar of the West Coast’s vibrant centers of global thought, which are increasingly shifting their geographical focus away from Europe and towards Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Bucerius Lecturer David Miliband with Simone Lässig, Jutta Allmendinger, Axel Jansen and Michael Göring

The geographic and cultural characteristics of its location additionally serve as the baseline for GHI West’s research programs and overall strategic orientation. Inspired by the Bay Area’s particular mix of immigrant cultures from Europe, Asia, and Latin America, as well as the unique knowledge produced in such a diverse society, “History of Migrant Knowledges” has been conceptualized as GHI West’s special research focus for the next several years. Coming from a history of knowledge perspective – the current focus at the GHI in Washington – History of Migrant Knowledges aims to address relevant questions in migration studies. Of particular interest is knowledge that is produced during the processes of migration and integration – by institutions and individuals, elites and non-elites – allowing for a truly trans-regional and interdisciplinary approach. This concept has drawn much attention and support from external partners. An annual Bucerius Lecture and attached Young Scholars Forum on Histories of Migration are sponsored by the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius. A postdoctoral research tandem, which brings together one North American and one German junior scholar to work on related topics, is funded by the VolkswagenStiftung.  Another research tandem on the topic of forced migration has been established together with the New School of Social Research and the Brüder Stiftung. The latter also serves as partner for a senior fellowship as well as a practitioners-in-residence program, which allow established scholars and professionals working on migration to come to Berkeley in order to foster intellectual exchange.

The participants of the 2nd Young Scholars Forum in front of the Moses Hall at UC Berkeley

Together, these programs serve as foundation for a broader international and interdisciplinary research network, which is currently being established by GHI West research fellow and head of office, Andrea Westermann. An exploratory workshop on “Migrant Knowledges: Concepts, Voices, and Spaces” in April 2018 and the panel series “The Nexus of Migration, Youth, and Knowledge” at the German Studies Association’s annual conference this September served as initial components of the network. Additionally, the international conference series “In Global Transit”, initiated by Simone Lässig to support cooperation among the three new MWS locations in Beijing, Berkeley, and Delhi, also aims to expand the Migrant Knowledges research network. For the coming year a “Transregional Academy on the Histories of Migrant Knowledges in/across the Transpacific:  Agencies, Scales, Translations” is organized as joint initiative with the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Foundation and in cooperation with the CALAS Merian Centre Guadalajara, thus simultaneously contributing to the expansion of the network and the GHI’s outreach to Latin America and Pacific Rim.

Future steps

Connecting the GHI’s transatlantic approach with the broader Pacific Rim has been at the center of our most recent programming efforts for GHI West. With the rise of Asian powers, most significantly China, the world is currently experiencing a shift towards the Pacific as center of the international order. The Obama Administration’s “Pivot to Asia” indicated the significance of this development for the United States: For the first time in history the U.S. government prioritized transpacific over transatlantic relations. This of course will affect research and research cooperation in the United States and in Germany. While on the North American West Coast the Asia-Pacific region has long been a dominant regional focus, it is still an underdeveloped field of study in Germany and Europe more generally. In order to include German scholars into this most significant debate, the GHI with its pacific regional office is developing several formats that focus on the Pacific or on transoceanic approaches, which aim at bridging Atlantic and Pacific questions and methods. In the past academic year, a D.C.-based research tandem already organized an exploratory workshop on Transoceanic American Studies. Additionally, the GHI is developing two research networks on “Transoceanic History” and “Knowledge in the Trans-Pacific”, the latter in cooperation with our sister institutes in Tokyo and Moscow, their outposts in Singapore and Vladivostok, and the MWS office in Beijing. For March 2019, the GHI together with the ZEIT-Stiftung and the Institutes of European and East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley is organizing a symposium on “Entangling the Pacific and Atlantic Worlds: Past and Present”, which will bring together experts from academia, politics, media, and the private sector to discuss the transformation of the global order as influence shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Located at the crossroads of both spheres, GHI West in Berkeley is of course the perfect place for initiating such debates and promoting cooperation among historians and other scholars with transatlantic and/or transpacific expertise.

This past week we celebrated GHI West’s first anniversary with the second Bucerius Lecture and Young Scholars Forum. Even within this very short time span the GHI’s pacific office with its presence on the campus of the oldest and most prestigious university in the North American west has already become an important hub for international research in history, the historic humanities, and social sciences. Its programs help fulfill and expand the GHI’s overall tasks of increasing transatlantic scholarly cooperation and outreach to a broader public. They provide established and emerging historians from Germany with access to the West Coast’s diversity and innovation. Likewise, GHI West provides scholars along the North American West Coast with an important connection to German academia. Our expanded mission has already received considerable attention in research communities on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. Through their commitments to GHI West’s new programs, our West Coast branch has been endorsed by all of Germany’s major funding institutions for historical research. While this is good news for our team, much work remains to be done. Along with its mother ship in Washington, GHI West will go through an official review process in 2020. Given the success so far, we look forward to explaining how GHI West has become an indispensable bridge for transatlantic and transoceanic historical research as well as broader German-American relations that must be put on permanent footing.


Sarah Beringer heads strategic planning and communications at the GHI in Washington, including GHI West. Before joining the GHI in 2016, she worked as full-time research associate at the Institute of International Business and Globalization at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg from 2011-2015. There she served as departmental coordinator for 16 academic partnerships in the US, UK, Ireland and Scandinavia and was a junior member of the internationalization commission of the School of Business and Economics, which holds over 120 academic partnerships worldwide. Sarah Beringer received a PhD in Economics and Social Sciences for her research on US-Brazil trade relations and holds a Master in Business Administration (both degrees from FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg). During the course of both degrees she studied and conducted research at various U.S. universities.


[1] Eight out of the top ten universities in the 2017 Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities are in the United States, with three of these eight located on the US West Coast (1st Harvard University; 2nd Stanford University; 4th Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 5th C Berkeley; 6th Princeton University; 8th Columbia University; 9th California Institute of Technology; 10th University of Chicago).

[2] Wissenschaftsrat (1999). Stellungnahme zu den Geisteswissenschaftlichen Auslandsinstituten. Drs 4348/99, p. 139. Since then, the council’s suggestion was echoed in advisory board meetings and academic review processes.

[3] The 2017 U.S. News national graduate school ranking lists UC Berkeley’s history program as No. 4 (in tie with Harvard). European history and modern U.S. history are ranked No. 2, respectively. Asian history is ranked No. 1.


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