Migration and Racism in the United States and Germany in the Twentieth Century

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the workshop “Migration and Racism in the United States and Germany in the Twentieth Century” which will take place on April 23-24, 2020 at the German Historical Institute Washington. We talked with the conveners, Elisabeth Engel and Maria Alexopoulou about the upcoming workshop.

You are the conveners of the workshop “Migration and Racism in the United States and Germany in the Twentieth Century”. How did you come up with the idea to this event?

Maria Alexopoulou: I have been working for some time now on the persistence of racial knowledge in Germany after 1945. In this context I always kept track of the debates on race and racism in the US. In particular, the critical race theory is a crucial source of inspiration for my research approach. The histories of Germany and the US have crossed in many aspects and this holds particulary true for the fields of migration and racism. With Elisabeth Engel I have a partner working on African-American History and race in the US, who shares my interest in transatlantic entanglements concerning these phenomena.

In your experience, what are the methodological and/or conceptual challenges for scholars who want to study the entanglements of racism and migration on one or both sides of the Atlantic?

There is a notable difference in the historiographical discourse on migration and racism in the US and Germany, as historians in Germany usually refrain from using race and racism as analytical tools for the time after 1945. Therefore the research on history of migration conducted on both sides of the Atlantic deals with similar phenomena but seemingly has little common methodological ground.  We want to explore this field and learn more about it.

How do you hope to shape the future debate on racism and migration with your workshop? Which questions do you plan to bring up and discuss with the participants?

First of all, we want to initiate a dialogue between the two fields. Furthermore, we aim to go beyond simply comparing or compiling “German” and “American” cases by inviting participants to look at, and reflect on, racism and its various forms. Thus, the workshop seeks to shape an intellectual space that ultimately corresponds to a spatial framework in which the US and Germany figure as one analytical unit.

Maria Alexopoulou is a research fellow at the Chair for Contemporary History at the University of Mannheim and works on her postdoc project on racism in Germany since 1945. Additionally, she currently is a research assistant in a project on female refugee entrepreneurs at the Chair of SME research and entrepreneurship, University of Mannheim. She studied History and Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg and holds a PhD in Modern History of the Free University of Berlin.

Elisabeth Engel is a scholar of cultural and economic  history. She is a research fellow in North American history at the German Historical Institute Washington DC.  In her research, she explores colonial entanglements in the Atlantic world from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century. She has published on the African American missionary movement and currently works on the emergence of risk as a financial concept during the American struggle for Independence.


Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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