Fulbright Research Proposal
STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE
Katherine McAllister, Germany, Modern History
Women in the Shadows of the War: Love, Loss, and German-US Relations in the Post-Nazi Era
In the country of my grandmother’s birth, hiding behind walls, in envelopes, in memories, under stacks of books and in black-and-white photographs, a story is waiting to be unraveled. It is a story that spans generations and cultures, and it is one that has never been told to anyone before. It is a story of war, of death, of love, of loss, of tragedy, and hopefully, in the end, of healing.
Few people ever have the opportunity to reconstruct a lost piece of their family’s past in the way that I do.
In May of 1999, my grandmother’s family home in southern Germany was being renovated when my Uncle Gerhard made a startling discovery. As the tiling in the upstairs bathroom was being ripped out, an opening was discovered behind a wall that contained a small basket. This basket was filled with over two hundred letters—the correspondence that my great-grandmother, Emilie, and great-grandfather, Josef, shared during World War II. After Josef’s death in 1943, Emilie never spoke of him again, not even to her own children. My grandmother and her siblings have described their mother as emotionless; to them it seemed that they grew up with a mother who cared for her children but was never able to show them any affection or love.
This barren childhood set in the war-torn city of Ulm did unspeakable damage to the Müller children. The discovery of these letters was thus, understandably, an emotional experience. But it has been ten years since their discovery, and my grandmother’s siblings still remain too traumatized to be able to read the letters of their parents written well over fifty years ago.
Fast-forward to the year 1960, when my grandmother left Ulm for St. Louis, Missouri and caused a minor scandal in both locations. She shocked her German family by moving to America as the bride of an occupying soldier, and shocked my grandfather’s Jewish family by her blonde hair and thick German accent. Through letters, my grandmother told her sister Irmgard of her new life in the United States as a German in post-war America. I discovered this correspondence in the attic of the house in Ulm just a few months ago. I have been given permission by my grandmother and all of her siblings to use these two sets of letters as the foundation of my research.
Though this project may at first glance appear to be primarily an exploration in family history, I believe that it is exactly this type of personal story that provides a humanistic base for understanding and interpreting community and national histories. This particular approach to the study of modern history is currently undergoing extensive examination in academic circles in Germany, which is one reason why it is critical that my research be performed there as well.During my time studying in the history department at the University of Regensburg in 2009, I was first confronted by the controversial issue of evaluating Ego-Dokumente as historical sources. While in Germany, I began to study and consider the types of obstacles that can arise in this field, for example, the ways in which the use of retrospective personal sources (like interviews) can compromise the integrity of academic research. To remain abreast of these issues, I would like to conduct my research at the University of Tübingen. I have been in contact with Professor Ewald Frie of the history department there, who has invited me to perform my research at the university and to attend historically and methodologically relevant seminars with him and his colleague Anselm Doering-Mannteufel, as well as with their assistants.
Courses at the University of Tübingen run from October to February and from April to July. Upon my arrival in Germany in September of 2010, I will travel to Ulm to retrieve the letters, and then establish myself in Tübingen and register for courses. Though course listings do not become available until just before the beginning of the semester, I have been assured by the department that there will be many courses offered that are highly relevant to my project. While attending seminars on the time period and historical methodology I will be using to conduct my project, I will transcribe both sets of letters. Last semester, I brought back copies of several of the letters with me so that I could start learning how to decipher the handwriting used by my great-grandmother and grandfather. I am receiving help from professors in the German department at Vanderbilt on handwriting analysis and Sütterlinschrift, the former standardized method of writing that my great-grandfather uses in his letters. These preparations ensure that my project could begin directly upon arrival in Germany.
I expect to have the transcription finished by the end of the first semester. During the two-month semester break, I plan to conduct interviews with family members in Ulm to piece together anything unclear in the letters. The knowledge I will have gained on methodology and Ego-Dokumente during the first semester will enable me to better conduct and interpret these interviews, and open up the possibility of expanding my interview base to other families affected similarly by the war, some of whom I already know through my family’s connections. While conducting these interviews, I willbegin annotating the letters, a process that will continue through the first part of the second semester. I anticipate that the annotation will require additional historical research and coursework on the time period, German-American relations in the 1950s and 1960s, and gender issues in the post-war era. I will be conducting this research with the help of the professors mentioned above, using the resources at the University of Tübingen. By May of 2010, I plan to have the letters transcribed and annotated. The final step in this project is to write a lengthy introduction summarizing my findings and identifying broader themes for my future post-graduate work. The end product would be a collection of the transcribed and annotated letters with a supplementary introduction. I will use my results and the experience gained from this year of research to apply for graduate programs in history that have special emphasis on the use of retrospective and personal sources in academic research, especially as it pertains to Germany in the decades after World War.
I am twenty-one years old, and I am afraid that my generation is forgetting to question how World War II changed not just nations, policies, or institutions, but how it affected lives on an individual level, how it changed family dynamics, and how it has influenced an entire cultural identity. My project brings a real and living story into the spotlight, and has the potential to impact young people, old people, Germans, Americans, and in a world where peace is still a distant dream, just about everyone in between.