Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena

Research Areas

Research at the Kolleg currently addresses the following fields:

  • War, Violence and Oppression: with a focus on the two World Wars, regime violence under socialism and the politics of history in this field.
  • Intellectual History: with a particular focus on dissidence and post-socialism since the 1970s. 
  • Challenges of Modernity: with a focus on transformation and social change since the late nineteenth century. 
  • History and the Public Sphere: with a focus on controversy, and the representation of twentieth-century history in the region.

Our previous research areas ‘Violence’, ‘Statehood’, ‘Challenges of Modernity’ and ‘Intellectual Horizons’ have produced the four-volume series The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (forthcoming with Routledge).

War, Violence, Oppression

responsible: Dr Jochen Böhler
Eastern Europe was a region greatly affected by war, violence, and oppression throughout all of the twentieth century. At the century's start and close, warring conflicts took place in the Balkans, in the course of which the difference between combatants and civilians quickly became blurred. In between, two world wars raged and two neighboring totalitarian powers exerted a great influence on the conflict-laden history of the region. 

In the wake of the wars that extended into the region and the collapse of the existing prewar orders, ethnic, social, and national extremes were taken up, constructed anew, and fought out with violence. The familiar pattern of wars on two fronts soon broke down into many theaters of war in which civil war-like conditions prevailed. 

In the period between these wars, the emergence of authoritarian states could be observed in East Central Europe. They forcefully asserted their claim to power against political adversaries and groups that were stigmatized as enemies on ethnic, national, and/or social grounds. In turn they were opposed by a wide range of groups using subversive or terrorist means. The War, Violence, and Oppression research area is researching in this context the force that was exercised from outside or from above by warring powers and authoritarian regimes against the societies of Eastern Europe. Violent conflicts between ethnic, social, and national groups will also be examined, as well as the relationship between these two manifestations of violence. 

The question must be posed as to the status and legitimacy of the use of force in the region under consideration. Was violence a legitimate means of pursuing the conflict, a part of the political culture? When was reference made to experiences of extreme violence-as either an exemplary or a deterring model-in order to exercise violence or to curb it? How does the experience of violence outlast extended periods and what role does it later play? 
The War, Violence, and Oppression research area pursues a transnational comparative perspective, taking the many nuances and differences into consideration.

History and the Public Sphere

responsible: Dr Eva-Clarita Pettai, Dr Juliane Tomann
The manner in which the past is interpreted in the present day – either through the academic discipline of history or through social groups – is subject to continuous negotiation. A core question of the Imre Kertész Kolleg’s research area ‘History and the Public Sphere’ relates to how these negotiations are being shaped in society. Our understanding of the term ‘public’ is broad: we trace processes of historical ‘meaning-making’ in museums and memorial sites, in academic writing, literature, performative practices and media as well as in political institutions and venues of legislative deliberation. The term ‘historical culture’ – with its theoretical implications and underpinnings – structures this field and helps to clarify the various and overlapping processes taking place in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

To this end, we regularly publish critical reviews of public debates, museum exhibitions and memory policies in the region in an online journal called the Cultures of History Forum. Moreover, in order to bring memory activists, curators and scholars together and to advance a conceptual understanding of this increasingly important field of inquiry, we regularly organize workshops, seminars and special issues, often in cooperation with external partners.

In the long term, with both the Forum, with its international editorial board, and the workshop series we are building a strong network of experts that crosses national borders and cultural boundaries. In facilitating such crossings and exchanges we contribute to the wider pan-European conversation over the legacies of twentieth-century history; a conversation that remains open to historical complexities and variations, yet ultimately aims to advance the search for shared values and norms across the European continent.

With our own research projects on memory politics and performative practices we contribute to advancing this research area which cuts across disciplines, perspectives and approaches.