An Award For Sexuality In Cold War East Germany

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Love In The Time Of Communism

Three historians from the University of Bristol are celebrating success in the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History, awarded by the Wiener Library, London.

Dr Josie McLellan’s book Love In The Time Of Communism: Intimacy and Sexuality in the GDR has been named joint winner of the 2011 prize category for established authors.  Dr Tim Cole’s book Traces of the Holocaust: Journeying In and Out of the Ghettos was specially commended. This follows a special commendation for Dr Juliane Fürst’s book Stalin’s Last Generation: Soviet Postwar Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism in the same category in 2010.

Drs Cole, Fürst and McLellan are the nucleus of a team of social and cultural historians at the forefront of innovative research and creative teaching of contemporary European history.  Students at Bristol have already benefited from their prize-winning research, in the form of undergraduate and postgraduate units on ‘Holocaust Landscapes’, ‘Goodbye Lenin: Culture, Society and Dissent in the USSR’, and ‘German Bodies’, amongst others.

Dr Cole has recently commenced a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship to write a major monograph on Holocaust Landscapes, while Dr Fürst and Dr McLellan hold an AHRC research grant to investigate subcultures in late socialism.  Dr Fürst is writing the first study of hippies in the Soviet Union, while Dr McLellan is investigating gay subcultures and activism in East Germany.  Current research students are pursuing projects on a range of topics from building managers in wartime Budapest to the black market in music in 1980s Russia.

Dr Josie McLellan‘s book Love In The Time Of Communism: Intimacy and Sexuality in the GDR (Cambridge University Press, 2011) examines the history of sexuality in Cold War East Germany.  Drawing on sources ranging from secret police files to private collections of erotica, Dr McLellan finds that ordinary citizens had a surprising degree of power over their private lives, resulting in soaring rates of nudism, divorce, abortion, and single parenthood. Nevertheless, the state kept a firm grip on the public discussion of sexuality, and was ever eager to turn sex to its own ends, whether in the use of prostitutes as Stasi informers, or the inclusion of topless young women in official parades.

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Dr Tim Cole’s Traces of the Holocaust: Journeying In and Out of the Ghettos (Continuum, 2011) adopts an innovative multi-perspectival approach framed around a wide variety of material traces – from receipts to maps, name lists to photographs – to tell stories of journeys into and out of Hungarian ghettos. These stories of the perpetrators who oversaw ghettoization and deportation, the bystanders who witnessed and aided these journeys, and the victims who undertook them reveal the spatio-temporal dimensions of the Holocaust.  But they also point to the visibility of these events within the ordinary spaces of the city, the importance of an economic assault on Jews and the marked gendering of the Holocaust in Hungary.

In Stalin’s Last Generation: Soviet Postwar Youth and the Emergence of Mature Socialism (Oxford University Press, 2010), Dr Juliane Fürst creates a detailed picture of late Stalinist youth and youth culture, looking at young people from a variety of perspectives: as children of the war, as recipients and creators of propaganda, as perpetrators of crime, as representatives of fledgling subcultures, as believers, as critics, and as drop-outs. In the process, she illuminates not only the complex relationship between the Soviet state and its youth, but also provides a new interpretative framework for understanding late Stalinism – the impact of which on Soviet society’s subsequent development has hitherto been underestimated, including its role in the ultimate demise of the USSR.

The Fraenkel Prize, sponsored by Mr Ernst Fraenkel OBE, joint President of the Wiener Library and former Chairman, is awarded for an outstanding work of twentieth-century history in one of the Library’s fields of interest, that is the political history of Central and Eastern Europe; Jewish history; the two world wars; anti-semitism; and the ideologies and movements of political extremism and totalitarianism.

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