Today’s Guest Blogger is Maria Mitchell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History at Franklin & Marshall College. Dr. Mitchell’s research interests include Modern European History, German History, and Women’s and Gender Studies. She was actively engaged in bringing this exhibition to The Phillips Museum of Art, as well as organizing the recent Common Hour event.
The exhibit, “The Civil Rights Struggles, African American GIs, and Germany,” co-curated by Maria Höhn, the Marion Musser Lloyd ’32 Professor of History and International Studies at Vassar College, and Martin Klimke of the German Historical Institute is extraordinary in a number of ways. Not only does it offer dramatic documentation of a chapter in African American history hitherto unexplored by scholars, but it sheds new light on the dynamics of post-World War II German history. In this way, the exhibit and the book that accompanies it, A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), edited by 2001 Franklin & Marshall graduate Chris Chappell, represent one aspect of a major and recent shift in the field of history, that toward transnationalism. Focused on the connections among people, economics, and institutions across borders, transnational history seeks to trace the global nature of ideas, institutions, and populations that have shaped national histories. Too often, historians have focused on the past of one country with little or no regard for the influence of outsiders beyond military invasion. To explore such influences requires a mastery of methodologies and language skills that many historians do not possess. Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke deserve enormous credit for opening up new perspectives on European and American history in ways that inform our understanding of contemporary questions concerning racism, war, soldering, and social change. Their work and the exhibit’s breath-taking photographs remind us that history and how it’s practiced shape our understanding of not only where we have been, but how to move forward — and those beyond our borders help set both paths.
For more information about the exhibition, please visit The Phillips Museum of Art’s website.