British Academy award to explore cosmopolitan memory in literature from Germany and South Africa

University of Leeds German Department researchers Stuart Taberner, Helen Finch and Frank Finlay have just been awarded £30,000 by the British Academy to collaborate with colleagues at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, led by Dr Sandra Young of the English department.

The aim is to explore ‘cosmopolitan memory’ (Levy and Sznaider) in contemporary Germany and South Africa and the way in which the global circulation of traumatic memories, including the Holocaust, underpins the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism in each country. The focus will be on literary texts emanating from Germany and South Africa.

Post-unification Germany and post-apartheid South Africa are frequently paralleled. Broad-brush comparisons have been made of the ways the two countries are redeploying their traumatic pasts in an attempt to forge new national identities. Invariably, such parallels have been offered as generalisations only. There has been no detailed comparison of the contradictions that emerge when traumatic pasts are invoked in the cause of nation-building. Specifically, an avowed openness to the world purportedly demonstrating the overcoming of past prejudice may co-exist awkwardly with the continued marginalisation of ‘others’ who appear to threaten the cohesion of the nation such as immigrants, refugees, homosexuals, and religious minorities. This project brings together scholars from the UK and SA to explore these issues. Our objectives are to produce the first analysis of literature from Germany and South Africa as a critique of nation-building precisely from the perspective of the cosmopolitan ideals that each country claims to embody and to build an international team for future, wider collaboration.

The three-year collaboration begins in early 2015, and there will be opportunities for postgraduate researchers and colleagues at other institutions (especially through the Leeds-York-Sheffield White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities) to participate in workshops and conferences.