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Hybrid book presentation “Islam and Heritage in Europe” by Katarzyna Puzon et. al.

Our new fellow Katarzyna Puzon has recently co-edited the book "Islam and Heritage in Europe: Pasts, Presents and Future Possibilities". On her behalf, we would like to point you to the hybrid presentation of the book on Monday, 11 July 2022. Looking at diverse trajectories of people and things, the volume examines developments in various parts of Europe, including France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, and the Balkans. At a roundtabel discussion, the participants will talk about entanglements between heritage, Islam and Europe and ways in which these entanglements have played out against the backdrop of recent developments, such as debates on restitution, decolonising museums or the 'refugee crisis'. The roundtable discussion will include inputs from Wendy Shaw, Peter McMurray, Jesko Schmoller, Avi Astor, Diletta Guidi, Banu Karaca, Mirjam Brusius, Christine Gerbich and Rikke Gram, and the editors, Katarzyna Puzon, Sharon Macdonald and Mirjam Shatanawi.

The event will take place in the framework of the Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik / CARMAH Colloquium Series. Please join on 11 July at 4 pm, in person or via zoom. A reception will follow the discussion.

Book presentation & Roundtable Discussion: Islam and Heritage in Europe: Pasts, Presents and Future Possibilities, edited by K. Puzon, S. Macdonald & M. Shatanawi. July 11th 2022 - 4.00 pm Location: HZK - Kurssaal im Gerlachbau (Haus 3 / Campus Nord), Philippstr. 13. 10115 Berlin

Zoom Link: Please register by sending an email to oliver.zauzig@hu-berlin.de

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»Iskhalo somlambo / Der Ruf des Wassers« at Staatstheater Augsburg in July

We are very happy to announce that the Ukwanda Puppets Collective will be performing at the Staatstheater Augsburg. Their performance titled: Isikhalo Somlambo/Der Ruf des Wassers will premiere on the 12 July 2022. Performances will continue till July, 16th. The collective are artists in residence at Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape, one of our Kolleg's international partner institutions.

You can find more information on the Ukwanda Puppets Collective's performance on the website auf the Staatstheater Augsburg.
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‘Waves Across the South’ Wins World History Association’s Bentley Book Prize

We are proud to report that our fellow Sujit Sivasundaram’s latest book ‘Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire’ has won the World History Association's Bentley Book Prize. Sujit is Professor for World History at the University of Cambridge. In his book, he radically shifts perspective and re-thinks British colonial history as seen from the southern seas. In doing so, he presents a much-needed adjustment in our Eurocentric imagination of the Age of Revolutions.   Continue Reading

Past:present represent. Imaging dis:connected Mediterranean bodies

hanni geiger
  Italy chooses the past headlined the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper in February 2013, shortly after the Milan Fashion Week.[1] It was referring to the colourful and pompous Dolce & Gabbana Spring/Summer Collection, significantly titled Italianità: the designers‘ homage to the ‘old values’ of the crisis-ridden European country on the Mediterranean.[2] The PR campaign celebrated the stereotype of dolce vita in various photographs and glorified tradition and its revival. Buon cibo, café and vino, luxurious craftmanship and materials of the highest quality, a southern Italian landscape flanked by well-dressed people in a cheerful mood against a sunny seaside backdrop — imagined, constructed and narrated from the nation‘s own perspective. In one of the following campaigns, too, the timelessness of the ‘Italian lifestyle’ characterised the designs of both clothes and people. Under the title Italia is Love (2016), the designers gathered all conceivable set pieces thought to represent an Italian maritime passata quotidianità,[3] referring to a Eurocentrically Mediterranean image of everyday life that transposes a one-sided version of its past into the global present. The particular asymmetry of past and present on the Mediterranean is evident in the distinctly staged and narrated embodiments and (image) practices from a solely Western gaze. Against the backdrop of globalisation’s multidimensionality and complexity, the images reveal marginalised bodies, relativise proximity and distance and disrupt a supposedly universal narrative, thus showing the Mediterranean from its socially, politically and economically dis:connective side.  

Visible Invisibilities

The highly controversial title of Dolce & Gabbana‘s Spring/Summer Collection 2013 Italianità, that is ‘Italianity’ or ‘being Italian’ can be traced back to the pan-Italian movement in the nineteenth century and nationalist ideologies of the twentieth century.[4] These tendencies were associated with the forced Italianisation and the formation of a large Italian state, silencing voices on the east and south of the Mediterranean.[5] Under this colonial policy, the term stood for a unified identity comprehending the essence, nature and character of the country and its inhabitants[6] in their formative linguistic, cultural and political dominance in the region.  

Dolce & Gabbana, Spring/Summer Advertising Campaign 2013. In: Dolce & Gabbana. 2013. „Spring/Summer Advertising Campaign 2013.“ Maria Speaks Prada, January 16, 2013. https://www.msf.org/five-things-know-about-search-and-rescue-crisis / © Dolce & Gabbana.

  However, this repressive part of Italian history is largely hidden behind the images of Dolce & Gabbana‘s press campaign, which circumscribes this problematic term in marketing and everyday life. Since the 1950s Italianità has stood for a broadly applicable Mediterranean culture of ease, ‘sea, sun and love’, familiar since the tourism boom and the labour migrations from Italy to the European north.[7] So what the designers present to us is a red-and-white fishing boat on a Sicilian beach, with attractive women and men draped in front of it, models as well as amateurs from the area, who are indulging in sunbathing and serene togetherness. Amongst other model-stars, we recognise celebrities, such as Monica Bellucci — Italian acting icon and global epitome of the dark-haired, pale-skinned ‘Mediterranean beauty’.[8] Fabricating a universally valid maritime imaginary, these sensual bodies in classic, tight-fitting dresses in vivid colours, patterns and ornamentation against a deep blue seascape recall the formation of a Mediterranean topos that was dominated by Italy's imperial politics in the 1930s[9] and the entertainment industry in the 1950s and 1960s. Design has always played a major role here. The industrialised states on the Mediterranean shaped their colonies in the region and around the globe by strategically disseminating their own brands, such as Fiat or Vespa, which featured in movies, billboards and ads.[10] Even today, Dolce & Gabbana design the single valid Mediterranean universe based on a Eurocentric selection of bodies dressed up in Italy‘s glorified (design) past. To this day, design testifies to power and claims on territories and people, substantiating them with Western narratives. As a child of industrialisation, design follows capitalist and post-imperial principles, thus reflecting the region’s dis:connectivity in its economic and social imbalances. These and other visual representations of a unified Mediterranean under Western control go hand in hand with its theoretical constructions, which mostly draw on its past as a European model of civilisation that can still be felt today. Concepts of a romanticised Méditerranée or Mediterraneitá influenced by the imperial and, later, fascist regimes played leading roles as both abstract ideas of colonial dominance and of unification strategies that also imposed themselves aesthetically.[11] In its production, dissemination and narrativisation, the photo from Dolce & Gabbana‘s press campaign inevitably reveals what should remain hidden: the many layers of unacknowledged histories that have shaped and continue to shape the Occidental frame. The one-sidedness resulting from the Western gaze turned on itself must therefore be understood as the practice of hegemonic knowledge production that is always accompanied by the disconnective absence of other images and (body) narratives.  

The ir:regular Mediterranean

The inevitability of apprehending the globalised Mediterranean with its bodies in anything but universal terms becomes evident in the social, political and economic dis:connectivity of the region and its people. The wars in south-eastern Europe in the 1990s, the Arab Spring, migrations from Africa and the so-called ‘Balkan route’ travelled by refugees that runs through countries along the Mediterranean represent the errors, frictions, deviations and disorder of multiple Mediterranean realities. The press photographs of refugees off the same Italian coast where Dolce & Gabbana staged their campaign illustrate these dis:connectivities.  

Hannah Wallace Bowman, Migrant Boat off the Sicilian Coast, August 2020, Photograph, August 2020, https://www.msf.org/five-things-know-about-search-and-rescue-crisis.

  Although the photographs of Libyan migrants are subject to other practices and contexts than in design, they are shot from the same Eurocentric perspective, disseminated and narrativised through the media, threatening a Mediterranean attributed exclusively to Western nation-states. In contrast to the expensively outfitted and digitally altered white bodies of an economic elite from the global North, the news images of the unembellished dark bodies breaking out from the southern shores of the region represent a disruption and destabilisation of hegemonic beliefs as they diffuse throughout the internet. The bodies marked by the arduous flight merge into one undifferentiated mass of otherness without individual dignity. Uniformed in orange life jackets on a roaring dark sea, the bodies made alien threaten the geo-political, cultural, linguistic and religious borders that demarcate Europe. These bodies do not always reach the Northern beach staged in fashion advertising alive. The disconnective side of globalisation finds expression here. The sea, naturally fluid and moving but which law renders frozen and static, becomes the dividing wall behind which the imperial past and its excluded masses lie buried.[12] With the immigration of the disconnected bodies marked as illegal, the ghosts of the colonial mare nostrum are awakened, against which only a politically practised selection of bodies seems effective. Accordingly, Dolce & Gabbana‘s summer 2016 collection — ironically presented shortly after the first reports of migrant boats sinking off the Italian coast — celebrates Italianità, this time under the motto amore.[13] A love that, as the campaign reveals, is only granted to the privileged migrating bodies of the shopping and consumption-hungry ‘[…] foreign tourists, who have landed in their much-loved Italy […]’.[14] Belonging coincides with the exclusion of uninvited guests and their bodies, bodies carrying not only the past, but the colonial constitution of the Mediterranean present.[15] These disturbing bodies are never to be declared problems of the ‘others’ or as flaws of globalisation, but understood as an essential part of Western hegemonies. Iain Chambers aptly captures this, seeing in migration neither an external event, nor an overflow of otherness onto European shores nor even a crisis, but rather ‘the building block of European modernity’.[16] The exclusion of the unwanted dead and live bodies washed up on the European shores is rooted in a dis:connective globalisation based on unequal power relations — management of the Mediterranean solely from the northern shores.[17] Chambers pleads for a critical gaze towards the Occident and demands confrontation with unacknowledged histories that have shaped and continue to shape the ‘Western archives’.[18] Grasping the past in the present[19] enables narration of the dis:connective Mediterranean, referring to neglected actors, artefacts and their practices, from other perspectives and with reference to other critical theories. The Portuguese postcolonial writer Hélia Correia finds a fitting image for this comprehension of past in the present when she speaks of Europe as a lady wearing haute couture, whose expensive dresses hide the body of a dirty, scabby and sick Europe.[20] Mediterranean imperialism, veiled under precious Dolce & Gabbana clothes, is exposed by snapshots of migrants off the same coast. The vaunted ‘old values’ — the Occidental humanistic definitions of locality, home, national identity, tradition and belonging — become worthless. The point to remember is the fundamental importance of visual and haptic artefacts for the formation of images and meanings, as seen in the prototypes of a simultaneously connected and disconnected Mediterranean (body). Instead of the monolithic dualism in the Western construction of the self and ‘other’, the absent, so-called Mediterranean ‘rest' is to be recalled. Its cultural and creative diversity as well as its indefinability according to dominating concepts can be traced through design practices dis:connected to and from the West. Instead of the Eurocentric production of aesthetics and narratives, it is necessary to create a new framework in which the hegemonically perceived defectiveness, the deviant and the ambiguous of (Mediterranean) societies becomes susceptible to research and ‘world-building’ beyond nations. [1] Alfons Kaiser, ‘Italien Wählt Die Vergangenheit’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 26 February 2013, https://www.faz.net/aktuell/stil/mode-design/mode/mailaender-modewoche-italien-waehlt-die-vergangenheit-12095449.html. [2] ‘Colourful Dolce & Gabbana Spring / Summer 2013 Ad Campaign’, Global Fashion Report, 2013, https://globalfashionreport.com/colourful-dolce-gabbana-spring-summer-2013-ad-campaign-photos. [3] ‘Italia Is Love. CAMPAGNA PUBBLICITARIA ESTATE 2016’, Italia is Love, 2016, https://world.dolcegabbana.com/it/discover/dolce-gabbana-estate-2016-italia-is-love-ispirazione-campagna-pubblicitaria/. [4] Gualtiero Boaglio, Italianità: Eine Begriffsgeschichte, 1., 2008. [5] Boaglio. [6] Boaglio. [7] ‘Italianità in Der Schweiz – Caffè, Vespa Oder Bagnino: Sechs Schweizer Fotografen Mit Italienischem Blut Zeigen, Was Bei Ihnen Heimatgefühle Auslöst.’, Migros-Magazin, 8 March 2015. [8] ‘Monica Bellucci, Il Make up Dell’icona Di Bellezza Mediterranea’, LetteraF, 30 September 2014, https://www.letteraf.com/monica-bellucci-make-dellicona-bellezza-mediterranea/. [9] ‘Als Die Moderne Noch Geholfen Hat’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 7 October 2017. [10] Anthony Downey, ‘Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East’, 16 July 2015. [11] Andreas Eckl, ‘Méditerranée? Mediterranistische Diskurse Um Mittelmeerwelten Und -Räume Aus Forschungsgeschichtlicher Perspektive’, in New Horizons Mediterranean Research in the 21st Century, Mittelmeerstudien 10 (Paderborn, 2016), 109–53; Jean-Francois Lejeune and Michelangelo Sabatino, ‘The Politics of Mediterraneità in in Italian Modernist Architecture’, in Modern Architecture and the Mediterranean (London: Routledge, 2009), 41–63. [12] Imaginaries of Europe. Rethinking Identity, Belonging and Sovereignty Europe: From Hope to Disaffection (Barcelona, 2018), https://www.cccb.org/en/multimedia/videos/imaginaries-of-europe-rethinking-identity-belonging-and-sovereignty/229536. [13] Hannah Marriott, ‘Dolce & Gabbana Shares the Amore in Milan with Jolly 50s Italy Collection’, 27 September 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/sep/27/dolce-gabbana-shares-the-amore-in-milan-with-jolly-50s-italy-collection. [14] ‘Italia Is Love. CAMPAGNA PUBBLICITARIA ESTATE 2016’. [15] Imaginaries of Europe. Rethinking Identity, Belonging and Sovereignty Europe: From Hope to Disaffection. [16] Iain Chambers, ‘Postcolonial Interruptions, Unauthorised Modernities’, in Postcolonial Interruptions, Unauthorised Modernities (New York/London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017), 37–60. [17] Lidia Curti, ‘Diasporic Female Narratives: Crossing the Mediterranean, Rewriting Italy.’ (Mediterranean Mediations with Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, 20 March 2019), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czr5N4oFBAY&t=6846s; Iain Chambers, ‘Mediterranean Blues – Thinking with the Diver.’ (Mediterranean Mediations with Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, 20 March 2019), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czr5N4oFBAY&t=6846s. [18] Chambers, ‘Postcolonial Interruptions, Unauthorised Modernities’. [19] Chambers, ‘Mediterranean Blues – Thinking with the Diver.’ [20] Hélia Correia, ‘Portugal lesen!’, Video, 3sat-Kulturdoku (3sat, 19 March 2022), https://www.3sat.de/kultur/kulturdoku/portugal-lesen-100.html.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. ‘Als Die Moderne Noch Geholfen Hat’, 7 October 2017. Boaglio, Gualtiero. Italianità: Eine Begriffsgeschichte. 1., 2008. Chambers, Iain. ‘Mediterranean Blues – Thinking with the Diver.’ Presented at the Mediterranean Mediations with Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, 20 March 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czr5N4oFBAY&t=6846s. ———. ‘Postcolonial Interruptions, Unauthorised Modernities’. In Postcolonial Interruptions, Unauthorised Modernities, 37–60. New York/London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017. Global Fashion Report. ‘Colourful Dolce & Gabbana Spring / Summer 2013 Ad Campaign’, 2013. https://globalfashionreport.com/colourful-dolce-gabbana-spring-summer-2013-ad-campaign-photos. Correia, Hélia. ‘Portugal lesen!’ Video. 3sat-Kulturdoku. 3sat, 19 March 2022. https://www.3sat.de/kultur/kulturdoku/portugal-lesen-100.html. Curti, Lidia. ‘Diasporic Female Narratives: Crossing the Mediterranean, Rewriting Italy.’ Presented at the Mediterranean Mediations with Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, 20 March 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czr5N4oFBAY&t=6846s. Downey, Anthony. ‘Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East’, 16 July 2015. Eckl, Andreas. ‘Méditerranée? Mediterranistische Diskurse Um Mittelmeerwelten Und -Räume Aus Forschungsgeschichtlicher Perspektive’. In New Horizons Mediterranean Research in the 21st Century, 109–53. Mittelmeerstudien 10. Paderborn, 2016. Imaginaries of Europe. Rethinking Identity, Belonging and Sovereignty Europe: From Hope to Disaffection. Barcelona, 2018. https://www.cccb.org/en/multimedia/videos/imaginaries-of-europe-rethinking-identity-belonging-and-sovereignty/229536. Italia is Love. ‘Italia Is Love. CAMPAGNA PUBBLICITARIA ESTATE 2016’, 2016. https://world.dolcegabbana.com/it/discover/dolce-gabbana-estate-2016-italia-is-love-ispirazione-campagna-pubblicitaria/. ‘Italianità in Der Schweiz – Caffè, Vespa Oder Bagnino: Sechs Schweizer Fotografen Mit Italienischem Blut Zeigen, Was Bei Ihnen Heimatgefühle Auslöst.’ Migros-Magazin, 8 March 2015. Jean-Francois Lejeune, and Michelangelo Sabatino. ‘The Politics of Mediterraneità in in Italian Modernist Architecture’. In Modern Architecture and the Mediterranean, 41–63. London: Routledge, 2009. Kaiser, Alfons. ‘Italien Wählt Die Vergangenheit’. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 26 February 2013. https://www.faz.net/aktuell/stil/mode-design/mode/mailaender-modewoche-italien-waehlt-die-vergangenheit-12095449.html. Marriott, Hannah. ‘Dolce & Gabbana Shares the Amore in Milan with Jolly 50s Italy Collection’. 27 September 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/sep/27/dolce-gabbana-shares-the-amore-in-milan-with-jolly-50s-italy-collection. LetteraF. ‘Monica Bellucci, Il Make up Dell’icona Di Bellezza Mediterranea’, 30 September 2014. https://www.letteraf.com/monica-bellucci-make-dellicona-bellezza-mediterranea/.  
citation information
Geiger, Hanni. ‘Past:Present Represent. Imaging Dis:Connected Mediterranean Bodies’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 6 July 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/06/07/pastpresent-represent-imaging-disconnected-mediterranean-bodies-by-hanni-geiger/?lang=en.
This post has also appeared in issue 1.1 of our in-house journal, static.
Geiger, Hanni. ‘Past:Present Represent. Imaging Dis:Connected Mediterranean Bodies’. Static. Thoughts and Research from Global Dis:Connect, 2022.
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Approaching dis:connections: a conference report

anna sophia nübling
  Scholars have recently turned to aspects of disconnectivity for a better understanding of globalisation. global dis:connect, the latest Käte Hamburger Research Centre, has been established to further explore these aspects and especially the dynamics between processes of connectivity and disconnectivity in globalisation. To emphasise this relationship, we speak of dis:connectivity. But what does this term really mean, and how can the concept nourish globalisation research and, with it, a better understanding of the present? One opportunity to discuss this question occurred on 2 December 2021 when global dis:connect hosted a self-consciously exploratory workshop on infrastructures with participants from its own ranks as well as from the German Historical Institute in Washington DC. When we think about globalisation, we imagine Earth as a space where people, commodities and ideas are on the move. Such mobility would be impossible without transportation and communications infrastructures. Globality clearly consists of material connections between spatially remote elements as well as the ideas and perceptions our forebears had and we continue to have about them. Since the 19th century, experts, politicians and corporations have extended global infrastructures to achieve greater speed, freedom and prosperity. Being connected has long carried a predominantly positive connotation. Networks, which have penetrated the lexicon of everyday life and the conceptual toolkit of historiography, are one example of connectivity’s good reputation. But as Christoph Streb stressed while looking at the Begriffsgeschichte of the term network until the 18th century, its connotation was negative. It invoked notions of closed (and therefore rather suspicious) circles or of being trapped in a net. This changed in the 19th century when the idea of infrastructure came into play. Network became closely connected to positive notions of movement and the flowing that it was thought to enable. This notion survived into the 20th century when network increasingly came to refer to interpersonal connections, much as we use the word today.  

Networks can trump geography. (Image: Schmid via Drewes & Ádám)

  Tom Menger discussed this positive (Western) notion of infrastructure-based connectedness on a different level. Using the examples of the pioneering colonial oil infrastructure in British Burma (1880s) and German military units in the Ottoman vilayet of Mosul (1917), he showed that what Western observers perceived as proof of civilisation and their own technical prowess was more of a joint venture. The Western fantasy of bringing civilisation to the uncivilised was just that: a fantasy. How those infrastructures actually worked refutes this illusion. They did not run with modern Western technology alone, but with the help of local means and knowledge. Indeed, each contribution problematised the Western view of infrastructure by taking a closer look at concrete circumstances. In contrast to predominant historical and contemporary narratives, they all drew attention to the failures as well as the successes. Infrastructure, the contributors argued, always disables and excludes just as it enables and includes. All agreed that infrastructure planning and building was densely entangled with dynamics of exclusion, as when modes of transportation and their spatial manifestations could become sites of exclusion and boundary-drawing. Carolin Liebisch’s presentation on Migration and immobility at the airport is a stellar illustration. She told of the Jewish Grünwald family, who fled from Nazi Germany by airplane in the 1930s, to show the interplay between mobility-enabling infrastructures and restrictive mobility regimes. Because the required transit visa was denied, the family first went to Italy by train. From there they flew to London by plane, which at that time had to stopover in Germany. There, mother and daughter were taken from the plane and mistreated by Germans. On the one hand, this case shows how aviation is very fundamentally bound to Earth in the form of national control. On the other hand, the plane became a means of protection and humanitarianism: the pilot refused to leave the airport without the Jewish family members.  

Tempelhof - named after a temple but built like a fortress. (Image: Walt Jabsco)

  Nevertheless, Liebisch stressed that the drive to control and restrict the kinds of mobility that airports and aviation enable has a long history. In this example the airport figures as a national border post and a global place that is entangled in international relations at the same time. The airport serves as a fulcrum to explore uneven mobilities, which are regulated by viapolitics, which denotes the power to determine what forms of mobility are desirable and especially who may use them and go where. These differences are clearly depicted in the airport’s topography, which strictly separates the welcome from the outcasts. Examining the Pan-American Railway, an important infrastructure project that – though never realised – fueled discussions for decades, Mario Peters confirmed this observation. Here, too, the question of desired and undesired connections was crucial. As elsewhere, the mobility of goods was usually welcomed, while the mobility of people was perceived as much more problematic. Moreover, uneven power relations and the fear of connectivity that could result might also have prevented the project’s fruition. Though Peters argued that this explanation might be too simplistic and those involved in the project were often divided along other lines, the planning commissions often were seen as divided between expansionist North Americans and South Americans wary of US imperialism. Infrastructure’s potential use as a means of control was even more plainly stressed by Andreas Greiner. He showed that colonial powers in the 1930s saw aviation as a ‘tool of empire’, as a means of linkage and control in the face of mounting disintegration. Small wonder that the expansion of a network of flight connections followed imperial axes and relied on transimperial interactions. Greiner emphasised that those networks had material as well as immaterial aspects. While juridification and cooperation was organised through international organisations, aviation was very much anchored on the (local) ground. For example, transcontinental flights had to stop repeatedly, and the locals who performed maintenance and repair on the ground helped to create and preserve important knowledge and served as cultural brokers. These actors influenced globalisation very concretely by, for example, shaping global routes that integrated new aerial connections into their own mobility networks. But just as aviation enabled inclusion by connecting previously inaccessible spaces, it could exclude, as when previously connected regions were excised from the network. Boris Belge provided another example of this sort of dis:connection. He observed that the history of the Port of Odessa defies common narratives of globalisation: when globalisation gained momentum in the second half of the 19th century, a discourse of crisis emerged that eventually contributed to the port city’s decline. Ironically in this case, the opening of one transportation infrastructure — the Suez Canal in 1869 — dis:connected another. The new canal warped Odessa’s trade routes as some trade flows dropped markedly. But new ones, like the tea trade, also blossomed.  

It would hardly be the final challenge the Port of Odessa would face. (Image: Wikimedia)

  With ballast, one of the backbones of global shipping in the 19th century, Paul Blickle showed that dismantling infrastructure could go hand in hand with more flexible connections. In an important shift in the second half of that century, the long-favoured sand, stone and iron ballast were replaced by sea water. This move also marked a change from a shoreline-ballasting infrastructure towards individual installations on ships. Blickle further pointed out what might count as a particular case of dis:connection: despite widespread demand for ballast, it never developed into a commodity. The language of flows, networks, connections and the historical baggage this language carries often hide uneven power relations that were established or maintained through infrastructure. Networks, again, provide a clear demonstration. The common image of ‘flat’ networks suggests equality. Accordingly, in historiography network is often used to tell stories of equality or participation. Hierarchies and power relations fade into the background. But our exploration of concrete infrastructure projects with an eye to dis:connection suggests that such relations may be obscure, but they do not disappear. All case studies presented made this point very plainly. The contributions demand greater attention to how infrastructures reflect uneven power relations, ignore specific people and places, and replace existing infrastructure systems. But just as infrastructures can be tools of power, they can also be tools of resistance, subversion and appropriation by marginalised actors. Many of the participants agreed on the importance of (local) agency. While Belge remarked that actual people are often absent in the classical economic histories of Odessa’s rise and decline, Menger recalled how oil infrastructures relate to human mobility and how the global oil-based connections cut other, pre-existing connections. Liebisch stressed that, as much as airports are sites of migration control, they are also sites of individualised resistance against such control.  
citation information
Nübling, Anna Sophia. ‘Approaching Dis:Connections: A Conference Report’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 24 May 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/05/24/approaching-disconnections-a-conference-report-by-anna-sophia-nuebling/?lang=en.
This post has also appeared in issue 1.1 of our in-house journal, static.
Nübling, Anna Sophia. ‘Approaching Dis:Connections A Conference Report by Anna Nübling’. Static. Thoughts and Research from Global Dis:Connect, 2022.
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Imperial margins take centre stage: a conference report

mikko toivanen & ben kamis
Together with the Munich Centre for Global History, global dis:connect recently had the privilege of hosting a stimulating workshop titled Re-examining Empires from the Margins: Towards a New Imperial History of Europe, organised by the inimitable Bernhard Schär and Mikko Toivanen. The event was held on 22-23 October 2021, and — thanks to the pandemic — some of the internationally renowned participants were attending remotely. The purpose was to explore the history of imperial entanglements involving those beyond the typical cast of European imperial powers. In other words, what did Nordic imperialism look like? What were the imperial strategies and practices of Central and Eastern Europe? Bernhard and Mikko opened the conference themselves, remarking how research into imperial histories of ‘marginal’ European powers has been gaining momentum and how this tack can expand and improve our understandings of atypical European colonial history. However, they also noted that much existing research on the subject has focused on individual case studies to the neglect of the underlying global networks and structures. They also added the important caveat that, despite its relative neglect, this research must be wary of recentring Europe in histories of global imperialism and colonisation. The conference’s first panel dove right in, tackling political and diplomatic engagements with empire from three different perspectives. First, Arne Gellrich discussed the participation of Sweden and Norway in the League of Nations in the interwar years. Gellrich argued that these neutral countries were able to influence colonial policy and promote their governments’ social democratic ideals thanks to the League’s structure, but they ultimately could not overcome the discrimination of colonialism. Focusing on the same two countries in his talk, Aryo Makko described their efforts to profit from colonial trade through proactive diplomacy around the turn of the twentieth century. These efforts largely rested on a transnational network of citizens of third-party states. Third, Elise Mazurié examined the international feminist congress held in Algeria in 1932, and how the Swiss delegation pursued a policy of ‘maternalist imperialism’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the event stopped short of meaningfully criticising French imperialism. The second panel opted to investigate the creativity involved in transimperial occupations. Andrew Mackillop described how mercenaries, as a professional group, enabled Switzerland to participate in the activities of the largest European imperial powers, following their navies from its landlocked European redoubt out into the oceans of Asia. Despina Magkanari’s work touched a little closer to home, as she examined how Julius Klaproth, an 18th-century German orientalist, navigated academia in imperial Russia with the help of professional networks of scholars. Andreja Mesarič brought us back to the familiar historical turf of missionaries, describing how Slovenian Catholic proselytisers in 19th-century Sudan influenced ideas in Slovenia and the broader Austro-Hungarian Empire about race and colonisation. She also analysed these figures’ recent revival in modern Slovenian discourse. John Hennessy concluded the panel with a more general, conceptual contribution. He argued for the analytical utility of occupational groups rather than nationalities as an organisational principle. The workshop went meta in the third session, which featured a transnational group of scholars discussing transimperial academic networks in history. Katherine Arnold opened the session by relating how German naturalists in British Southern Africa were unavoidably implicated in the physical and environmental violence of colonisation. Naturally, representations always say as much about the representers as they do about the represented, as the next three papers in the panel showed. Corinne Geering illustrated precisely this intuition with museum collections in Vienna, Moscow, Warsaw and Prague and how they informed perceptions of European cultures by displaying artefacts from outside Europe. Similarly, Szabolcs Laszló examined the special case of Hungary and how Hungarian orientalists presented Hungarians’ ostensibly Asian roots in a way that diverged from the broader orientalist movement. Continuing the primordialist theme, Kristín Loftsdóttir reflected on busts made in Iceland by a 19th-century French expedition and how they were used as indicators of Iceland’s rank in the contemporary racial hierarchy. The fourth panel also revisited familiar territory for global historians: travellers. But the participants did so in novel ways. Evaluating over 100 travel authors, Tomasz Ewertowski devised four categories of empathic solidarity displayed by Polish and Serbian travellers in colonial contexts. By contrast, Anna Karakatsouli focused on a single Greek explorer — Panayiotis Potagos — who found an idiosyncratic niche in the writings of ancient Greek geographers and historians, preferring their representations to the imperial politics of his own time. Of course, some colonial actors are not only disinterested in imperial politics, but unapologetic. Valentina Kezić described the case of Carl Lehrman, a Croatian explorer who served both under Henry Morton Stanley as well as the Belgian administration in the Congo. According to Kezić, Lehrman remained staunchly and simultaneously loyal to his Croatian home and the Belgian colonial system that he served. And Janne Lahti showed how historical actors could practice imperialism in their own backyards. Specifically, Finnish travellers to the Petsamo region on the Arctic Sea in the 20th century would often reproduce discursive tropes from other colonial contexts, especially with regard to the indigenous Sámis. The fifth panel examined intra-European cases. The first contribution by Lucile Dreidemy and Eric Burton focused on the Paneuropean Union, an initiative launched by Austria in the 1920s. Contrary to the popular view that this union was an instance of proto-European integration, Dreidemy and Burton discuss its aims of imperial management in Africa and possibly even to become the new face of the Habsburg Empire. Returning to the Finnish context, Rinna Kullaa demonstrated that forced labour migration under Russian rule in the 19th century was sadly a two-way street: Central Asian labourers were used to build tram tracks in Helsinki, while Finns were sent to colonise Siberia. Sarah Schlachetzki closed the panel with a paper on Prussian architecture in Poland in the 18th and 19th centuries, arguing that standardised settlement farms display colonial aims and serve imperial purposes just as representational architecture is known to do. The workshop’s final session featured three invited discussants, who each commended the quality of the research presented while also reminding the participants not to ignore those at the margins of their margins. Gunlög Fur recalled that margins are always drawn by someone, and women and non-European actors are often left on the outside. Zoltán Ginelli greeted the attention to Central and Eastern Europe, but he warned the authors not to neglect those beyond Europe, nor those who were marginalised within Europe under post-war communist rule. Closing the workshop, Felicia Gottmann cast her gaze upon the papers’ temporal margins, suggesting that comparison with early modern empires can inform and enrich analyses of their modern successors. Re-examining empires from the Margins was an important event for global dis:connect. It showed that we can hold stimulating, fruitful discussions with international participants even under difficult pandemic conditions. It was also one of the first events we had the privilege to host. As such, it evidenced the confidence the workshop’s illustrious participants have in a yet-young institution. We can only hope that they have profited from the experience as much as we have.
citation information
Toivanen, Mikko, and Ben Kamis. ‘Imperial Margins Take Centre Stage: A Conference Report’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 5 October 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/05/10/imperial-margins-take-centre-stage-a-conference-report-by-mikko-toivanen-ben-kamis/?lang=en.
This post has also appeared in issue 1.1 of our in-house journal, static.
Toivanen, Mikko, and Ben Kamis. ‘Imperial Margins Take Centre Stage. A Conference Report by Mikko Toivanen & Ben Kamis’. Static. Thoughts and Research from Global Dis:Connect, 2022.
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Images of dis:connectivity: Leon Trotsky on Büyükada

burcu dogramaci

Trotsky at his desk, Büyükada/Prinkipo, 1931, in: Robert Service. Trotzki. Eine Biographie. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012, ill. 18.

  [1] In his exile on Büyükada/Prinkipo, one of the largest of the Princes' Islands off the Asian side of Istanbul, Russian politician Leon Trotsky was equally connected and disconnected to the world. This photograph shows him at his desk. He is reading the newspaper The Militant and taking notes. An open book lies in front of him, with other daily newspapers underneath. The photograph is taken at close range and portrays the exile as an intellectual worker who keeps himself informed − not as an outcast cut off from political events. Trotsky’s island exile lasted a total of four years. Banished by Stalin, Trotsky and his entourage were sent to Istanbul by ship in 1929. Trotsky relocated several times in the city on the Bosporus before he settled down on Büyükada/Prinkipo, which seemed to offer Trotsky protection. From Istanbul, the island could be reached only by boat, so arrivals were easy to observe. The banished politician lived in constant danger of attempts on his life because he feared attacks by Stalin’s agents.  

Being off, being on

Although Trotsky’s freedom to act, in his insular seclusion, was limited, and he hardly left the island, he participated in world events. On Büyükada/Prinkipo, Trotsky subscribed to international daily papers and political pamphlets, which arrived with a two- or three-day delay.[2] The author Georges Simenon, who visited Trotsky on the island in 1933 for an interview, writes: "On the desk there is a chaos of newspapers from all over the world. Paris-Soir lies at the very top of one pile. Doubtless Trotsky has skimmed through the paper before I arrived. [...] The rest of the time he stays in his study, which is so far from the world outside and yet at the same time so close to it. ‘Unfortunately I get the papers with several days’ delay’." [3] Moreover, photos of his desk, which also evidence his self-presentation as a yet-influential politician, show international newspapers such as The New York Times or the American Trotskyist paper The Militant. Also, Trotsky regularly read the French daily Le Temps, the staunchly conservative Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, received Turkish daily papers, whose headlines he was able to decipher even without knowing the language, and he had locally printed international purchased for him in the shops on the jetty.[4] Trotsky thus consumed a geographically and politically broad spectrum of media. This is probably what enabled him to preserve a relatively nuanced view of the world even from his island exile. Trotsky was highly productive there, wrote newspaper and magazine articles and authored several books. During his time on the Princes’ Island Trotsky published a history of the Russian Revolution and his autobiography. .[5] Furthermore, he wrote about fascism in Europe and National Socialism in Germany, and he published articles on the political situation in Austria, on the Spanish Revolution and on Stalinism in the Soviet Union.[6] The library he had brought with him, archival material brought from the Soviet Union and his own memories formed the basis for his publications.[7] Moreover, Trotsky was regularly visited by supporters and exchanged letters with like-minded political friends and Trotskyist followers, family members and intellectuals.[8]  

Island exile

Reflecting on Trotsky’s life and work on Büyükada/Prinkipo, some initial thoughts arise about exile as an insular space of experience. Islands can signify both isolation and protection as well as banishment and refuge. In Byzantine times, Büyükada/Prinkipo was a place of banishment that offered undesired princes and princesses coerced shelter.[9] For Büyükada/Prinkipo, which is an archipelago, one can adapt Ottmar Ette’s distinction between Insel-Welt (‘island world’) and Inselwelt (‘archipelago world’). An island world is ‘an island that is self-contained, has clear-cut boundaries and is dominated by a clear internal order [...], forming in itself and for itself a unit that is delimited from the outside’.[10] On the other hand, an Inselwelt is associated with .[11] From the largest Princes’ Island, one can see not only the surrounding islands, inhabited and uninhabited alike, but also the mainland − the proximate Asian and distant European parts of Istanbul.  

Dis:connectivity and archipelagic thinking

Büyükada/Prinkipo is part of an island community, connected to both Europe and Asia, to both halves of Istanbul and their respective histories. Between them is the sea, which is always an intermediary and a boundary or barrier.[12] Independence, isolation, but also participation and a kaleidoscopic view of the world − or at least of two continents − result from island exile. Despite the distance of the island, Trotsky managed to participate in world events through publications, reading daily newspapers and visits by political supporters. He was able to productively counteract the (enforced) seclusion of island life and from his exile to develop a keen and sympathetic eye for world history. Consequently, Trotsky’s work in exile is not far removed from the kind of archipelagic thinking Édouard Glissant describes .[13] Archipelagic thinking is to not only see the island, but to be aware of the connection of the particular to the larger whole.[14] While in Exile on Büyükada/Prinkipo, the Russian exile became highly productive. The island life of Trotsky was an exile within exile.   [1] The ideas in this post derive from Burcu Dogramaci Burcu Dogramaci, 'Arrival City Istanbul: Flight, Modernity and Metropolis at the Bosporus. With an Excursus on the Island Exile of Leon Trotsky', in Arrival Cities. Migrating Artists and New Metropolitan Topographies in the 20th Century, hg. von Burcu Dogramaci (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2020), 205–25. [2] Jean van Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile. From Prinkipo to Coyoacán. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 20. [3] George Simenon, 'Besuch bei Trotzki (Paris-Soir, 16./17. Juni 1933)“, in Das Simenon-Lesebuch. Erzählungen, Reportagen, Erinnerungen. Briefwechsel mit André Gide. Brief an meine Mutte, hg. von George Simenon (Zürich: Diogenes Verlag, 2002), 223. [4] Heijenoort, With Trotsky in Exile. From Prinkipo to Coyoacán., 20. [5] Robert Service, Trotzki. Eine Biographie. (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2012), 500. [6] Isaac Deutscher, Trotzki. Der verstoßene Prophet 1929–1940 (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1972), 97–152. [7] Service, Trotzki. Eine Biographie., 500. [8] Catherine Pinguet, Les îles des Princes. Un archipel au large d’Istanbul. (Tharaux: Empreinte, 2013), 117. [9] Pinguet, 29–33. [10] Ottmar Ette, 'Insulare ZwischenWelten der Literatur. Inseln, Archipele und Areale aus transarealer Perspektive.', in Inseln und Archipele. Kulturelle Figuren des Insularen zwischen Isolation und Entgrenzung, hg. von Anna Wilkens (Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, 2011), 26. [11] Ette, 26. [12] Anna Wilkens, 'Ausstellung zeitgenössischer Kunst: Inseln – Archipele – Atolle. Figuren des Insularen.', in Inseln und Archipele. Kulturelle Figuren des Insularen zwischen Isolation und Entgrenzung, ed. Anna Wilkens (Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, 2011), 64. [13] Édouard Glissant, Kultur und Identität. Ansätze zu einer Poetik der Vielheit (Heidelberg: Wunderhorn, 2005), 34. [14] See: Marsha Pearce, 'Die Welt Als Archipel /The World as Archipelago.', Kulturaustausch/Cultural Exchange: Journal for International Perspectives, Nr. 2 (2014): 18 f.
Deutscher, Isaac. Trotzki. Der verstoßene Prophet 1929–1940. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1972. Dogramaci, Burcu. „Arrival City Istanbul: Flight, Modernity and Metropolis at the Bosporus. With an Excursus on the Island Exile of Leon Trotsky“. In Arrival Cities. Migrating Artists and New Metropolitan Topographies in the 20th Century, herausgegeben von Burcu Dogramaci, 205–25. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2020. Ette, Ottmar. „Insulare ZwischenWelten der Literatur. Inseln, Archipele und Areale aus transarealer Perspektive.“ In Inseln und Archipele. Kulturelle Figuren des Insularen zwischen Isolation und Entgrenzung, herausgegeben von Anna Wilkens, 13–56. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, 2011. Glissant, Édouard. Kultur und Identität. Ansätze zu einer Poetik der Vielheit. Heidelberg: Wunderhorn, 2005. Heijenoort, Jean van. With Trotsky in Exile. From Prinkipo to Coyoacán. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978. Pearce, Marsha. „Die Welt Als Archipel /The World as Archipelago.“ Kulturaustausch/Cultural Exchange: Journal for International Perspectives, Nr. 2 (2014): 18–19. Pinguet, Catherine. Les îles des Princes. Un archipel au large d’Istanbul. Tharaux: Empreinte, 2013. Service, Robert. Trotzki. Eine Biographie. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2012. Simenon, George. „Besuch bei Trotzki (Paris-Soir, 16./17. Juni 1933)“. In Das Simenon-Lesebuch. Erzählungen, Reportagen, Erinnerungen. Briefwechsel mit André Gide. Brief an meine Mutte, herausgegeben von George Simenon, 215–31. Zürich: Diogenes Verlag, 2002. Wilkens, Anna. „Ausstellung zeitgenössischer Kunst: Inseln – Archipele – Atolle. Figuren des Insularen.“ In Inseln und Archipele. Kulturelle Figuren des Insularen zwischen Isolation und Entgrenzung, herausgegeben von Anna Wilkens, 57–98. Bielefeld: Transcipt Verlag, 2011.  
citation information
Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘Images of Dis:Connectivity: Leon Trotsky on Büyükada’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 4 December 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/04/12/leon-trotsky-on-bueyuekada-by-burcu-dogramaci/?lang=en.
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Martin Rempe joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new fellow Martin Rempe who joins the Kolleg until autumn.

Martin studies modern German, European and African history, particularly the social history of cultural work as well as the history of colonialism, decolonisation and development. Transnational and global perspectives are at the heart of his research. Martin’s career path has led him through stints in Berlin, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Freiburg, Paris and Konstanz.   At global dis:connect, he is examining the role and significance of the military in civic musical life during the long 19th century from a global perspective. From the French Revolution to the First World War, military music shaped how music has come to be consumed, produced, appreciated and practised worldwide. Indeed, it has profoundly marked how we continue to valorise culture, and it propagated European music formations in distant geographies. Combining processes of rupture and continuity, displacement and integration, dis:connectivity is a key concept in grasping how military music has helped to (trans)form our world.
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On the Ambivalence of Flags

sabine sörgel

Ukrainian Flag on top of Residenztheater, Munich, March 2022.

[1] Flagge zeigen in German means to speak up for yourself in a situation of conflict. It’s a form of solidarity, but it’s also an announcement of your own ethical beliefs and convictions. In other words, Flagge zeigen is a declaration of politics, and as such it has been used and abused in many ways throughout history. In English, we might say that ‘to fly the flag’ is advocating for a good cause, like freedom for example. During the COVID-19 pandemic especially, ‘freedom days’ have been used and abused far too often in political rhetoric. The contrast to our widespread disconnection throughout the various lockdowns and isolations, witnessing far too many deaths of people we love around the world, was simply too glaring. And so it is that I wonder about the ambivalence of flags these days. So many have been flying them as a declaration of solidarity with those who suffer from a war that seems to be penetrating our living rooms and smart phones from those on the front lines. This time, however, they are not healthcare workers, but the families and president of the Ukraine who have been attacked by a disease much more lethal than COVID, namely Vladimir Putin’s military aggression. Flags in yellow and blue have suddenly sprouted like spring blossoms everywhere in support and solidarity with the Ukraine. Yet whether we are taking a stand for nationalism, freedom, independence, war, or peace is less clear in such symbolic gesturing than it was when we were collectively clapping for the bravery of healthcare workers only two years ago. Isn’t that the beauty of such performative gestures in the twenty-first century, though, that they are so easily distributed and shared around the globe via internet memes and hashtags? The ambivalence of national flags, it strikes me, is that they evoke myths of nationalism and defence that are always tied to the imagery of war and exclusion. As David Frum articulates this binary conundrum in his recent contribution on the Ukraine war in The Atlantic: "In Ukraine a new national myth is being created. It’s a myth of collective resistance to violent foreign tyranny of a citizen army fighting for European liberal and democratic values. Wars almost always make societies more tribal, more authoritarian, more violent, and more inhumane. But sometimes – as with the Western Allies in World War II, the North in the U.S. Civil War, and perhaps now in Ukraine – a war for ideals and principles can challenge a society to become what it says it is fighting for, even if it does not yet wholly live up to the ideals it espouses. If Ukraine survives and prevails, this new myth will propel the country toward a better future." [2] And indeed, in hope for such a better future we wave our Ukrainian flags collectively. But what if it gets worse? If waving flags for freedom, does not bring the hoped-for changes in search for a better life for all of us? To the extent that we are willing to stand with these liberal values in the West then, we are happy to fly the Ukrainian flag and hope for this future. Though the flag itself carries almost always the burden of this ambivalence of not knowing whether war itself can ever bring such a future or rather the danger of eternally returning to the same fraudulent promises of liberation that, so far in history, have never liberated us from war, but only created more violence, trauma and retaliation elsewhere. Flags as such therefore remain problematic national symbols for me, because whether they are raised in mourning or remembrance of the dead, their symbolic waving in the wind doesn’t quite cost us as much as giving our own lives joining the army or even just whole-heartedly embracing the full consequences of an economic embargo on Russian gas. At the same time flags are meant to spur us somewhat militaristically, if only in our entrenched and polarised opinions on the political issues at stake. The flag, indeed, is a powerful theatrical prop. It permits us to indulge in the hope and glory of victory. Flags have been dear to us ever since we stood and waved as children, cheering a military parade of horses and glorifying the cavalry. In those moments of global flag solidarity, it strikes me then, that those deep unquestioned childhood memories are invoked so that we seem too quick to identify with the Ukraine, as if we were fighting alongside those who suffer, feeling good about our shared liberal values in the West and defending an idealized notion of Western democracy we gained after the Second World War rather than questioning our own contribution to this war. In this gesturing for solidarity do we not forget how we ourselves are deeply implicated in these conflicts by buying into Putin’s resurrection of military aggression in this brutal showdown of old wounds and horrors we only wanted to believe had been overcome in 1989 by counting ourselves morally superior and on the right side of history — somehow?

Flags and Illumination on top of Residenztheater Munich, March 2022.

As I wander Munich these days, Ukrainian flags are blowing everywhere with these thoughts and questions arising on every step I take. Like the answers we once wanted to give, as we came of age, listening to the songs by Bob Dylan. Swearing off war forever, again. I watch out for these flags. On top of the theatre buildings. Flags. Hanging from the cathedral at Marienplatz. More flags. In the same colours illuminating the façade of the Munich Museum for Egyptian Art and when I turn on my computer in the morning to browse the online catalogue of the Bavarian State Library. Suddenly, the Ukrainian flag became so ubiquitous in only a week that I started reading every instance of blue and yellow as a national symbol, and yet I struggled to decipher the meaning of these colours. What do these flags stand for in a public debate about war and peace in Europe? The Ukrainian flag at Marienplatz, for example, hangs right next to the European flag, which is also blue but adorned with too-familiar little yellow stars, one of which we sadly lost in another public debate — or referendum rather — only a few years ago. But God and country forbid, we just add the Ukraine as another little star to replace our former friend in arms, rule Britannia. There must be more debate than that.

EU and Ukrainian Flag at Marienplatz, Munich 2022.

Farther down the road, next to those pretty blue and yellow flags, the German flag waves in gold (not yellow!), black and red. It is the most ambivalent for me, as it drapes right next to the Bavarian flag of sky blue and white that decorates every beer and sausage here, in a wave of happy or not so happy flags swinging synchronised in the sunshine of early spring. The more of them there are in any city, the merrier is their palette of colours. Flags. Yet, how moody they are, as well, when there is suddenly no wind at all, and the rain just hammers them down into unrecognizable, sopping rags. Flags in the rain, like odourless plastic flowers. And if flags had a scent, who knows of what they might stink of? Walking through Munich, traces of the Nazi past linger everywhere, even today. This memory will haunt any flag of any colour for all time in Hitler’s city. This is especially true in our so-called ‘Europe’, a mythic geography haunted by the history of flags as signs of supposed liberation. Flags have always emblazoned its political movements, their long histories of bitter wars, and the violence in their colonies and at home.            

Illumination Munich Museum of Egyptian Art, March 2022.

The same rhetoric the Nazis used has returned uncannily in the way that Putin is playing the eternal Wiedergänger of history.[3] Whilst we can easily demonise Putin, the former KGB agent, as we must, it was the former German chancellor who made the deals and all of us happily burning the oil and gas in a scramble for resources following the fall of the Berlin Wall. And are we not concerned for the state of human rights in Qatar as Germany’s first Green Minister of Economic Affairs sells his innocence? ‘Death is a master from Germany’: we recall the words of Paul Celan, as we might all soon be struck dead by nuclear weapons once and for all. I walk past the Munich Kammerspiele and read No War in Europe, wondering about our amnesia towards all the other wars we’ve been forgetting. We’ve been trading the politics of war in every weapon sold to foreign countries, which have in turn become warzones at the borders of Europe, closing in on us with every wave of refugees. Never mind that we forgot to buy more weapons ourselves here in Germany, blind-sided in our hope for peace, forgetting the cost of our peace in the wars elsewhere. Or so the news says. The ambivalence of flags is the politics of nationalism they represent under an EU or NATO banner. How can we dis:connect the flags we wave from the problematic politics of nationalism and its ambivalence? Is it by disconnecting their invented traditions and traumatic memories of wars of us versus them, which leads unavoidably to renewed imperialism and war on both sides? If history ever taught us anything, it would be this.  

Welcome Screen Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Munich, March 2022.

It seems to me the flag of solidarity is the perfect symbol of global dis:connect. It suggests a togetherness and connection that always comes at the cost of violence such imagined communities unleash by default. After all, the innocence of flags cannot be won without war and weapons that destroy lives and countries. Ultimately, the ambivalence of flags is such that every life lost under the flag is a life that ended too soon. And the ‘we’ who wave flags, must never forget this as we continue to hope for peace.   [1] All images by Sabine Sörgel. [2] Why Ukraine Is a Nation Worth Fighting For - The Atlantic [3] A Wiedergänger means literally, ‘one who walks again’ — a zombie. Echoes of Nietzsche’s eternal return are no accident.
citation information
Sörgel, Sabine. ‘On the Ambivalence of Flags’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 29 March 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/03/29/on-the-ambivalence-of-flags-by-sabine-soergel/?lang=en.
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CfA Summer School “Postcolonial interruptions?”, 3-5 Aug 2022

From 3 to 5 August 2022, global dis:connect will host its first summer school Postcolonial interruptions? Decolonisation and global dis:connectivity. The Call for Applications is now open and can be found in our calls section or directly here. Submission deadline is 3 April 2022.

The period of decolonisation from the 1930s to the 1970s witnessed the transformation of global processes of integration and exchange, which were still coloured by empire. Cultural connections, political alliances, economic relations and personal networks became subject to scrutiny and interruption. Then and after, existing connections metamorphosed, and new ones arose. global dis:connect invites to explore how instances of dis:connectivity of various kinds have affected processes of globalisation in postcolonial settings. The summer school is scheduled to take place from 3-5 August 2022 on the premises of global dis:connect (Maria Theresia-Str. 21 in Munich, Germany). .     Continue Reading