Delighted, honoured, and cheap: AHRC fellowship for ‘The politics of transmission of Holocaust testimony in the German cultural field’

I’m delighted and a little overwhelmed to be able to announce that I’ve been awarded an AHRC Early Career Fellowship for my next research project, ‘The politics of transmission of Holocaust testimony in the German cultural field’. There were only seven awards in the whole of the UK, and mine seems to have come in as the cheapest, which obviously makes me a bargain! On a more serious note, of the seven fellowships awarded, two of them went to German Studies at Leeds – mine and my colleague Professor Stuart Taberner‘s – and a third went to another inspiring and senior scholar in German and translation studies, Professor Jean Boase-Beier of UEA. An amazing vote of confidence for my department, and a fantastic statement of support for German studies nationally. It’s wonderful that the Arts and Humanities Research Council is promoting German and translation studies at a time when the modern languages community really needs support.

My project grew out of my work on H. G. Adler with Professor Frank Finlay. As I researched in Adler’s archive to discover why his literary testimonials to the Holocaust struggled to find publishers and readers, I started wondering whether he was alone in finding the path to publication difficult. In the difficult post-war years, was a canon of Holocaust literature in German established which implicitly excluded some writers, and why did it do so? Was there a particular difficulty about writing in German about the Holocaust that made it hard to have testimonials published and read? I formulated these working research questions, as I read further:

  • How was a canon of German-language Holocaust testimony formed throughout the 1940s and 1950s?
  • What impact has this hitherto unrecognised canon had on later German-language literature about the Holocaust?
  • How and why have German-speaking literary witnesses to the Holocaust challenged this canon?

My study proposes that in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, an unacknowledged canon of Holocaust literature was formed in Germany. I’m aiming to create an innovative methodology, drawing on the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu as well as on close literary analysis, to account for the mechanisms that ‘canonised’ some writers of German-language testimonial literature about the Holocaust and, more importantly, ‘excluded’ others. My project looks at a series of nine case studies, selected for their exemplary status as excluded writers from the canon of Holocaust literature over the course of the period 1945- 2012.

I suspect that my chosen writers were excluded for various reasons: because of being in exile and away from powerful networks of writers, because of writing in an unfashionable or controversial style (don’t be too funny!), because of their political opinions (a minefield in both parts of a divided Germany) and gender. These are working hypotheses, of course, and I’ll be finding out how the path to canonisation was formed as I dig deeper in the authors’ archives.

More formally, my project addresses the following research questions:

1. How was a canon of German-language Holocaust literature first formed in the 1950s, subsequently challenged in the 1960s and rediscovered and/or remediated in the decades that followed? What rules governed the process by which certain German-language authors had their Holocaust literature or literary testimony canonized, whereas other authors were excluded?

2. What influence has this canon had on later Holocaust literature in German, and how has it been remediated in other, German-or English-language literatures? How has this canon of German Holocaust testimony been remediated as a way to ‘read’ and ‘come to terms with’ other traumas in different, often transnational contexts?

My concrete plans for the fellowship include a monograph, an edited volume, and two conference papers. In addition, I hope to establish a network of scholars concerned with canon-formation in Holocaust literature and its remediation.

As part of the project, I’m co-establishing a Holocaust Memorial Day project based both in the University of Leeds and the wider Leeds community. I’ve also been involved in establishing links with the University of the Free State in South Africa, sharing insights into the role of literature and the literary canon in mediating testimony and trauma in post-Apartheid South Africa. In collaboration with Professor Taberner, I’ve established contact both with the Institute for Studies in Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of the Free State, and with the Holocaust and Genocide Foundation in South Africa, and we’ve established an ongoing dialogue between UK and South African Holocaust researchers and  educators. I’ll post more about this aspect of the project shortly – it’s complex, exciting and very sensitive.

In addition, the University of Leeds has been generous enough to co-fund a PhD studentship that will be associated with the project. Watch this space for an advertisement!

I’m still overwhelmed and honoured at the award – and excited to start delving in the archives…