Finding the Other Berlin Wall

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By: Dasha Lynch

People often talk about a decisive moment in their lives in which they discovered their passion and finally realized what they wanted to do in the future. My moment came in early August, 2016 as I was working in the Documentation Center and Museum of Migration in Cologne, Germany doing research for my senior thesis. In the (very) cold office of this archive, I felt butterflies in my stomach when the librarian placed a pile of documents on my desk. I realized my future is history (pun intended).

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This journey to self-discovery in fact began three years ago during my gap year in Germany as a Rotary Exchange Student. On my daily train ride to and from school I often sat next to women in beautiful Middle Eastern clothing, chatting away in languages I did not understand. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the municipality of Friedland, a stop on our ride, was home to thousands of refugees, and had been as early as 1945 when the Control Commission for Germany – British Element built a camp in the town. The camp served as a way station for evacuees, returning soldiers, and refugees, and to this day, it serves as a reception center for asylum seekers and refugees. These chance train-ride encounters first introduced me to Germany’s rich immigrant culture – and perhaps inspired my specific academic interest in Turkish immigrants in Germany, an interest which has led to studying German and Turkish history and languages.

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To pursue this interest I applied for, and received, the Discover Grant and Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Research Grant. My plan was to study second language acquisition by Turkish immigrant women in Germany in the 1960s and 70s, the period of first wave Turkish Gastarbeiter (guest worker) immigration to Germany. Starting in the 1960s, the West German government brought semi-skilled Turkish laborers, mostly from poor, remote regions of Turkey, to take low paid assembly line positions in factories around the country. Generally, Turkish immigrants settled in communities made up only of other Turkish immigrants. This form of isolation, as well as the use of interpreters in the factories that employed the Turkish laborers, made German seem unnecessary, and therefore prevented proper integration of Turkish immigrants into German culture.

This problem of failed integration was particularly acute for women who joined their husbands solely as housewives and caretakers of children. As the NPR article, “Muslim Women Behind Wall of Silence in Germany,” observes, “Many [Turkish women] first met their husbands on their wedding day, only to disappear into a world ruled by rural Turkish traditions — unnoticed by their German neighbors.” As Seyran Ates, lawyer and women’s rights activist, notes, these “women [were] physically living in Germany, but psychologically living in another culture” controlled by the men in their families, hidden behind a “wall of silence.” While this “wall of silence” is clearly an urgent contemporary problem, I was planning to explore the early years of its construction, looking back to the beginning of Turkish immigration into Germany. Though, as some sources point out, Muslim men played a large role in preventing Turkish women from learning German, I hypothesized that the German government’s failure to create effective, culturally sensitive language programs also contributed to this “wall of silence” and to the growing isolation of Turkish women.

I was happy with the concept of my project, but had no idea where to begin or how to approach it. The internet was, of course, a big help in locating various agencies and offices that dealt with immigration in Germany. But contacting these organizations brought no results; they all insisted they knew nothing about the subject. I was beginning to lose hope. And then finally, a breakthrough! Just days before my departure for Germany a random email gave me a lead: Cologne’s Documentation Center and Museum of Migration, DOMiD. Flash forward and I found myself in that cold office with a pile of old papers before me – and butterflies in my stomach.

One might wonder why old documents would give an undergrad butterflies, though fellow historians will of course understand. I was no stranger to reading primary sources, but in the past they had come as scans of originals. These papers, however, contained real traces of people’s lives. As I was reading through them the focus of my project began to change. Instead of passive and silent immigrants, I encountered strong women on these pages who understood the importance of language to integration and organized themselves to demand access to education. The helpful staff at the museum, and one Stanford PhD student working on her dissertation there (and also my new role model), directed me to yet another great resource, FFBIZ, a feminist archive in Berlin, where I found even more sources to support this new image of Turkish women in Germany.

My time researching was too short, but now I know what I’m doing next summer – it’s back to Germany for me!

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**Dasha is an Undergraduate History Major here at the University of Rochester.

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Meet Our Faculty: Laura Smoller

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Laura Smoller became the department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies last fall, also teaching two new undergraduate courses:  Visionaries, Mystics, and Saints in Medieval and Renaissance Europe; and The City:  Contested Spaces, an interdisciplinary course team-taught with Professors Peter Christensen (art history) and Llerena Searle (anthropology).  She gave several lectures at academic meetings, beginning with “Preacher, Pope, King, and Emperor:  Remembering Vincent Ferrer and Perpignan” at the colloquium Perpignan 1415: un sommet européen à l’époque des conciles, held in Perpignan, France, in September.  November saw her at the Southern Historical Association (they do have a European history section) talking on “Invented Histories of Astrology in Medieval Europe” in a session she organized on “Lies, Damned Lies, and Histories:  Falsehood in the Later Middle Ages.”  In February, she delivered a paper entitled “Written in the Stars: Medieval Astrology between Magic and Science” as part of the CARA plenary session at the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, while in April she spoke on “Miracles as Sensory Experiences:  Examples from the Canonization of Vincent Ferrer” at a conference she co-organized at the Memorial Art Gallery entitled “Experiencing Devotion in Medieval and Renaissance Europe:  Sights, Sounds, Objects” (and for which she received funding from the Humanities Project).  She also gave several lectures for University of Rochester audiences, speaking at Meliora Weekend, for an alumni webinar, for the celebration “Performing History with Eastman’s Italian Baroque Organ” at the Memorial Art Gallery, and for the Board of Trustees’ annual retreat.  Appearing in print this year was her article “The Unstable Image of Vincent Ferrer in Manuscript and Print Vitae, 1455-1555,” in The Saint Between Manuscript and Print: Italy, 1400-1600, edited by Alison K. Frazier (Toronto, 2015).  And her 2014 monograph The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe received the La corónica International Book Award in May 2016.  She also served on the German history search committee in the department and on the search committee for the new dean of the Hajim School of Engineering.  She continues to serve as editor-in-chief of the journal History Compass.   In her spare time, she enjoys playing flute with the University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra and with Cordancia Chamber Orchestra.

Meet Our Faculty: Richard Kaeuper

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University of Rochester professor of European history and Goergen Teaching Award winner Richard Kaeuper October 4, 2012. // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester

Richard Kaeuper published his general study, MEDIEVAL CHIVALRY, a book commissioned by Cambridge University Press. This spring he was formally inducted as a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America (not being able to attend the MAA meeting last year while he was a Fellow of the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland). With the assistance of recent PhD Sam Claussen he continues to serve as medieval European editor for the Cambridge World History of Violence, in process, and has an article forthcoming in a conference volume from Pembroke College, Cambridge, and a chapter in a collection of studies on medieval romance. For a conference to be held next year in Stanford University he is preparing a paper on the teaching and research usefulness of sermon stories as evidence on crusading. During this academic year he has worked regularly with Shiguang Ni, a Chinese scholar interested in medieval European history, who came to the UR for this purpose. In a new course he has revitalized the research project drawing on English royal documents that was formerly a feature of his teaching.