Civil Disobedience and Opposition to the East German Regime in the Years from 1949-1953

Iris Bork-Goldfield (Wesleyan University)

How did citizens resist East Germany’s dictatorial regime, and what happened to those who were caught? These were the questions that I pursued and researched for four years. The main focus of my research was a group of young men and women who lived in Werder/Havel in Brandenburg, Germany, 30 miles southwest of Berlin. They wrote leaflets and secretly distributed them in Werder and surrounding towns. Some were caught, tortured, and spent several years in prison. Eight of them disappeared from view completely. It took 44 years–seven years after the Wall had come down—until relatives and friends found out what had happened to them. Based on interviews with survivors, historical documents that included Stasi files, photos, historical news reals, letters, diaries, etc., I produced a film documentary and wrote the book Wir wollten was tun (We Wanted to Do Something), which was published in 2015. The documentary is available online with English subtitles and German captions. They were created with both German and American students in mind (16 to 24 years of age).

Beate Brunow (Wofford College) and I developed teaching materials for both the film and the book for American students of German. We introduced our pedagogical materials at the ACTFL conference in November 2015. These teaching suggestions are available online on our own website but also with additional authentic materials on the website of the Bundesstiftung für die Aufarbeitung der DDR Diktatur. The materials can be used in conjunction with both the documentary and the book.

These materials were developed for the teaching of history in the German classroom but are easily adaptable to history classes. My original goal was to create a documentary where contemporary witnesses who were actively involved in the resistance between 1949 and 1953 tell their stories. I used a digital camera and a Macbook Pro laptop to record the interviews. I used a professional film editing program to create the video. The book tells the film’s story in more detail. The reader learns the historical background and what happened after 1953. A topic that is not mentioned in the documentary but included in the book is the resistance movement in the 1980s.

Useful and of interest for further research would be:

        1. Integrating research and teaching through digital humanities projects
        2. An online searchable textual database of the Stasi files.
        3. The creation of a GIS-oriented map in order to better visualize where resistance fighters were active and distributed their materials.
        4. A geotagged map of artifacts of various resistance groups, since the students from Werder were not the only ones who actively and secretly opposed the East German government.
        5. A website in which specific parts of the book are connected to the film.

 

Since I am not very familiar with geotags, cursor-activated popup windows, and Google
geocoding, I hope to learn more about them in the seminar. Such tools will help me make the
book and film a true DH project.

The question I have for the GSA seminar participants is whether they could imagine teaching
this topic (resistance in the former GDR) in their classes and what I or others—including
students—could do to explore and enrich this topic and make it accessible to the world.

Alea–A Digital Remixing Tool for Students and Scholars

Shuffling Büchner

ale·a·to·ry (adjective)

1. of or relating to accidental causes; of luck or chance; unpredictable

2. employing the element of chance in the choice of tones, rests, durations, rhythms, dynamics, etc.

Overview


Alea is a tool for reordering and rearranging pre-existing texts. Inspired by the cut-up, découpé techniques of the Dadaists, Alea invites users to drag and drop elements of a larger text in order to generate their own desired sequence of elements, thereby producing new causal, thematic, and temporal connections through deliberate or random experimentation. Each individual re-sequencing involves users in a struggle to explore how the ordering of specific parts of texts contribute to their overall structure, meaning, and aesthetic impact. Simultaneously, users will question their own modes of reading while questioning traditional critical perspectives and editing objectives. Once complete, Alea will foster both pedagogical use and scholarly exploration.

Origin


The tool’s concept emerged after more than fifteen years of engaging with the Woyzeck corpus, a dramatic fragment comprised of a series of seemingly unrelated scenes that form only a shadow of a plot: Franz Woyzeck, a soldier, father, and experimental subject, eventually resolves to kill his common-law wife, Marie, after a series of emotional injustices, social inequities, and underlying psychological issues drive him insane. Before the work’s author Georg Büchner could finish a definitive version of the play, he died from typhus at the age of 23. In an attempt to make sense of Büchner’s posthumous work, his family and editors deciphered, revised, and modified the 25 episodic scenes that the author left scattered across four separate, incomplete drafts.

While exploring Büchner’s drama with students at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany and the University of Virginia, I noticed that they tended to struggle with or underperform on one critical thinking assignment: after discussing how a New York theater company once performed the play by drawing scenes randomly from a hat and found that the play invariably “worked” in whatever sequence emerged, students were asked to create and analyze their own reordering of the scenes. At first, students were reluctant, apparently unwilling or unable to experiment more with the corpus. I believe approaching Woyzeck in a printed format primed the students to perform weakly. Despite classroom discussions of Woyzeck’s editorial history, some students nevertheless seemed to believe that the printed order of the scenes was the infallible, immutable order so they were unwilling to explore the possibilities. Similarly, the printed format caused other students to struggle with conceptualizing each scene as a separate component with no fixed place in the order. This rich exercise and its full benefit were ultimately stymied by the corpus in a physical, printed format. Thus, a digital tool like Alea is necessary and can offer support as a pedagogic tool.

Future Directions


There are many possible directions for this project:

  • At the click of a button, Alea will present a random, computer-generated arrangement of the Woyzeck corpus. Given that the 25 scenes can be ordered in literally trillions of ways (25! or 1.551121e+25, to be exact), each click will offer new, never-before-seen possibilities.
  • Users will be able to create, save, and curate their own re-sequencings.
  • Users will be able to export their sequences as an .xml file that they can then use with a visualizing tool like Voyant to analyze the effects of the new sequence against more conventionally edited versions.
  • Users will be able to insert their own textual fragments into the Alea interface before remixing.
  • Users will be able to insert various media files, including text documents, audio files, and short videos, to create a multimedial collage.

Screenshots of Current Build (click to enlarge)


Alea's current interface is very utilitarian. Each blue bar bears the title of a scene from Woyzeck.
Alea’s current interface is very utilitarian. Each blue bar bears the title of a scene from Woyzeck.

 

Clicking on a scene's blue bar causes that scene's full text to expand below. Future builds will provide "collapse all" and "expand all" buttons to make rearranging and reading easier.
Clicking on a scene’s blue bar causes that scene’s full text to expand below. Future builds will provide “collapse all” and “expand all” buttons to make rearranging and reading easier.

 

Users can click and drag each blue bar into a new arrangement of their choice. In this image, only the first few scenes have been reordered. Future builds will feature a "randomize order" button that will rearrange the bars in an unpredictable manner.
Users can click and drag each blue bar into a new arrangement of their choice. In this image, only the first few scenes have been reordered. Future builds will feature a “randomize order” button that will rearrange the bars in an unpredictable manner.

Feedback

Each participant will use these guiding questions to provide feedback for each project in their category: Research, Teaching, or Methods.

  1. How does this project contribute to teaching, learning, research?
  2. Does it create or reframe knowledge and/or help develop skills?
  3. Does is provide new ways of viewing/studying sources?
  4. How can the project contribute to inclusivity in our classrooms? (in terms of document/source diversity and/or accessibility?)
  5. How might this model/method be transferred or applied in other disciplines?
  6. Does the project allow for interdisciplinary/inter-institutional work/collaboration?
  7. Is it sufficiently rigorous in respect to the intellectual aims of the project and in what ways might the project be improved?

Presentation Questions: Methods

Each seminar participant will give a short, 10-minute presentation on his or her project at the GSA (schedule TBA). The conveners have divided projects into three categories: Research, Teaching, and Methods.  Each group will have a specific set of questions to address.

Questions for projects that focus primarily on methodology:

  1. What were your goals and how did the DH tools help you achieve them?
  2. How can others employ this method?
  3. What are two challenges of this method?
  4. What is the future of the method/project?
  5. One big question for the group that you want answered.

Presentation Questions: Teaching

Each seminar participant will give a short, 10-minute presentation on his or her project at the GSA (schedule TBA). The conveners have divided projects into three categories: Research, Teaching, and Methods.  Each group will have a specific set of questions to address.

Questions for projects that focus primarily on teaching:

  1. What were your goals and how did the DH tools help you achieve them?
  2. What is the main impact of the project in your classroom and on student learning?
  3. What are two challenges of teaching with DH?
  4. What is the future of this project?
  5. One big question for the group that you want answered.

Presentation Questions: Research

Each seminar participant will give a short, 10-minute presentation on his or her project at the GSA (schedule TBA). The conveners have divided projects into three categories: Research, Teaching, and Methods.  Each group will have a specific set of questions to address.

Questions for projects that focus primarily on research:

  1. What were your goals and how did the DH tools help you achieve them?
  2. Who is the primary audience?
  3. What are two challenges?
  4. What is the project’s future?
  5. One big question for the group that you want answered.