Dr Marcel Thomas


The GDR Today: New Interdisciplinary Approaches to East German History, Memory and Culture

FORTHCOMING: The GDR Today: New Interdisciplinary Approaches to East German History, Memory and Culture (Oxford: Peter Lang, forthcoming 2017).

The GDR Today promotes interdisciplinary approaches to East Germany by gathering articles from a new generation of scholars in the fields of literary and visual studies, history, sociology, translation studies, political science, museum studies and curating practice. The contributors to this volume argue that it is necessary to transgress disciplinary boundaries to escape the gridlocked categories of GDR scholarship. Exploring East German everyday life, cultural policies, memory and memorialisation, the volume aims to offer new impulses to the study of the GDR. Through the combination and juxtaposition of different approaches to East Germany, it overcomes intra-disciplinary conceptual binaries and revitalises debates about the very concepts we use to understand life under late twentieth-century state socialism.

  • Postwar Germany
  • Rural and Urban History
  • History of Everyday Life
  • Oral History and Memory

My research asks how Germans in East and West engaged with the deep-reaching social and political changes of the postwar era in their everyday environments. I am particularly interested in oral history approaches and spatial histories which offer insights into the entanglement of the Cold War with individual life histories.

My recently completed PhD thesis uses two-case study villages in the divided Germany to challenge grand narratives of a Cold War divergence between the socialist dictatorship of the East and the liberal democracy of the West. Based on a wide range of archival sources as well as oral history interviews, I argue that there are parallel histories of responses to social change among villagers in postwar Germany. Despite the different social, political and economic developments, the residents of both localities desired rural modernisation, lamented the loss of ‘community’ and became politically active to control the transformation of their localities. My thesis therefore offers a history of Cold War Europe that does not focus on the antagonistic systems on either side of the Iron Curtain but on the ways in which individuals gave local meaning to large-scale processes of change.

An article based on parts of my PhD research was published in the Journal of Urban History in December 2016, and two peer-reviewed chapters in edited volumes will be printed by early 2018. I am also currently co-editing an interdisciplinary volume on the history, culture and memory of socialist East Germany which will appear towards the end of this year (see featured publication). I have previously published on the tensions between personal memories and official histories of the East German State Security in the European Review of History 20 (2013).

In addition to turning my thesis into a book manuscript, I am currently preparing my new project: a sensory history of construction work in postwar West Germany. The large-scale construction of flats and family homes on the ruins of the Third Reich was at the heart of West Germany’s rapid postwar recovery, also known as the ‘economic miracle’. While there is a growing literature on urban planning and the postwar remodelling of West German cities, the actual process of building, and the experiences of those involved in it, have been relatively overlooked. My project will use a sensory history methodology to examine how the sights, sounds and smells of living amidst construction work shaped the postwar remaking of West German society.

    No publications have been listed.


I currently teach:

FHS: Masters:
General History XIII

Theory and Methods

General History XIV  

Culture, Politics and Identity in Cold War Europe


The Revolutions of 1989

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