Dissertation in History
First supervisor: Prof. Jessica Gienow-Hecht
Second supervisor: Prof. Sebastian Conrad
Third supervisor: Prof. Dagmar Herzog
“If a Negro boy and a white girl find things in common and desire to associate with each other, we as believers in democratic freedom should support their democratic right to do so,"* a reader of the African American magazine Ebony declared in his letter to the editor. His comment referred to a series of reports on the experience of African Americans soldiers stationed in West Germany. Many African Americans remembered their deployment in postwar Germany as a good time – a time, in which they felt like “equals” – a feeling they missed at home. They connected this novel feeling of “equality” with being recognized and accepted as men. It was not only their status as occupation soldier but also the contact with German civilians, which gave them a new perspective on their situation back home in the United States. Most notably intimate relationships between African American soldiers and German women evolved as central themes, and – as I shall argue – contested forms of protest and resistance in personal and collective narratives of African Americans.
Understanding intimacy, sexuality, and love as both emotions and practices of attraction and affection and – in certain circumstances – as subtle forms of protest my dissertation project seeks to trace back the implications the deployment of African American troops in postwar West Germany had for the struggle against racial discrimination in the Untied States. As African Americans summarized the struggle for social justice as a quest for equality, I am particularly interested in the construction of the concept of equality on a subject, as well as collective level, and its entanglement with gender, sex, and emotions such as love.
Broadly speaking my project seeks to contribute to the transnational history of the struggle for social justice in the United States. It approaches the topic from the perspective of gender, sexuality, and emotions, understanding the discourse on intimacy as a forum to address many other issues aside from sex and romance and as an allegory to talk about various political and social conflicts.