Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Workshop: "Moses Mendelssohn: Germany's First Migrant" by Dr. Brent O. Peterson, Lawrence University

Mon, March 4, 2013 | GAR 4.100

12:00 PM - 1:15 PM


Germans have only recently accepted the fact that they belong to a nation of immigrants; officially, they still sustain the myth that migration to Germany began during the economic miracle of the 1950s. The claim that Moses Mendelssohn was Germany’s first migrant is a deliberate intervention into the debate over the role of migrants in German culture. Mendelssohn’s significance is that he was able to write himself into the center of the discourse of what it meant to be German as that discussion was beginning. His case thereby opens still contentious and unresolved debates on issues as diverse the connection between ethnicity and national identity, the role of religion in hegemonic culture, the limits of tolerance vis-à-vis Others within the majority culture and the tensions between bi- and multilingualism in models of the nation. This paper is conceived as the opening chapter for a book demonstrating not only that Germany has long provided a home to migrants, but also that the nation as we know it is inconceivable without the cultural work done by men and women who came to Germany from somewhere else.

Brent Peterson is Professor of German and Chair of the German Department at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. Prof. Peterson has long been interested in questions of ethnic and national identity and has published two books on the topics: Popular Narratives and Ethnic Identity: Literature and Community in Die Abendschule (1991) and History, Fiction and Germany: Writing the Nineteenth-Century Nation (2005). He has more recently turned his attention to questions of migration and German culture. In 2010 and 2012, he co-directed NEH Summer Seminars for Teachers entitled “Germany’s Cosmopolitan Capital: Berlin and the Myth of German Homogeneity” (with Prof. Robert R. Shandley, Texas A&M University). His articles “Imagining Integration: Why Fictional Inter-Ethnic Marriages Matter” (2011) and “Turkish for Beginners: Teaching Cosmopolitanism to Germans” (2012) are part of a larger project, which will open with a discussion of Moses Mendelssohn and the long history of migration to Germany.

Responder: Tracie Matysik, Associate Professor of History, UT Austin.

Free and open to the public. RSVP required. To RSVP and receive a copy of the pre-circulated paper, please email Courtney Meador by 9 a.m., Friday, March 1.

Sponsored by: Department of Germanic Studies, Institute for Historical Studies, Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

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