Professor Glenn Penny (Henry J. Bruman Chair in German History, University of California, Los Angeles)
Whereas scholars have filled rooms with books about the eastern German border—where it was, where it should have been, how it moved, how its role in people’s lives changed across our clearly periodized political histories—the southern German border has received relatively little attention. In part, that is because of the hegemonic position of nation-states and the historians who study and promote them. For them, the eastern border was a perennial problem, which led to a great deal of violence. In contrast, the southern German border has not appeared to be much of a problem at all, which might seem to make it less worthy of inquiry. In this talk, Glenn Penny argues that the opposite may be true: that this neglected region can tell us more about the contours of a globalized German history than those regions that were animated for so long by a series of often violent ruptures. Getting there, however, requires not only embracing a polycentric German history but also historiographic and theoretical perspectives informed by ethnology and transregional histories.