Representations of History in British and German Popular Culture Since the 1980s

This project examined the ways in which historical themes have been represented in British and German popular culture since the 1980s. With an eye to the inheritance of “cultural studies,” it postulated that the space of the popular can offer a key to deeper political tendencies concerning identity and historical reckoning. By analyzing pairs of works from Britain and Germany, seeking out moments of rhyme and dissonance between the two cultures across the last four decades, it aimed at furthering the dialogue about the cultural relationship between Britain and Europe. It was particularly interested in the functioning of nostalgia and cultural memory, and how these have related to the question of futurity.

Its first part considered the two television series Brideshead Revisited (dirs. Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1981) and Heimat (dir. Edgar Reitz, 1984) alongside the themes of “heritage” and “Heimat.” Here the project explored the ways in which the popular form of television interacted with complex historiographic concerns—as well as how these series themselves sought to problematize ideas of “high” and “popular” culture.

With these considerations in mind, the project went on to examine other pairs of works from the 1980s, starting with an exploration of “historiographic metafiction”—and the “postmodern” as such—in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981) and Patrick Süskind’s Das Parfum (1985). It then looked at the articulation of a feminist poetics of history in Christa Wolf’s Kassandra (1983) and Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry (1989). Moving into the 1990s, the project explored the tension between “pulp” forms and historical seriousness in Robert Harris’s Fatherland (1992) and Christian Kracht’s Faserland (1995). Lastly, it interrogated representations of the 1980s since 2000: addressing themes including “Ostalgie,” it offered a case study of the films Good Bye, Lenin! (dir. Wolfgang Becker, 2003) and This Is England (dir. Shane Meadows, 2006).

The project is based in the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at Queen Mary University of London.

funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Queen Mary University of London 2022
Head researcher(s): David Anderson