Academics and Politics : Northern European Area Studies at Greifswald University, 1917–1991
Abstract: The decision to institute Area Studies in German universities in 1917, was born out of a perceived need to widen the intellectual horizon of the public and academia alike. At Greifswald University this ambitious reform programme saw the foundation of a Nordic Institute, charged with interdisciplinary studies of contemporary Northern Europe. Its interdisciplinarity and implicit role in public diplomacy made the Nordic Institute, and the institutions that succeeded it, an anomaly within the university, until the institute was fundamentally reformed in the early 1990s. The study explores the institutional development of the institute under five different political regimes – Kaiserreich, Weimar Republic, Third Reich, GDR and FRG. It does so through the lens of scholars as utility-seeking actors, manoeuvring between the confines of an academic environment and the possibilities afforded by the institute’s political task. It becomes apparent that the top-down institution of interdisciplinary scholarship produced a number of conflicts between the disciplinarily organized career path on theone hand, and scholars’ investment in broader regional research on the other. Personal conflicts in a confined and competitive environment, and a persistent shortage of funding provided further incentives for scholars to overcome perceived limitations of the academic sphere by offering their cooperation to the political field. Individual attempts to capitalize on a reciprocal exchange of resources with the political field remained a feature under all political regimes, but the opportunity to do so successfully depended on the receptiveness of the political field. Cooperation, where it was established, also proved to be difficult, with the interests of political and academic actors often diverging, and the political side’s interest becoming dominant. The study examines the underlying motivations of scholars to seek assistance from outside the academic field, but also the problems connected with that approach, and demonstrates the specific problems faced by Area Studies in a German context.
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