Gender Issues in German Historical Exhibitions about National Socialism

By Chloe Paver.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

While critiques of gender exclusion in the museum have tended to concentrate on museums of 19th-century foundation, this paper considers a body of contemporary exhibitions, mounted in Germany to explain diverse aspects of National Socialism. The lack of concern for gender issues in most such exhibitions is explained, prima facie, by their preoccupation with a much more pressing concern: the crimes of a genocidal dictatorship. The peculiar gender co-ordinates of the era under exhibition – on the one hand its stark polarisation of gender roles, on the other its effacement of gender difference in mass murder – may also seem to militate against a gender-sensitive approach to the material. Nevertheless, it makes little sense to exempt exhibitions about National Socialism from the duty of all museum work routinely to unpick gender categories. In particular, the widespread use of photographs as documents in historical exhibitions demands of curators that they assist visitors in understanding how photographs shape reality. The visibility or invisibility of women in photographs from National Socialist Germany may have been constructed in various ways—by social conventions, by the photographer, by the archivist, by the curator—but in the absence of guidance visitors are likely to view photographs as documents of an objective reality. The paper suggests ways in which such exhibitions might make gender issues accessible to the visitor without losing sight of the main goal of educating visitors about National Socialist crimes.

Keywords: Exhibition Practice, National Socialism, Holocaust, Gender, Germany, Photography, Feminist Museology, Feminist Historiography

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.43-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 5.105MB).

Dr. Chloe Paver

Senior Lecturer in German, School of Arts, Languages and Literatures, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

Chloe Paver received her doctorate from the University of Oxford and has been a lecturer at the University of Exeter since 1994. She recently completed a monograph for Oxford University Press: Refractions of the Third Reich in German and Austrian Fiction and Film. She spent the year 2006-07 as a Humboldt Fellow working under Prof. Aleida Assmann at the University of Konstanz. Dr. Paver is undertaking a wide-ranging investigation of historical exhibitions about the National Socialist era and its legacies. The study, which builds on her published work into the so-called Wehrmachtsausstellung and other photographic exhibitions, takes account of the social and institutional forces that shape these exhibitions and of the ways in which they display the material traces of the past. With Prof. Bill Niven of Nottingham Trent University she is editing Difficult Pasts: Memorialisation In Germany From 1945 To The Present. This will be the first major collection of research into the diverse memorials to Germany’s various ‘pasts’ and will show how both the memorials themselves and our ways of conceptualizing them have diversified over the last few decades.

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