Staging Files - a Public History Project at the University of Bremen

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„Staging files“ is the motto of history and theatre projects at the University of Bremen dealing with controversial topics of Bremen’s history. Students of the history department and actors of the bremer shakespeare company (bsc) develop and stage play readings from original documents of the 20th Century. This unique concept has brought the following results so far: 5 projects, 47 performances with roughly 4800 visitors, 5 companion volumes, local and nationwide media feedback and wide acceptance in the scientific community. Historian Dr. Eva Schöck-Quinteros has developed the project “to make files talk”. Source-based research is thus made accessible for a broader public beyond the academy. In a one-year course students use scientific enquiries to work independently on topics and problems that enlarge the scientific discourse. Young academics learn about the importance of public relations of public engagement for their scientific work.

„Staging Files“ is the motto of history and theatre projects at the University of Bremen dealing with controversial topics of Bremen’s history. Students of the history department and actors of the bremer shakespeare company (bsc) have developed and staged play readings from original documents since 2007. The project was initiated and is led by Dr. Eva Schöck-Quinteros (University of Bremen), supported by Sigrid Dauks (University Archive Bremen) and Peter Lüchinger (bsc). Combining historical research, scientific enquiries and drama, it was sucessfully developed for the university contest „Geist begeistert“. This unique cooperation, whose aim it is to make files talk on stage and interest people beyond the academy for the study of sources, attracts both local and national media attention.

In times of visualisation through media this project relies on oral language – or rather the languages of the protagonists involved – and thus enables a multi-perspective on historical processes. Play readings are an excellent way of presenting historical texts without comments or interpretations. These texts enable a bottom-up and inside-out view; biographies of often unknown women and men are made visible. So far, topics have been: the expulsion policy of so-called „undesirable foreigners“ („Lästige Ausländer“), 2007-2009; gender relations in the Weimar Republic, 2010; denazification of ordinary women, 2011; a female prisoner-functionary in a concentration camp, 2012; Bremen in World War I, 2012-2013.

The project aims at three target groups:
1. Primarily people beyond the academy are being acquainted with recent research on the history of their hometown. During the readings lecturers and students of the project team answer questions from the audience. The project’s website and facebook account provide the latest information and insights into the project’s daily routine.(www.sprechende-akten.de, www.facebook.com/sprechende.akten)
2. “Staging files“ also offers workshops for pupils planning to attend the play reading. Student teachers there prepare the topic and the attributes of a play reading so that the pupils are able to get the most out of it.
3. Several sucessful productions have made the project popular with the scientific community beyond Bremen: The heads of the project have presented the concept of „Staging Files“ at several conferences, other historians were invited to try similar projects at their home universities.(1) Publications underline these ideas.(2)

A university course preparing the project produces the following material:
• a sourcebook for bsc’s actors;
• a companion volume run of 500 copies including background information, documents and articles written by the students;
• public relations (website, promotion material, facebook account, interviews, dicussions with the audience);
• the play reading programme;
• a Wikipedia entry (Johann Geusendam);
• a panel discussion with experts;
• teaching resources for schools.

The 45 readings were held at original places (Bremen Regional Court, Higher Administrative Court Berlin, Bremen State Parliament, Haus des Reichs as seat of the US military government). Roughly 4800 visitors have seen the productions so far. All projects have been reviewed in almost 50 articles in more than 30 different newspapers. All play readings have been recorded; a local TV station (Radio Weser TV) has repeatedly broadcasted one production. Visitor and media feedback have been extraordinarily positive. A regional core audience is regularily attracted thus verifying the visitor survey of the first project in 2008: 2/3 of the respondents said they would want to see more play readings with historical topics. (3) Our observations show visitors who are neither typical theatre guests nor from the academy. The local perspective on history might play an important, if not decisive role here.

The project has been awarded in the German Ministry for Research and Educations’s contest „Geist begeistert“ in 2007. Eva Schöck-Quinteros has got the University of Bremen’s „Berninghausen“ award for excellent teaching and its innovation. Recently the university supports the project for its scientifc enquiries; it takes effect as a think tank with impact on creative teaching concepts at the University of Bremen. „Staging Files“ here especially represents two aspects: mediating historical research for a broader public – beyond public lectures – and the introduction of students into the „translation“ of scientific findings for the public and their popularisation through challenging but comprehensible articles.

Through recognition from the audience, the media and students an idea for a contest became an integral part of the history course as well as the cultural life in Bremen; cooperation between history and theatre continues on a regular basis and has proven to be well-accepted by the public. Usually all productions are sold-out – even before the first night and its public attention. Several guest performances in Berlin, enquiries from Cologne, Ludwigsburg and Oberhausen by institutions outside the academy show a great interest in this way of presenting history.

(1) Conference “Forschendes Lernen. Hochschuldidaktische Konzepte und internationale Perspektiven”, held in November 2010 at the Universities of Bremen, Oldenburg and Jakobs University Bremen: http://mlecture.uni-bremen.de/ml/index.php?option=com_mlplayer&mlid=1998... Workshop „User generierte Geschichte. Zu Partizipation und Deutungsmacht“, held in February 2011 at the University of Frankfurt/Oder; see on further lectures: http://www.sprechende-akten.uni-bremen.de/wordpress/?page_id=11

(2) For example: Dauks, Sigrid: “Aus den Akten auf die Bühne”. Inszenierungen in der archivischen Bildungsarbeit (Historische Bildungs- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Bd. 2), Berlin 2010; Schöck-Quinteros, Eva/Dauks, Sigrid: Aus den Akten auf die Bühne. Eine Kooperation zwischen Geschichtswissenschaft und Theater, in: L’HOMME. Europäische Zeitschrift für feministische Geschichtswissenschaft 23 (2012)

(3) http://www.sprechende-akten.uni-bremen.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2...

Attachments:
1. Overview: The Projects 2007–2012
2. Selective Press Review
3. Companion Volume: Denazification of Ordinary Women (2011)
4. Article in L’Homme (2012)
5. Project Presentation (2011)

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