The CITAS Brownbag Sessions offer a platform for international visiting scholars in Regensburg to present their research in a more informal setting over lunch. The series offers visiting scholars an opportunity to meet colleagues and students from across the disciplines with diverse regional specialisms.
CITAS has collaborated with a variety of partners in Regensburg in organising the events and is open to proposals for further sessions in Summer Semester 2020.
In the section below you can find descriptions of the past Brownbag Sessions held at CITAS in Winter Semester 2019/20, including discussions on remiltarization in Latin America (Francisco Verdes-Montenegro), transnational life writing (Frank Mehring) and the impact of aritificial intelligence on legal processes (Amin Afrouzi).
In Summer Semester 2019, we welcomed talks on Yugoslav-African connections in the automotive industry (Goran Music) and the transatlantic dimensions of the Oberammergau Passion Play (Robert Priest).
6 Nov 19
Amin Afrouzi spoke at the Brownbag Sessions as a visiting doctoral fellow of the Regensburg-Berkeley Doctoral Exchange Programme. After graduating from UC Berkeley and a year of studying German language and literature in Berlin, Amin completed his first master’s degree in Philosophy at Oxford University and his second master’s degree in Classics at Cambridge University. He then returned to Berkeley to pursue a doctoral degree at UC Berkeley School of Law.
His two-month stay in Regensburg was funded by the Regensburg University Foundation (Regensburger Universitätsstiftung). While in Regensburg, he collaborated closely with the Chair of Practical Philosophy Prof. Dr. Weyma Lübbe.In his Brownbag Session talk, Amin examined the potential practical and ethical impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning for legal processes, both in the United States and globally. He examined the potential for machine learning to tease out legal precedent and ensure appropriate sentencing. At the same time, he considered the grounds for moral and ethical opposition to the expansion of the use of these methods.
His thought-provoking discussion inspired extensive discussion involving students, doctoral researchers and senior faculty. The discussion in particular addressed the implications of expanding the use of such technology in the context of developing nations. The participants also considered how existing biases and blind spots in the legal system could be exacerbated by machine learning and artificial intelligence, as algorithms and decision-making programmes draw on the existing archives of legal opinion.
In the context of CITAS’ research interests, the Brownbag Session with Amin offered the important insight that systems and norms that make claims towards universality – in this case both technological infrastructure and legal systems – are ultimately refracted and transformed through the local conditions of their implementation.
27 Nov 2019
Frank Mehring is Chair of American Studies at Radboud University, Nijmegen. He came to Regensburg as part of the Erasmus+ programme. His contribution to the CITAS Brownbag Series was arranged in cooperation with the Regensburg European-American Forum (REAF). During his time in Regensburg, Prof. Mehring also held a workshop with doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and gave a fascinating lecture on the transnational contestation of a US-American memory of heroism, drawing on the WWII history of Nijmegen.
At CITAS, he presented his work on the biography of the artist and graphic designer Winold Reiss, who left Germany for the United States shortly before the First World War. He developed his career there, often coming to represent minority groups, such as Black Americans, while also developing a fascination with Mexico, which he considered more “colourful” and inspiring than the USA. Ultimately, Reiss experienced a degree of disillusionment with the American Dream while at the same time producing many representations of members of groups who were excluded from realising this dream.
The two key problems that Frank Mehring addresses in his highly engaging talk were, firstly, how to restore Winold Reiss to public attention today, in an age when self-representation of marginalized groups is desired, rather than representation by a white, heterosexual male; and, secondly, how to write a transnational and indeed transcultural biography of Winold Reiss, one that would account not only for his own life story that was inflected by transnational border-crossing but also for his encounters with diverse cultural groups that he depicted in his paintings and illustrations.
In the course of an engaging discussion, Mehring proposed a prismatic approach to writing Reiss’ biography, one that would reflect the multiple and intersecting spaces that the artist encountered and shaped. The traditional linear chronology of a biography would instead cluster around constellations of events, groups and people. Mehring hopes that this approach will ultimately enable the historicization of Reiss’ life story, enabling him and his works to re-emerge today in the full complexity of his age and in the tensions around representation of marginalized groups that shape public discourse today.
4 Dec 2019
Francisco Verdes-Montenegro is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Centre for International Studies (ICEI) at the Complutense University in Madrid. He came to Regensburg as the first Visiting Fellow of the Leibniz ScienceCampus Europe and America in the Modern World, spending a month in the city collaborating with colleagues across political science, international relations and Spanish studies.
His CITAS Brownbag Session was attended by colleagues and students from across the disciplines, with part of the discussion also taking place in Spanish, giving the students an opportunity to test their knowledge of the language with a native speaker. The multilingual discussion demonstrated the cross-cultural communication entailed by transnational area studies.
In his talk and in-depth discussion, Francisco addressed the issue of the remilitarization of Latin American politics and society. Drawing on his own research and official statistics, as well as the visual material produced by political actors across the region, he found a common trend, regardless of the orientation of the particular regimes on the political spectrum. Left-wing and right-wing governments sought to legitimize their turn towards what Francisco called the “policization” of the army with reference to perceived transnational threats, such as “cultural Marxism” or “imperialism”. Ultimately though, the goal of the regimes, he argued, is, firstly, to project an image of sovereignty as guardians of the nation and, secondly, to quell any urges towards civil unrest by symbolic shows of power. The measures are aimed at domestic audiences, since there is no recent historical precedent of Latin American countries entering into war with their neighbours.
The discussion suggested ways of positioning trends in Latin America in the global context of populism and a shift towards using defence forces for civil matters as states of exception and potential threats come to normalize the use of the army on the streets, something that impacts everyday life and can further social divisions.
15 January 2020
In the final Brownbag Session of the 2019/20 Winter Semester, CITAS hosted Prof. Dr. Pia Wiegmink. She is deputizing for Prof. Dr. Udo Hebel at the chair of American Studies, having come to Regensburg from the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, Mainz, one of Germany’s most dynamic centres in the field.
In her talk, she drew on research from her recently completed habilitation study, Re-Configuring the Nation: Transnationalism and Gender in American Abolitionist Literature. This event was organized in cooperation with REAF.
She examined the cultural as well as socio-political contexts that formed the interlocking discourses of sentimentalism, gender, antislavery, cosmopolitanism, print culture, and consumerism in the work of the American abolitionist gift book The Liberty Bell (1839-1859), whose popularity peaked in the 1840s and 1850s. Its transnational connections and impact were evident in that it inspired, for example, similar endeavors in the context of the abolition of serfdom in Russia and chiming with the rising reformist movement around the world. What formed, Wiegmink argued, as an “cosmopolitan affective community” that sought to celebrate, and mourn, comrades in the struggle for liberation from slavery, including in Cuba, while also connecting with activists in Europe. The gift book’s form was particularly significant in forming the community and discourse of “American abolitionist cosmopolitanism”. Poems or letters published in the same section in different issues formed a certain dialogue with each other and with the broader imagery of liberty. Equally, as a gift book the act of giving, even of a consumer product, generated a gift economy which markets sentimentalism for a political cause,
Pia Wiegmink’s engaging talk was followed by lively discussion that addressed whether the universalist claims of those involved in The Liberty Bell and the broader abolitionist movement were matched in the realm of representation. Indeed, few African-American voices were evident in print. Thus there was support for the slave and affection for the community of those lobbying for abolition, even if the community was formed in practice of reform-minded white Americans and their counterparts elsewhere in the world, highlighting the value of pursuing a transnational approach in American Studies while revealing some unexpected connections between the USA and Eastern Europe.
WEDS 24 July, 12:15, Sammelgebäude 214 (CITAS)
Robert Priest, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Royal Holloway, University of London, presented at the CITAS Brownbag Session during his visiting lectureship at the Chair of European History in Regensburg. He gave an outline of his ongoing project, a transnational cultural history of the Oberammergau Passion Play. He offered insight into the local, regional and national political and theological negotiations that shaped the actual performance in ‘Bavaria’s global village’, while also focusing on the transnational networks and cultural exchanges that made the Passion Plays into a phenomenon that resonated far beyond the Alps.
Starting in the late eighteenth century, when the Oberammergau performance faced a ban, Priest focused in particular on the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, locating the Passion Play in the context of the rise of international package tourism, mass media, and the invention of traditions and nation-building, especially the efforts to develop German unity across the Catholic-Protestant divide.
Adopting a case study-based approach for the presentation, he addressed the interconnections of the Oberammergau Passion Play with US-American debates at the turn of the twentieth century on antisemitism, French efforts to transfer the work and project images of rural purity at a time of industrialization, and how a British-American actress’s reappropriation of the Passion Play’s aesthetics challenged normative gender conceptions embedded in both the Catholic play and the London theatre.
The play’s international success and its contested reception in Germany and beyond shaped not only what appeared on stage but also life in the village, as its residents negotiated nation-building, modernity and globalization. Priest demonstrated through the case of Oberammergau the relevance of localized perspectives for global history, with the relevance of a comparative transregional approach apparent in his work. This brownbag session made clear the importance of further developing multi-scalar and multi-perspectival area studies for research on historical and present phenomena.
Robert Priest has been Lecturer in Modern European History at Royal Holloway since 2014. He studied at UCL, completed a doctorate in Oxford and was a Research Fellow in Cambridge. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Higher Education Academy. His research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of nineteenth-century Europe, expanding from a focus on France into a broader transnational framework.
CITAS BROWNBAG SESSION, 3 JULY 2019, 1215-1330 CITAS
The first CITAS Brownbag Session took place on 3 July with Goran Musić, who works for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sarajevo and is currently a visiting research fellow at the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (IOS). The Brownbag Sessions provide guest researchers in Regensburg with a forum to discuss their ongoing project with colleagues and students from across the university while enjoying lunch together. We are grateful to Prof. Dr. Ulf Brunnbauer for his support with this event.
Goran Musić presented his work on the expansion of the Priboj Automotive Factory (FAP) into Zambia in the 1970s. He positioned his work among current research that addresses “second” and “third” world globalizations, while also addressing their intersections with capitalist or “first” world economies. FAP also collaborated with Mercedes-Benz, while at the same time serving the ideological mission of expanding Yugoslavia’s geopolitical influence through the Non-Aligned Movement.
In his presentation and subsequent lively discussion, Goran Musić addressed the difficulties posed by the incompleteness of the archives in Yugoslavia and the difficulty in accessing materials from Zambia. The discussion thus highlighted an important methodological and practical issue in conducting comparative and transnational (area) studies.
In exploring the asymmetries of the impact of Yugoslav experts and technicians travelling to Zambia, on the one hand, and the impact of expansion into Africa on workers in Priboj itself, on the other, Musić highlighted that socialist globalization also entailed inequalities. Thus, the ideological motives and ideals, such as workers’ self-management, went largely unrealized. The discussion thus turned to a global and cross-temporal comparison with China’s current influence on the same part of Africa, which largely avoids the ideological superstructure in favour of economic relations.
Musić’s project and the discussion that developed in this initial Brownbag Session thus offered an excellent forum for exploring key issues related to the comparative and transnational area studies that forms a core part of research in Regensburg at both IOS and the University.