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Teaching new perspectives on twentieth century German history at GCSE and A-Level

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Teaching new perspectives on twentieth century German history at GCSE and A-Level

Professor Matthew Stibbe researches and writes about gender relations, mobilisation for war, and wartime captivity in twentieth-century Germany. The Weimar and Nazi periods continue to be extremely popular subjects at all levels of the education system. Through sixth-form master classes, A/AS-level and GCSE day conferences, and a magazine article aimed at sixth-formers and their teachers, Stibbe has used his research findings and profile to influence the way that modern German history is understood in schools.

The research

Professor Stibbe is an internationally recognised expert on twentieth-century German history. Since 2004, he has been engaged in a programme of original research on the treatment of POWs and civilian internees in twentieth-century conflicts. One strand of this considers the relationship between gender, wartime captivity and peacemaking or ‘cultural demobilisation’ after war. For example, it exposes the uneven reintegration of former POWs into German society in the 1920s, and the expectation that women, as wives and mothers, should ‘heal’ men’s suffering. It also examines both women’s and men’s experiences of civilian internment and brings to light its marked impact on their status as citizens and national subjects during and after the war.

In addition, Stibbe undertook research to produce a broader thematic book, which reshapes conventional understandings of the failure of the Weimar Republic, particularly through focusing on the legacies of wartime violence. By beginning the study in 1914 rather than 1918, Stibbe gives a longer-term perspective, highlighting the impact of the First World War on all areas of German life. In particular, he draws attention to the difficulties faced by successive Weimar governments in incorporating all ex-soldiers and relatives of the dead and injured into official commemorations of the war. He shows that the war became an even more divisive subject in late 1920s Germany, as financial constraints led state authorities to discriminate quite openly between different categories of war victim.

Finally, Stibbe’s 2012 peer-reviewed journal article ‘In and Beyond the Racial State’ offers a critical discussion of recent work on gender and National Socialism. In particular it draws out new insights, which a gendered approach offers on established themes such as mobilisation for war and genocide, the links between home front and fighting front, and the formation of memory after 1945. Instances of ‘militarised comradeship’ between men and women – almost wholly ignored in previous literature – are interrogated and their gendered meanings explored. The article concludes by calling for a new social history of experience in the Third Reich based on the study of personal forms of communication, such as diaries.

Professor Stibbe’s sessions were well-judged, thorough and appropriate for the age group. Stibbe committed himself fully to the whole venture, discussing with and making suggestions for the contributions of the other participants in a collaborative way.
The chief narrator, Germany Live!

The impact

Through a variety of events listed below, groups of students, as well as teachers and actors involved in delivering theatre-based events for schools, have been provided with up-to-date knowledge and fresh perspectives on established themes in GCSE and A/AS-level history. This has challenged some of their preconceived ideas about Weimar and Nazi Germany and given them insights into what historical research is today.

In March 2012 and February 2013 master classes with new content were delivered to A-level students from Barnsley Sixth Form College. The class involved use of primary sources from Stibbe’s research on gender and the reintegration of former POWs, in order to provide new ways of thinking about the divided memory of the war in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Other A-level students benefited from Professor Stibbe’s expertise at a lecture delivered to around 180 A- and AS-level students at Manchester Central Hall in December 2012. He presented on the theme ‘Were women as well as men included in the Nazi ‘national community?'. A-level teachers at the National History Teachers’ Conference, Keele received a lecture on recent developments in historiography on Nazi Germany in November 2012. They provided Stibbe with the opportunity to showcase new gendered approaches to National Socialism. Feedback to the organisers concluded that these sessions were overwhelmingly well received. Finally, an article by Stibbe reflecting his research on the Weimar Republic and the First World War was published in the sixth-form magazine New Perspective.

In March 2013 Stibbe made a major contribution to 'Germany Live!', a national conference-come- theatre show in the Adelphi Theatre, London put on by Keynote Educational Ltd, one of the leading providers of training courses for teachers and conferences for students. This event was attended by 1,350 GCSE students and 125 teachers representing 43 schools. The event covered German history in the period 1918 to 1945. Prior to the show, Stibbe took part in ten hours of rehearsals, helping to advise actors, narrators and GCSE examiners. On the day of the show, Stibbe had walk-on parts delivering detailed explanations of the legacy of the First World War for Weimar Germany, mass organisations in the Third Reich, and the role of women in Nazi Germany.

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