Sample Class Journal: Notes for Students

Special note for the web version: The original is available in room HSSB 4208 (history reading room open 9am-5pm), in the bookcase behind the door. That original not only has the sample table of contents, but I have commented and graded my own entries. The first and last entries were only "checks," while I gave the others "check plus." See the comments (not available here) to find out why.

Since this is a prototype journal, I would like to make a couple of remarks on how I made it, and how it may be different from yours.

First, please note the tone of the entries: They are not addressed to anyone in particular, but they are written by a professor with his students in mind. Yours should by written from your point of view, with your teacher as a reader in mind. Thus where I tend to reflect on how I might use some event or material in teaching this course, you should comment more on what you have learned from the course materials.

Second, I have not written about my reactions to any of the course readings or films, for good reason-I don't want to give you a "right" response. I do want you to include entries about the course materials themselves! Up to one entry per week can be about the readings, lectures, and films in this course. Please take advantage of this opportunity to let me know how I am doing. I am very interested in your feedback, and I promise you will in no way be penalized for being critical!

Third, I did not check whether I wrote two entries per week, or even four per two-week period. (That was my prerogative in developing this assignment!) While there are advantages to writing down your reactions right away, inevitably you will find yourself saving things up to analyze shortly before the days the journal is due. That is not necessarily a bad thing; you are more likely to find linkages if you are working on several different issues at once. Moral: it is okay to bunch things up, but especially for reactions to course materials, it would be good to jot down some ideas right away, even if you develop them in detail later.

Finally, I have noted the number of words in pencil after each entry. The first 8 entries average about 540 words, while yours should average 450. If your computer does a word count and you want to include it, fine, but I will just guess at actual length.

LA Times Aug 28, 1998: "Berlin Memorial Mired in Politics"

This article was prompted by a cover story in Der Spiegel "Too much remembering," about the controversy over the planned "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" in Berlin. The project is being supported by 68 year old conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl, while the progressives, among them Kohl's main challenger in the Sept. election, Gerhard Schröder, and the mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, are critical of the project. They say it is too monumental, and argue that it would be better to put such a monument at the site of a former concentration camp, instead of on a five-acre site just off the main drag near the Brandenburg Gate. The article reports that if Kohl loses the election, the project, which has been controversial from the start, will probably be shelved. [131 words. End of summary, now analysis:]

Just over 10 years ago, when I was working on my exhibition project on German memorials, I would never have guessed that this situation would arise. Back in the mid-1980s Helmut Kohl was dead set on getting a memorial for all (and only) German "victims" built-never mind the millions of non-German Jews and other citizens from the countries Germany attacked, invaded, and occupied. Back then Kohl's opponents argued that (West) Germany should first establish a memorial for the peoples it had victimized, then for its own victims, who had oftentimes been the very ones who had first victimized others. What happened to turn the tables so dramatically?

Well, first of all, the Berlin Wall (and "Iron Curtain") came down, and Germany united, so many Germans didn't feel so much like victims anymore. And Kohl did, after all, get to build his national German victims memorial, dedicated in an old 19th century guardhouse in Berlin in 1993. Now he can afford to be magnanimous and give the Jews their due. Of course there are also details of politicing that went on before Kohl was maneuvered into the position of supporter, but I bet by now he honestly believes that this memorial would be good for Germany's image. (Which is a lot different than sincerely wanting to remember, mourn for, and symbolize one's remorse-or sadness-over the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

Hmm. As I write this I realize it was not such a good article to start a sample journal-it is my specialty and my comments go far beyond what I can expect my students to reflect about when reading such an article. I'll have to pick a better one for the next sample. But, just to finish up: This analysis is something I hope my students will be able to do after they have taken the course-understand the symbolic politics of monuments and commemorative speeches and the like, which governments use to get us to believe they are legitimate and acting in our interest.

Last year I gave a talk to a group of experts on Berlin about that national victims' memorial in Berlin. I wonder if it wouldn't make a good introductory lecture for Hist 133c-since it dates back to the Napoleonic invasions ending in 1812 it would give me a way to offer a brief survey of 19th and early 20th century German history without giving the fact-crammed turn-off lecture I've given in the past. [412 words, for 543 total]

LA Times, Sept. 16, 98: "Challenger to Germany's Kohl Relies on Voter Fatigue"

The polls say that the race to be German chancellor is neck-in-neck. However, they also say 40% of the voters are undecided, 73% (!!) say they know too little about the platforms to be able to distinguish between them. Kohl's challenger Schröder, 54 years old, doesn't differ all that much on the substantive issues from Kohl. Instead, Schröder is giving himself a profile as an injection of fresh, young dynamism into a policies worn out by 16-year incumbant Kohl. Germany's unemployment, at 11% (postwar record of 12% in January), and its perennially high taxes detract from Kohl's popularity as the "chancellor of unification," which carried him in 1990 and 1994. The article feature a picture of Schröder with his 4th wife Doris, 20 years his junior. The author speculates whether parallels to Clinton's problems (Schröder has compared his "young" profile to Clinton and Britain's Blair) will affect the German election. Schröder recently went through a messy divorce with his third wife, with whom he had two children before they got married. [summary 171 words]

Well, I have to comment on the Clinton comparison first. I don't think the Germans will give a hoot about Schröder's personal affairs, a) because he didn't break any laws, b) because Doris is attractive and charming, and c) because they and the media don't get off on this kind of thing. Oskar Lafontaine, the SPD (Schröder's party) candidate against Kohl in 1990, had an even messier private past, including homosexuality, and that didn't play a role-he is still the SPD's very popular chairman and dictates the party platform.

But let me not begin with insider information again. What can one make of such polls? Completely meaningless! With 40% undecided and 73% admittedly clueless, you have to go by other measures. Like Kohl being a rather inarticulate, clumsy, uncharismatic guy who is presiding over an economic mess. I don't think he has much of a chance-he's just too old and has done his part.

If Schröder wins, what will that mean? Well, I think it will usher in a new era of what I'll call yuppie politics. Like Clinton did here. Not the older statesmen (Reagan, Bush) pandering to the mainstays of society with no-risk, no-change policies, but a dynamic leader running around trying to define a politics for the new millennium. Not that his agenda will be all that politically liberal (like Clinton's economically liberal NAFTA, which angered many core political liberals as economic imperialism and anti-working class). But it will address new problems like increasing environmental degradation and the increasing marginalization and impoverishment of the bottom third of society.

Now, what can I conclude from these musings? First, polls are bogus, even if they get reported because we have no other indicators. Second, that we may be moving toward a very new world politics in the new millennium. Very different from the 1980s, when Kohl, Thatcher and Reagan were leading their countries. Japan, too, has a more liberal government, but I should keep quiet to avoid showing my ignorance of Japanese politics. [506 total words]

LA Times Sept. 16, 98: "Cutting the Cloth of Atonement"

This is a column one feature about how the $1.25 billion settlement that Holocaust victims won from Swiss banks will be distributed. First, representatives of key organizations that participated in the lawsuit want to distribute .25 billion within a year, because so many of the recipients are very old and need the money NOW if it is to do any good. But the logistical difficulties are great: word has to be gotten out to people living in dozens of countries speaking different languages. And the settlement hasn't even been finalized-there is still opportunity for any Holocaust survivor to protest. Right now, it looks like three groups will get priority: 1) people who have traceable bank accounts, 2) survivors facing financial hardships, even if they have or had no (traceable?) accounts, and 3) programs supporting education about the Holocaust and fostering Jewish culture. Group 1) has claim to about $.05 million. For 2) the question arises: who is a survivor? The International Romani Union (gypsies, also slated for extermination by the Germans), the Polish American congress (slave laborers in German factories!), homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, disabled and forcibly sterilized people-all can be considered survivors. Finally, what about the lawyers who negotiated the settlement? Will they get a cut? [208 words]

Germany and the Holocaust, a topic that is far from settled. This time the Swiss are paying, but the issue of morality and money is one that Germany is still facing as well. Anyway, there are a lot of issues here. The conflict between 2) and 3), which boils down to the Jews who spearheaded the lawsuit, vs. all of the victims of Nazism, is intractable. Many of the Western European Jews belonged to the cultural elite (like my grandfather, who finished his Ph.D. in 1932) which had far better chances of emigrating and surviving than the poor, rural Jews of Poland, who truly suffered the most and were essentially wiped out. So this elite and its advocates have won the money, and can decide how to distribute it. It appears that they will indeed give a substantial proportion to some of these other groups, but how much remains to be seen. That is very different from the 1950s, when the first settlements were reached and the first payments made. Primarily the organized Jewish Claims conference received money, since the other groups (gypsies, homosexuals) were neither organized nor recognized-indeed, they were often still criminalized.

Now this is an interesting case for the personal and the political, which I want to make the theme of the course: individuals get together to sue a consortium of banks in another country, and win! They change the Swiss national image, and set a precedent that will make private corporations be much more careful how they deal with finances in war. (I don't believe they will do anything that differently, unless held to it by public scrutiny, but rather just be more careful about covering their tracks.) A group of lawyers and private interest group leaders get together to make decisions about distribution that normally would be the subject of top-level diplomatic conferencing. This may be another way the increasing corporationism of the global economy is changing the way politics work. Governments only provide the judicial infrastructure to work out settlements that affect the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of people-and those governments have little to say in the matter. I wonder how much public attitudes (sympathy for Holocaust survivors) play in such conflicts-think of the cigarette settlements, which would have been unthinkable in an era when smoking was tremendously popular.

This surely has important implications, but I must admit that I am at a loss to know what they are. My students will be dealing with them. I wonder if I will help to equip them with the abilities to see through what is going on and take control of it. [651 words]

LA Times, Sept. 24, 1998: "Siemens Offers $12 Million to WWII Slave Labor Victims"

In response to threatened lawsuits, Siemens announced that it would pay this amount into a fund for survivors of German exploitation, in addition to the $4.3 million it paid to the Jewish claims conference in 1961. It used both Jewish concentration camp inmates and 10,000-20,000 slave laborers captured in Poland and eastern Europe in its wartime factories. Just a year ago, when the electronics giant celebrated its 150th anniversary, its CEO said he "deeply regretted" that his company could do no more for its former slave laborers. [87 words]

Well, well. the Germans are in for it, too. The article reports that Siemens followed the lead of VW, which also announced a $12 million fund a month earlier. They are clearly yielding to pressure and worried about US lawsuits after the Swiss banks gave in. What a dramatic turnaround. And the question becomes all the more pressing: why? Formerly, governments would have shielded their flagship corporations from such pressure, because they rely on leading industries to keep their own economies running smoothly. But now these corporations have so many assets in other countries that pressure can come from abroad. The states of New York and California threatened to withdraw investments in the Swiss banks and Italian insurance companies unless they cooperated with the Holocaust victims. If those victims won a lawsuit, the state and national US governments would be legally required to withdraw funds/freeze assets unless the corporations paid up. (New York and California had prominent representatives who pressed such claims in their legislatures, that's why those two, fortunately big, states played a key role.)

So what is going on? Mechanism have been put into place, unintentionally perhaps (for things like boycotting Iraq or the recent terrorist network), that enable not only governments to act against corporations, but private organizations (class-action lawsuits) to do so as well. And governments, in certain circumstances, are reluctant to intervene. Which certain circumstances? Well, when public opinion clearly sees the legitimacy of the claims, like the bumbling tobacco companies that laced their cigarettes with extra nicotine and filed away studies showing the health dangers of their products. Or like the Holocaust, which has become a cause celebré in the past couple of decades. (Why that is, is another story!)

What do I conclude? Perhaps that there is a mechanism in global capitalism that actually moves towards some socialist features! For in these cases companies are forced to pay attention to the well-being of their workers and customers/consumers, and not only to their bottom line. (Environmental legislation, if it is enforced, would be another development in that direction.)
[433 words]

Berliner Zeitung, Oct. 1, 98: "The Discovery of Berlin: How Americans explored the Capital City since the 19th Century and How the U.S. became the Protector of the Western Part."

Gordon Craig, a retired professor of German history at Stanford (Prof. Talbott at UCSB took courses from him!), reflects on America's relationship to Berlin. I just read this on the internet today and decided to add it to the sample journal because of some of the connections to today's lecture. Maybe that will help students understand how a lecture gets put together. (All too often, I think, they judge it in a vacuum, as a presentation about a topic, and don't see how-or why-it came about. Well, let me hope that I'll make that clearer as I write about the article.)

Craig starts by noting how few Americans went to Berlin prior to World War II. Germans played an important role in our country's history: the Hessian soldiers who helped Washington in decisive battles in the revolutionary war, and the refugees from the failed German revolution of 1848 who played important roles in our Civil War, to name just the two most obvious examples. And our university graduate school is directly modeled after the German system (not the British).

Anyway, Berlin/Germany was not part of the "grand tour" that the children of educated elites took through Europe upon completing their studies: the cradle of modern civilization-Italy, France, perhaps Greece and Egypt, but not the inhospitable north. Craig tells about a number of prominent Americans who went there, including the son of the first President Adams as ambassador in 1797, and WEB DuBois who went in 1892 after completing his M.A. at Harvard. He took long walks through the city and then wrote in his journal in the evening. He found the Germans far more open and less racist than the Americans, and he went to lectures by Heinrich von Treitschke, a famous antisemitic historian.

Craig's anecdotes about other students in Berlin are entertaining, but not all that revealing. He himself went in 1935 and experienced the 1936 Olympics, then went back as an invited professor to the Free University of Berlin in 1962. He writes about the atmosphere right after the Berlin Wall was built, with Soviet Jets zooming overhead as he had lunch with US high commissioner Conant.

Moral of the story: I guess that Berlin makes an interesting case study for tracing the vicissitudes of German history, nothing deep.