Aktuelle Forschungsprojekte

Dr. Moritz von Brescius

Habilitation Project:

Rubber and the Coming of the 'Synthetic Age', c.1900-1950

Das laufende Habilitationsprojekt analysiert die Entwicklung und globalen Auswirkungen der synthetischen Forschung in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Anhand einer breitangelegten Fallstudie zu dem Stoff Gummi – einem Material, welches so stark wie kaum ein anderes die modernen Transport-, Kommunikations- und Kriegstechniken geprägt hat –, behandelt es Schlüsselthemen der Wissens-, Ideen- und Wirkungsgeschichte des Synthetischen. Die kleine Welt des Labors bildet dabei den Ausgangspunkt für die Arbeit. Ihre zentrale Fragestellung lautet, wie Entwicklungen auf der Mikroebene des Labors weitreichende – und mitunter ganz unvorhergesehene – Konsequenzen für die Makro-Welt des Ressourcen-Imperialismus haben konnten. Das Labor als Ort der Wissensproduktion und Kreativität ist von zentraler Bedeutung, um die Zukunftsvisionen und Verunsicherungen der Zeit aufzuzeigen und in einen größeren transnationalen Kontext zu stellen. Das Projekt zeigt, wie das Wissen um die Möglichkeiten des Synthetischen und auch Visionen davon bald den begrenzten Raum des Labors verließen. Sie wurden erst recht nach 1914 von Wissenschaftlern, Journalisten, aber auch Industriellen und Politikern zunehmend und zu den unterschiedlichsten Zwecken propagiert. Besonders in westlichen Industrienationen mit intensiver chemischer Forschung wie in Großbritannien, den Vereinigten Staaten und Deutschland wurden materialwissenschaftliche Durchbrüche gefeiert und zu weitreichenden, wenn auch enorm widersprüchlichen Entwürfen eines neuen Rohstoff-Zeitalters weiterentwickelt.

Collaborative publication project
The German and Japanese Empires: Great Power Competition and the World Wars:

On 18 January 1942, Germany and Japan divided up the world. They did so along the 70th meridian east. As far as the expansive Eurasian landmass was concerned, the Axis powers set up what they envisioned to become two large imperial blocs. In the months that followed, the territorial expansions of Germany and Japan reached their highpoints. From then on, the Axis would never get much closer to realizing its dream of a new imperial world order. This research project looks at how Germany and Japan reached this point by focusing on the shared imperial history of the two nations. The literature may have occasionally pointed to the similarities of their projects of empire building, but to this day, neither a connected history of their empires nor a systematic comparison between them exist. Yet, from a comparative perspective, a set of striking similarities and parallels emerge: seen from the year 1942, both the German and Japanese empires were as megalomaniac as they were short-lived. In the end, both failed spectacularly. Despite all their inconsistency and ephemerality, it is certain that in the long and dark history of empire building and colonial exploitation, those two count among the most brutal and bloody ones. Given the enormous influence that these two powers had on the history of imperialism, the present lack of interrelated studies is a significant lacuna to be addressed. This project shows how both powers re-defined the shapes and limitations of imperialism and colonialism during the twentieth century. Japan, whose attempt to achieve hegemony over China was unique in the thousand-year history of East Asia, did this by using pan-Asian ideas to propagate to the world the illusion of a just, quasi post-colonial and post-racist imperialism. For its part, National Socialist Germany did this by bringing home the realities of colonialism to Europe. Thus, in order to realize their dreams of a new imperial world order, both countries broke with all that had come before. In the end, it was the brutal legacy of their wars for empire that not only profoundly shaped their respective national histories but also put an end to the colonial age once and for all. The project explores the shared history of both empires by highlighting two points. First, it argues that Germany and Japan cannot be viewed as mere latecomers to the imperial game, in which they played only a passive part of catching up by imitating the colonialisms of the others. Second, it shows that their attempts at empire building followed in neither case a national Sonderweg (special path), but were rather deeply engrained in the global history of the twentieth-century. This project is realized in collaboration with PD Dr. Daniel Hedinger (LMU Munich).

Research project: Cultural brokers and their networks, 1700s to the present:

The term ‘cultural broker’ has nowadays become rather fashionable in the Humanities, but it remains a relatively ill-defined concept. Originally used by anthropologists to describe the role of mediators between indigenous and Western societies, the term is now used more broadly to refer to intermediaries between, as well as within, cultures. However, little has been done to clearly define the term conceptually, and to ascertain the social position and wider impact of cultural brokers and their wide-ranging activities. This project seeks to provide an innovative and challenging historical interpretation of what we mean by ‘cultural brokers’ by exploring and comparing their specific networks as engines of (or obstacles to) cross-cultural (ex)change; to locate the lives of brokers in place and space; consider processes of professionalization, social mobility, racial and gender issues as well as questions of their changing Selbst- and Fremdwahrnehmung. In short, we plan to take the analysis of cultural brokers out of the field of cultural encounters and into global social history in order to assess the long-term impacts of brokers on identity, society and economy more broadly. The project will be organised in cooperation between the University of Cambridge and the University of Konstanz through a series of yearly workshops to be held between 2016-2018. Principal organisers are Moritz von Brescius, Bianca Gaudenzi, Henning Grunwald, and Martin Rempe.

Exhibition project:

„Across the Himalayas: The Expedition of the Schlagintweit Brothers to India and Central Asia 1854 to 1858” (original title: "Über den Himalaya. Die Expedition der Brüder Schlagintweit nach Indien und Zentralasien 1854 bis 1858")

International symposium for the exhibition at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities: “The expedition of the Schlagintweit brothers in reflection of current research“ (original title: "Die Expedition der Brüder Schlagintweit im Spiegel der aktuellen Forschung")

Podcast: “German world travellers from the 16th to the 21st century” (original title:"Deutsche Weltreisende vom 16. bis ins 21. Jahrhundert"), WDR 5, from 25th May 2015, (excerpt Schlagintweit)