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The Impact of Informal and Formal Education on Representations of German History

Class of 2023
Global Studies
Educational Studies
German Studies


Sponsoring Department
Summer 2022

Due to the generosity of the Giltz Family Fund for International and Intercultural
Education, I was able to travel to Frankfurt, Germany and Berlin, Germany to collect data for
my Global Studies honors Senior Year Experience (SYE): Narratives of Genocide - the
Impact of Informal and Formal Education on Representations of German History. My focus
specifically on the Namibian Genocide and the Holocaust, alongside broader themes of
German colonization and their role in World War II, guided my research process as I visited
various museums and memorials.

In visiting these locations, I was able to address the differences in how the German
informal education system approaches teaching and remembering the Namibian Genocide
and the Holocaust. Generally, despite recent efforts to recognize colonial histories, German
museums do not focus on this aspect of their history, especially in comparison to World War
II. In Frankfurt particularly, museums rarely mentioned colonization, both globally and
regarding Germany more specifically. Few exhibitions spoke of this period, even in places
such as the Weltkulturen, or “World Cultures,” museum. Conversely, discussions of World
War II and the Holocaust were present and explicit in many museums. Frankfurt’s Jewish
Museum, Museum Judengasse, or “Jewish Alley,” and Historical Museum all had specific
exhibitions about this event. These differences display a clear preference to remember
Germany’s World War II atrocities as opposed to their colonial ones.

In Berlin, an observation like that found in Frankfurt can be made. However, many
museums in Berlin did refer to colonization, such as the German Historical Museum and
FHXB Museum. Yet, these museums did not mention German colonization specifically,
instead addressing the time more broadly. Conversely, mentions of the Holocaust and World
War II were very specific. Additionally, some museums did not mention colonization at all;
this was especially problematic in the New Museum which contained art from Egypt and
other places in East Africa, but no clear description of how it came to Berlin. However, some
museums did make explicit Germany’s role in colonizing various places: the Humboldt
Forum had specific exhibitions dedicated to this period. Overall, it is clear that Berlin’s
museums, while still lacking in regard to remembering and presenting German colonial
histories, were more advanced in the process than Frankfurt. Still, a clear preference for
remembering World War II crimes was apparent.

Finally, I held a focus group in Freiburg, Germany, where I was studying, with
students who attended public schools in Germany. I and four students had a conversation
about their educational experience, particularly regarding the differences between their
knowledge about World War II and colonization. Their observations mirrored that which I
saw in Frankfurt’s and Berlin’s museums: while World War II and the Holocaust were really
emphasized throughout their educational experience, Germany’s colonial history was rarely,
if at all, mentioned.

Throughout the past semester, I have begun developing my SYE based on these
experiences and observations. It has been an incredible opportunity and experience; to have
this data has personally connected me even more to my research project. It has also
inspired me to continue doing research work in the future, whether that is through academia
or other forms of social justice. I would never have been able to develop my project and this
aspiration without the generosity of the Giltz Family Fund for International and Intercultural
Education, CIIS, and the research grant they awarded me.