Normalizations, Exclusions and Omissions in the Self Depiction of the Humboldt University.
What image of science and scien_tists is produced by the exhibition of sculptures and portraits in and around the main building of Humboldt University? Which persons were selected in different historical contexts as represe_ntatives of the university and, most importantly, which were not? At which points do we find ourselves in these representations, and again, where not? What does this say about our own positioning? These and similar questions puzzled us when we started to design this project.
We are 2 white, ableised, womanified, educationally privileged students of Gender Studies at Humboldt University, who feel the need to demonstrate that the supposedly neutral constructions of knowledge and its protagonist_s aren’t neutral at all, but produce a very specific self-image of the university, in which many people are unconsidered and unnamed, and many power structures become invisible.
In most of the cases, people not only aquire a privileged position as famous scien_tist not only due to their outstanding performance, which is then found worthy of honoring in the form of a sculpture or a portrait. The ability to achieve in science and gain special recognition is also a privilege caused by several interrelated power relationships and therefore was, and is, denied to many people.
To show this is an intention of our project, hence the title question of who is missing and why.
But we also want to show that the sculptures and portraits discussed, and the way they get presented and the fact that they are (not) contextualized, show that they are instruments of the university’s self-representation. This self-presentation not only conceals many, sometimes suspect, issues regarding their context but also postulates specific norms and (re)produces them repeatedly.
This is done in a variety of ways such as appellation, concealment, spatial arrangement of the exhibited portraits or sculptures, and not least, through our gaze. We hope, that we manage to point some of it out to you.
Many times, we even noticed while researching, how difficult it is to recognize exclusions and norms which privilege us as white, ableisised, stat(e)ified, and therefore often seem to us self-evident and unproblematic, so that we are frequently not even aware of them.
We have nevertheless tried, next to sexist structures and exclusions which also discriminate against us, to address constructions of whiteness and discrimination structures, such as anti-Semitism and classism.
In any case, it is important for us to say that we understand this project as an attempt to raise questions which are followed by new questions, in different directions.
We hope that we and ideally you would start to think about it. The former has already been achieved.
Using the dynamic underscore
“To further break down binarities and not evoke the visual signature of the re_presentation of a male-conventionalized word with ‘attached’ feminine-conventionalized ending, the underscore wanders as ›d. u.‹ in the personal appellation-forms.” (AK Feministische Sprachpraxis (ed.): Feminismus schreiben lernen, 2011; our translation)
Understandig of power relations
Although we did not refer explicitly to all existing power structures and categorizations in our project, we assume that they always act in interplay with each other, at different levels of society, and do not stand alone.
Categorizations that we won’t go into, but that play an equally important role in the production of standards, are, for example, disability / non-disability, religion, and privilege based on national origin.
One of our considerations on disability / non-disability related to the fact that the method of representation of persons leads to a reading of the characters as free of disability, which does imply and establish non-disability as a norm.
Historical Background / time frame
In some categorizations, such as class and citizenship, it became very clear that they are tied to historical or political contexts, and aren’t transferable to some specific time periods and contexts of interpretation. To illustrate this roughly we have the following key features:
History of the university:
The Friedrich Wilhelm University was established in 1810.
In 1949 it was renamed Humboldt-Universität.
Biographical data of the representative persons:
The life spans of people whose representations we addressed, include the year 1762 (year of birth, Johann Gottlieb Fichte) to 1995 (year of death, Adolf Butenandt).
Historical and political context:
Till 1806: Holy Roman Empire of German Nation
1815-1866: German Confederation (State Union)
1867-1871: North German Confederation
1871-1918: German Empire
1919-1933: Weimar Republic
1945-1949: Allies occupied Germany
1990-today: Federal Republic of Germany
Curation / installation context
Apart from few exceptions there are no informations when the representations were installed for the first time and who curated the different exhibition series.
Thus we asked ourselves for example why the original context of the Marx quotation is addressed, and the contexts of other portrait collections/ sculptures and the memorial is not?
Map of the addressed representations_comments on the selection
For our project we have limited ourselves to those sculptures and portraits directly in and around the main building, and which name and depict persons referred to as famous scholars by the Humboldt University.
Furthermore, we’ve included the Marx quotation in the foyer and the monument in the backyard in our research. Thereby we hope to elucidate, to some extent, which role the different historical context for the installation played in the first place, as well as to point out how individual representations remain, disappear, or are added.
Beside the maps and informations in this brochure, we’ve attached written contextualisations on some of the noted portraits and sculptures.
Our concern is to inform you about the representative figures and the way they are represented, or to ask questions and to point to issues, which are not mentioned in the existing description cards by the University.
Recently in our project work, we came across further representations like the Stolpersteine (lit. stumbling stones) which were laid at the main gate of the main building on the initiative of stu_dents of Humboldt University, and we found more memorial plaques around the main building. Even though we didn’t include them in our project we still wanted to mention them.
Those representations themed by us follow the installation logic of the spatial arrangement of the university, and are divided into the following subgroups:
Sculptures in front of, next to, and behind the main building (Ground Floor)
Installation of the Marx quotation in the foyer (Ground Floor)
Portrait series of the Noble Prize Winn_ers (First Floor)
Portrait series of rec_tors and pr_esidents (First Floor)
Portrait series of womanified scienti_sts (First Floor)
Portrait series of philoso_phers (Second Floor)
Monument for those fallen in the fight against Hitler fascism (Ground Floor)
Map of the addressed representations_questions and comments on the representations
1_Why is the context of creation and the stories of the sculptures not addressed?
2_Why is the term Hitler fascism used on the monument, and not Nationalsocialism or German fascism?
What impression does that create?
When and by whom and under what policy measures was the monument installed?
What kind of remembrance is still / no longer existing?
Who is not remembered, and what exclusions are (re)produced by this?
3_When, and by whom, and under what political circumstances were which statues installed?
4_ What image of Philosophy is produced by the selection of portraits?
5_ Why was Marlis Dürkop in 1992, the first and, until today, the only womanified re_ctor? Why is Marlis Dürkop not portrayed? What impression is created by this?
6_ How does the quotation from Marx gets contextualized and what kind of impact does this have? Would the quotation from Marx still exist if it were not standing of listed?
7_ Are/ Were there Nobel Prize Winne_rs at the Friedrich Wilhelm University/Humboldt University who are for example not read as white and manified?
8_ Who curated the picture gallery of the scie_ntists / studen_ts at the Friedrich Wilhelm/ Humboldt University and when was this portrait collection installed?
On what criteria were persons / biographies chosen?
Which womanified persons are not shown here? → For example womanified persons who worked under precarious conditions (i.e. without payment and without being ever honored and acknowledged for their achievements) and were academically, scientifically active, before official enrollment in Germany was possible for women. They are still ignored.
The only similarity of the illustrated womanified persons is that they lived around the turn of the 19th/20th century and therefore, were protago_nists of the until-then-forbidden access, and only then won access to a higher school and university education in Germany.
Why is this background only occasionally mentioned in the info texts of the exhibitions and the discriminatory structure of the university is de_mentioned?
Financial privilege/ educational privilege
Which of the represented persons did not grow up in a financially privileged situation?/ Which of the represented persons did not grow up in academic families where education was suggested and enabled?
Johann Gottlieb Fichte_42/74
With financial privilege, we are referring to the economic conditions and social status of families in which the people have grown up. As part of our research, we found that among the most common professions, the fathers were referred to as businessman, civil servant, lawyer, priest, teacher, professor, doctor, and major entrepraneur.
Why, in our sources, are only the professions of fathers named? Why are the mothers mostly mentioned by name or defined by their family of origin (= fathers)?
Why did we not find any biographies beyond the suggested, taken-for-granted heterosexual family (father-mother-child model)?
How insurmountable were estate-based and class boundaries in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, and how transparent are they today?
The concept of educational privilege refers to the fact that children from financially privileged families have higher chances of attending upper secondary schools or universities. Furthermore, we also assume that, regardless of financial privilege, it is easier to gain access to higher education for children who are raised and socialized by a_cademics.
Why do politics still uphold educational privileges today?
Which of the represented persons are not constructed/ legible as white?
According to the definition of “Mythen, Masken und Subjekte” (Maureen Maisha Eggers et al.), we understand whiteness as a category that describes not the naturally given visibility, but the produced, interpreted and practiced visibility.
We assume the represented persons are invariably read as white, so the image of white science gets (re)produced and Person of Color scien_tists get de_named. In addition, the active role that many sc_ientists have played in colonialism and their participation in colonialist exploitation and murder of People of Color in the name of science gets de_mentioned.
Which of the represented persons are not assigned to the categorization manified?
Marie Elisabeth Lüders_81
Agnes von Zahn-Harnack_89
Gender is constructed and read as binary in the representations of people. That means that people are seen as women or men. According to the definition of “Feminismus schreiben lernen” (AK Feministische Sprachpraxis) we call those constructions womanified and manified.
Why are 80% of the represented persons at Humboldt-University manified?
Which of the represented persons are not assigned to a binary gender system (i.e. womanified and manified)?
Binary-gendering is the assumption that there are two genders and that all people can be clearly categorized as one of the two genders. This distinction is set as self-evident, natural, unquestionable and objective.
In addition to stereotypical depictions of clothing and habitus, this impression is also created by the name. The disambiguation of gender is performed not only by passing on cultural gender norms but also by our assumptions and our gaze.
At the level of the curation of the exhibition, binary-gendering is also generated by the separation of the womanfied scien_tist in the hallway of the female scien_tists.
What space remains in these binary constructions for trans and intersex people?
Overview of the added captions with contextualizations, comments and questions in and around the main building
Alexander von Humboldt_2 Which role do persons like Alexander von Humboldt play for the euphemizing, romanticizing and de_naming of colonialism framed by the construction of the explorer-myth? Why is an exclusively positive picture drawn of Alexander von Humboldt in the German context through today? Where is a critical examination of the German colonial past and the continuity of colonial habitus?
Arthur Schopenhauer_70 „They are sexus sequior, the sex that falls short in every aspect, their weakness should thus be protected, but to show them respect is ridiculous beyond all measure.“ (Arthur Schopenhauer: Ueber die Weiber. In: Parerga und Paralipomena - Kleine philosophische Schriften, 1851; Quoted from: A. Schopenhauer Sämtliche Werke, 2. Band, E. Brodhaus Verlag, Wiesbaden 1947, S. 657-658; our translation)
Is Schopenhauer’s misogyny an exception in philosophy, and among the philosoph_ers that are portrayed here? Isn’t it constitutive for his theory and is it irrelevant for the appreciation of his philosophy? What does the normalization of misogynist science do to womanified scien_tists?
Gertrud Bäumer_86 Gertrud Bäumer was anti-Semitic. “Bäumer herself defined herself as an opponent of anti-Semitism, but there were contemporaries who regarded her a disguised anti-Semite. As is generally known, she prevented the election of Alice Salomon for presidency of the BDF [Bund deutscher Frauenvereine; our comment] in 1919, hinting at the anti-Semitic undertones in public. [...] Regarding foreign affairs, Bäumer supported the Nazis untill the end. Her dream of a Greater German Reich was so important to her that she did not perceive the persecution, ostracism and murder of „non-Arians“, or perceived it only very limitedly. Her thoughts mainly circulated around herself and her own work. She hopelessly overestimated her own publications and rhetorical possibilities, and the damage she caused through assimilation and selective perception has not been considered. Bäumer classed herself among the fraction of „inner emigration“, which she classified as political resistance.“ (Elke Kleinau: Sammelrezension: A. Schaser: Helene Lange und Gertrud Bäumer, 2004; Quoted from: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=34307; our translation)
Johann Gottlieb Fichte_42/74 „That Jew, who achieves a general love for justice, the humankind and truth is a hero and a saint. I don’t know if there are or were any of those. I will believe it as soon as I see it [...] they must have human rights, although they don’t concede them to us [...] But in order to give them civil rights, I see no other means than cutting off their heads in one night and to substitute other heads, in which there was no single Jewish idea. To protect ourselves from them, I see no means other than to overtake their holy land to send them there.“ (Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Beiträge zur Berichtigung der Urtheile des Publicums über die französische Revolution, 1793; Quoted from: J. G. Fichte: Schriften zur französischen Revolution, Reclam Verlag, Leipzig 1988, S. 143-144; our translation)
How neutral is philosophy?
When and how is anti-Semitism de_named or normalized?
Why, and since when is Fichte’s portrait hanging here (still)?
What does that say? And how does it feel? For whom? Who is addressed here implicitly?
Lise Meitner_83 Lise Meitner „had contributed significantly to the discovery of nuclear fission“ (see portrait number 83). In the course of the annexation of Austria Lise Meitner had to flee to Sweden due to anti-Semitic persecution. Like Fritz Straßmann she has been overlooked in the awarding of the Nobel Prize. This fact is de_mentioned here.
Adolf Butenandt_34 Butenandt was the successor of Carl Neuberg, who had been dismissed as the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Biochemics in the course of the anti-Semitic „Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service“ in 1934. Therefore, Butenandt benefited from the Nazi politics. The fact that Butenandt destroyed all files of the Institute that had been labeled as “secret Reich business” proves his enmeshment in Nazi crimes. Butenandt was also working closely together with Günther Hillmann and Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Insitute of Anthropology, and a so-called racial hygienist and eugenicist. Verschuer and Hillmann worked together on a research project, for which they received blood samples and body parts provided by Joseph Mengele from Auschwitz. It can be assumed that Butenandt had been informed about this research project and its test series. Furthermore, Butenandt himself participated in dubious medical military research projects. While working on a test series of hemopoietin (erythropoietin), he wasn’t reluctant to experiment on human livers.
In post war Germany Butenandt propagated an image of pure science independent from respective politics. He also advocated for his Nazi colleagues during the denazification trials. He argued that, having conducted pure science, they didn’t bear the blame for the crimes against humanity. His involvement in this regard led to the rehabilitation of many perpetra_tors.
Otto Hahn_19 Otto Hahn’s politically disinterested stance until the Nazis seized power illustrates his socially privileged position, compared to persons such as Albert Einstein, for instance, who left Germany as early as 1932 due to increasing anti-Semitic aggressions against him. It can be concluded, that for Otto Hahn it was possible to ignore the increasing anti-Semitic atmosphere.
Lise Meitner „had contributed significantly to the discovery of nuclear fission“ (see portrait number 83). In the course of the annexation of Austria in 1938, Lise Meitner had to flee to Sweden due to anti-Semitic persecution. Like Fritz Straßmann she has been overlooked in the awarding of the Nobel Prize. This fact is de_mentioned here.
„At that time Mister Hahn and I realized clearly that there was the possibility to produce explosive energy when we achieved nuclear fission in 1938.“ (Klaus Hoffmann (1993), Otto Hahn – Schuld und Verantwortung, S. 159; our translation)
Why did they continue their research in the given political situation in Germany?
What about the responsibility of science towards people?
As a scien_tist, isn’t it my duty to reflect on the possible outcomes of my research continuously? Whom they could benefit and whom they could harm?
Why is science always posited as neutral and independent of societal contexts?
Alice Salomon_87 In an early act of anti-Semitism, Getrud Bäumer, who is portayed in this corridor as well, prevented Alice Salomon’s election for president of the BDF (Bund deutscher Frauenvereine – Union of German Feminist Organizations) in 1919.
In Alice Salomon’s case, employees of this university enforced the anti-Semitic persecution immediately after the takeover in 1933 with reference to her „Jewish orgin“.
The term „Jewish origin“ consistently used in this portrait collection was introduced by the Nazis, arbitrarily ascribed and invoked as an explanation for the persecution and the murder of those named. Alice Salomon wrote about this in her autobiography: „Character is destiny“. (Alice Salomon: Charakter ist Schicksal – Lebenserinnerungen, Beltz Verlag, Weinheim und Basel, 1983, S. 236 ff.; Original title: Character is destiny, written in 1940, first published in the German translation in 1983 and in the orginal version in 2004.)
Hedwig Hintze_77 Was Hedwig Hintze divested of her permission to teach „because of her Jewish origin“ or due to state-organized anti-Semitic discrimination, that was implemented by the university staff to their own advantage?
How is it that responsibilities and persecution are dis_mentioned, and Nazi rationales are repeated?
A comparative example:
Infotext of portrait number_77: „In 1941 came an offer for Associate Professor of History at the New School for Social Research in New York, that she couldn’t accept due to the German occupation of the Netherlands.“ (Author unnamed)
Infotext of the Hedwig Hintze-Society: „Shortly before the outbreak of the war, she fled to the Netherlands, hoping to get an exit visa. After the death of her husband in 1940 and several failed attempts to enter the US, without any financial support and psychically devastated, she presumably committed suicide in 1942 in Utrecht - under not yet fully clarified circumstances.“
(Author Dr. Elisabeth Dickmann; Quoted from: http://www.hhi-bremen.de/hedwig.html; our translation)