Imagining Justice: Law, Politics and Popular Visual Culture in Weimar Germany (SNSF Project)
"Die Parole der Zeit ist: das Bild, das unbewegte, das bewegte, das Bild in jeder Fasson."
Erich Burger (1929)
"Nicht mehr lesen! Sehen!"
Johannes Molzahn (1928)
This project offers the first extended investigation of the relations between law, justice and popular visual culture during the era of the Weimar Republic. Its leading premise is that the interwar period in Germany witnessed a remarkable confluence of law, politics and cultural representations that radically altered the shape and texture of the legal imagination. Historical scholarship has not been blind to this, and there is a substantial body of work that considers how traditional journalistic and literary forms contributed to the development of a new popular legal culture. What has been almost entirely overlooked, however, is the impact of the ‘new’ visual media of the era – cinema, photography and mass image-reproduction techniques – that literally changed how legal subjects and the legal system were seen, and which engendered new spaces of conversation, contestation, dissent and critique.
The project seeks to excavate this neglected archive of visual material as a way of opening new lines of enquiry on how perceptions and understanding of law and justice were experienced, constructed, conditioned or challenged through the new image regimes of the Weimar period. The overarching aim is to develop a set of new and innovative critical perspectives on the following three key points of focus:
- the forms of legal image-making generated by the visual media of the Weimar era;
- the meanings these images acquire in the context(s) of their production, circulation and reception;
- the cultural work these images perform in fostering and shaping a popular legal imagination outside the formal spaces of law and politics.
The project comprises three sub-projects that each address these points in relation to a distinct media form. Sub-project 1 attends to cinema, sub-project 2 (postdoc project) to visual art, and sub-project 3 (PhD project) to photography.
The project proposes a novel analytical approach that is both historically-sensitive and conceptually-refined. It takes its initial cue from the ‘visual turn’ in the study of historical cultures, and combines this with impulses from the fields of cultural studies and cultural-legal studies. Within this new framework, the project aims to progress the state of the art in two significant and substantial ways. First, it seeks to enhance historical understanding of the juncture of legal, political and popular visual culture in Weimar Germany, which remains a remarkably under-researched and under-theorised subject in the scholarship. Second, it looks to advance new theoretical concepts and methods for exploring the connections between law and (popular) visual culture at specific sites and conjunctures, and to disseminate these to cross-disciplinary audiences both nationally and internationally.
While the leading research questions are rigorously historical and emanate from the archive, the project also promises to elicit a set of timely reflections relevant to present-day conditions, which continue to prompt comparisons with Weimar Germany. These concern (i) the interplay between law, politics and popular culture in times of crisis, and (ii) how the emergence of new mass media forms might work not only to alter the conditions for public legal-political discourse, but to also (re-)shape popular attitudes towards questions of rights, justice, democracy and the rule of law.
ONLINE SEMINAR: CAITLIN POWELL
We are pleased to announce the next talk in our online seminar series on Cultures of Legality in Weimar Germany. On Monday 15 April, Caitlin Powell (History of Art, University College London) will present on The Problem of the Public: Abortion in German Health Fair Culture (1925-1931). Further details here.
PRESENTATION: KÄTHE KOLLWITZ AND THE WOODCUT
As part of the “Deus Ex Machina – Law, Technology, Humanities” international conference run by the Law Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia, at QUT Law School in Brisbane from 11 to 15 December 2023, our Postdoc Researcher, Dr Laura Petersen, gave a presentation on the woodcuts of Käthe Kollwitz. Laura argued that if we take images seriously as sources when we do our law and humanities work, we need to carefully consider their medium as well as their content. At this conference, Laura also co-led the successful PhD Researcher Day, bringing together around 30 PhD students and 15 academics for a series of panel discussions and mentoring sessions, and at the AGM was given the honour of being elected to serve for another two-year term as Vice-President of the Law, Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia.
PRESENTATION: VISUALISING THE CORPSE IN ART AND LAW
Our Postdoc Researcher, Dr Laura Petersen, was recently invited to present at an international, interdisciplinary workshop held on 4 and 5 December on the theme of “Visualising the Corpse in Art and Law”, run by Dr Marc Trabsky at La Trobe Law School, Melbourne. Laura spoke about Käthe Kollwitz’s representation of Karl Liebknecht on his death bed (1920). Further details here.
ONLINE SEMINAR: BIRGIT LANG
Join us on Monday 13 November for the third and final online seminar of the semester. Birgit Lang, Professor of German at the University of Melbourne, will present on "Between Education and Promotion: Sex, Power and Visual Culture at the Great Police Exhibition (1926) in Weimar Germany". More details here.
ONLINE SEMINAR: FREDERIC J. SCHWARTZ
The next of our online seminars on Cultures of Legality in Weimar Germany will take place on Wednesday 8 November. Frederic J. Schwartz, Emeritus Professor of History of Art and Architecture at University College London, will speak on “Lustmord: Images of Violence and the Legal Contours of the Public Sphere in Weimar Germany”. The talk will draw on material from Prof. Schwartz’s recently published book The Culture of the Case: Madness, Crime and Justice in Modern German Art (2023). Further details here.
PUBLICATION: ON CARTOONS AND THE CONSTITUTION
During the Weimar era, the cartoon genre became an important medium to support and satirise the new constitution. In this essay, Laura Petersen offers a close reading of a selection of images, all drawn by cartoonist Karl Arnold for the journal Simplicissimus, and considers their possible effects in shaping a visual legal imagination beyond the formal texts of law and politics. Full text here.
ONLINE SEMINAR: SABINE KRIEBEL
Our online seminar series on Cultures of Legality in Weimar Germany will kick off on Friday 27 October with a talk by Sabine Kriebel (University College Cork) on "Law, Love and Desire in the Art of Christian Schad". Further talks will follow in the coming weeks from Frederic Schwartz (University College London) and Birgit Lang (University of Melbourne). More details here.
NEW PHD RESEARCHER
We are pleased to announce that Nicole Schraner has joined the project team as a PhD researcher. Nicole read cultural studies and history at the University of Lucerne, and has a particular interest in both legal and visual history. Her PhD project will focus on law and photography during the Weimar years. Further details here.
PROJECT START & NEW TEAM MEMBER
To mark the start of the project, we are delighted to confirm that Dr. Laura Petersen has officially joined the team as postdoctoral research fellow. Laura is a cross-disciplinary scholar, specialising in approaches to jurisprudence and aesthetics, with a particular interest in twentieth-century Germany. Her postdoc project will focus on law and visual art in the Weimar period. Further details here.
SNSF PROJECT APPROVED FOR FUNDING
The project application «Imagining Justice: Law, Politics and Popular Visual Culture in Weimar Germany» has been approved for funding by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
The four-year project will be led by Dr. Steven Howe in collaboration with Laura Petersen, and hosted by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Legal Studies at the University of Lucerne.
The project work is scheduled to begin in February 2023. The total approved funding is 655'498.- CHF.
Online Seminar Series: Cultures of Legality in Weimar Germany
27 October 2023: Law, Love and Desire in the Art of Christian Schad (Sabine Kriebel, University College Cork)
8 November 2023: Lustmord: Images of Violence and the Legal Contours of the Public Sphere in Weimar Germany (Frederic J. Schwartz, University College London)
13 November 2023: Between Education and Promotion: Sex, Power and Visual Culture at the Great Police Exhibition (1926) in Weimar Germany (Birgit Lang, University of Melbourne)
10 & 11 June 2024: In the Thick of Images: Law, History and the Visual