Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0527-0001-753, Krefeld, Hungerwinter Demonstration
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0527-0001-753, Krefeld, Hungerwinter Demonstration

Weaponising the Past

Textbooks, Hunger and War in Germany 1914-2020
2020 until 2025
Project member(s)
Mourik, A. van (Anne)
Project type

During and after both World Wars, Germans suffered from severe hunger. To this day both hunger periods continue to shape German identities premised on victimhood. Yet the history of how these periods were understood and have been used since then remains largely uncharted.

In focusing on the politics of food, scholars have shown how German hunger was linked to economic blockades, how it worked as a crucial force in developing ideas for autarky, Lebensraum and the Hungerplan in Nazi Germany, and how it led to vast amounts of international aid.

This project approaches German hunger pasts from a different angle. By investigating developments in the narrativisation of hunger in textbooks and museum exhibitions between 1914-2020, it explains how narratives about these pasts are generated and deployed. Moreover, this open-ended approach brings to light forms of political and cultural imagination associated with both hunger periods that previous studies have overlooked.

Since education falls under the remit of individual states, not the German federal government, a look at textbooks furthermore provides insight into regional variations in the narrativisation of hunger. By thoroughly and systematically analysing textbooks and museum exhibitions from Berlin, Bavaria, Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia, this project argues that German hunger pasts were, and continue to be, used for collective identity construction, to fuel political polarisation, and as a weapon of war.

This research project is one of seven subprojects of Heritages of Hunger



The project is supported by a board of hunger experts and partners from the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Spain, Ireland, UK, Ukraine, Russian & Canada. These are: Verzetsmuseum Amsterdam; Museum Rotterdam; Red Star Line Museum, Antwerpen; EUROCLIO; Irish Heritage Trust, Dublin; Nerve Centre Derry; Kuopio Cultural History Museum; Werstas Labour Museum; Universiteit van Granada; Centro Documental de la Memoria Historica, Salamanca; Nederlands Instituut in Sint-Petersburg; Holodomor Research and Education Centre, Kiev; Ireland Park Foundation, Toronto; Holodomor Research and Education Consortium, Toronto.