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Virtual: Third-World Refugees, Rights, and West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s

October 9, 2020 at 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

This virtual event is organized by the NC German Studies Seminar and Workshop Series. For the most updated details and information on joining the event, please visit the NCGSWS website.

Speaker: Bill Sharmann, graduate student, Duke University, Department of History

During the 1970s and 80s, thousands of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia began seeking asylum in West Germany each year. Banned from working and often forced to live in camps, these so-called “Third-World” refugees became objects of police surveillance, social-scientific knowledge, and humanitarian intervention. While scholars have examined how the West German media, state, and society responded to refugee “crises,” this talk uses archival sources, documentary films, poetry, and oral histories to illuminate the intellectual and social worlds of refugees themselves. Far from being passive victims in need of “help,” many non-European refugees developed critiques of racism and bureaucracy, forged friendships and political alliances, and demanded justice through activism. Their assertions helped recast immigration as a matter of rights—not merely of contract labor or compassion—and altered perceptions about West Germany’s place in the post-1945 world.

Bill Sharmann is doctoral candidate at Duke University, where he studies modern European, African, and global history. He is working on a dissertation called “Moral Politics: Global Humanitarianism, the Third World, and West Germany.”

Moderation: James Chappel, Duke University, Department of History

Co-Conveners: Duke University, Department of History, and the UNC-Chapel Hill, Department of History