Jennifer Allen is an assistant professor of history at Yale University. In her Academy project, a transnational study of postwar efforts in both East and West Germany to “save the world,” Allen...
Berthold Leibinger Lecture
Insurance against Total Destruction: East and West German Plans to Save Civilization
As the Cold War intensified, both sides of the Iron Curtain sought new ways to protect themselves against a possible hot war. Europe’s leaders recognized their relative powerlessness against the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons. Their pessimism about the future led them to plan seriously for the possibility of absolute destruction and the task of salvaging society after its annihilation. But what form would that work take, and what kind of humanity would they rebuild? In this talk, Jennifer Allen addresses some of the fascinating ways East and West Germans answered these questions during the Cold War, from the development of a massive photo archive of German patrimony to the creation of a comprehensive seed bank. These archives of salvation reveal how Germans on both sides of Iron Curtain fought to preserve their self-conception as protectors of civilization.