INFOCOM at the Historikertag 2023

In September 2023, members of the INFOCOM team participated in the 54th German Historians’ Day (Historikertag) in Leipzig, in an interdisciplinary panel organized by Caroline Mezger (IfZ) and Sebastian Jobs (FU Berlin) dedicated to “Uncertainty and Power: Rumors as Historical Events in Europe and North America” in the 19th and 20th centuries. The panelists — Felix Berge (University of the Bundeswehr Munich), Katrin Horn (University of Bayreuth) und Olaf Stieglitz (University of Leipzig) — presented their original research to explore the following themes:

Rumors classically enjoy a poor reputation: as imaginative embellishments of stories or as collective speculations in times of unclear information, they seem to merely distract from objective facts or prevent a constructive discussion of history. For historians, however, they offer the possibility to better understand how historical actors, especially in situations of crisis and communicative states of emergency, tried to make sense of their environment and thereby gained agency. The role of rumors, false reports and uncertain knowledge, however, goes beyond purely functional “emergency solutions”: they served as distractions and entertainment, they could be used strategically or tactically to exert political influence, they can be employed to analyze the values and fears of historical actors, they were imaginaries of the future, hopes, and fears, and they had socially inclusive and exclusionary effects. With these emotive and socially constructive qualities, rumors themselves go beyond the mere communication of historical circumstances or events — for historians, they themselves become events that performatively opened spaces for action.

In our panel, we have examined, from a comparative, transregional, and cross-epochal perspective, the significance of rumors as forces of historical change. To what extent did rumors reflect an individual struggle to make sense of empirically uncertain situations? What do rumors tell us about the social realities and cultural images of past societies? Could rumors, as self-empowerment, also create truths?

More information on the panel can be found here:

The panel was also featured in Die Welt, which cited the research of former INFOCOM team member Felix Berge and criticized the panel’s inclusion of a gender studies approach:

© Institut für Zeitgeschichte