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The Nazi Occupation of Theaterwissenschaft

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2021


Theaterwissenschaft was first developed as an academic field in Germany. In Berlin, Max Herrmann pursued a sociological and iconological approach; in Cologne and in Munich, Carl Niessen and Artur Kutscher followed an ethnographic and mythological direction, respectively. With the Nazi takeover in 1933, Herrmann was dismissed and replaced by a non-scholar, Hans Knudsen. Niessen’s open-air Thingspiel was co-opted to support Nazi ideas of Volkstum. Kutscher renounced his liberal background and joined the Party. In Vienna, Josef Gregor got the local Gauleiter to found a Central Institute for Theatre Studies that disseminated anti-Semitic propaganda. The most egregious case is that of Heinz Kindermann, who rose to be the most influential aesthetician of National Socialism, proposing a biological foundation to theatre studies and offering a racial-eugenic approach to theatre history. As this article demonstrates, in the post-war period, theatre studies sedulously avoided dealing with the Nazi interlude, where official denazification permitted these men and others to carry on teaching and publishing, winning honours and titles. It was not until the 1980s that attempts were made to confront this past. Laurence Senelick is Fletcher Professor Emeritus of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Advisory Board of the Conference on Transglobal Theatre. His most recent books include Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2018); Stanislavsky: A Life in Letters (Routledge, 2013); and (with Sergei Ostrovsky) The Soviet Theatre: A Documentary History (Yale University Press, 2014).

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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