University of Michigan
E-Mail: akberg [at] umich.edu
Ausführlichere Informationen unter https://annekberg.com
Empire of Rags and Bones:
Waste and War in Nazi Germany
I received my PhD from the University of Michigan in 2011. Trained as a historian of modern Germany and Europe, I continue to research and teach in these fields but I am increasingly venturing into more global terrain. I study cities, war, public leisure, film, popular culture, and am most deeply interested the global politics of waste and recycling. My research proceeds along a number of parallel tracks, connected by a sustained interest in the visual, the spatial and the material. During my stay at the ZZF, I am conducting research for my second book project entitled preliminary “Empire of Rags and Bones: Waste and War in Nazi Germany.”
This book aims to historicize and complicate the nowadays almost mystical ideals of zero waste and recycling. Instead of suggesting that these ideals are somehow tarnished by Nazism, I examine waste management practices as a historically specific form of power politics. My research thus far suggests that garbage practices were central to the politics of war and the genesis of genocide in the Third Reich and Nazi-occupied Europe. Nothing was to be wasted, and that which was considered valueless was to be eradicated in its entirety. Destruction and recycling worked in tandem, as part of an economic and a political strategy that aimed to redress raw material shortages and procure Lebensraum. Waste management fostered cooperation between various branches of the administration, the party apparatus, the Wehrmacht, the SS, industry and ordinary people. Certainly central to the scientific posturing of the regime, waste management and recycling were integral to the implementation and administration of total destruction and imperial expansion. Ultimately, ideas about waste and value affirmed racial ideology and provided a rationale for the industrialized extraction of labor and all kinds of materials. Rags, bones, paper, rubber, metal junk and even human hair were returned to the war economy and thus bolstered National Socialist visions for the racial reordering of Europe. As we well know, the reclamation of waste did not have the power to reverse the fortunes of war. The Nazi politics of “zero waste” re-cycled chaos instead.