Shaming and Insulting in the German Empire: Bringing podcasting into the digital workspace

In the German Empire, practices of shaming and insulting were common in political dispute. In the summer of 2020, students were given the opportunity to gain practical experience in researching and analyzing historical examples of these practices and then to present them in a podcast. Their findings contributed to an ongoing research project that is currently based at the Technische Universität Dresden, the collaborative research centre 1285 “Invectivity. Constellations and Dynamics of Disparagement.”  They also raised awareness about the effects of shaming and insulting on the political order – a topic that is currently part of discussions about the stability of western democracies. A historical perspective can contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenon.

The seminar was divided into three blocks to structure the research as well as the production process. First, students got familiar with the concept of invectivity and the political landscape of the German Empire to create a common basis of knowledge. In the second part, they worked in small groups to find proper cases and then to analyze and translate them into an appealing podcast format. Their research was accompanied by a few defined sessions in which they presented and peer-reviewed their preliminary findings up to the final transcription paper. But most of the sessions created space for their needs and questions that popped up during this process. The last block dealt with questions of data protection related to podcasting, software to be used, and the recording and editing itself. Due to covid-regulations, students had to record their parts at home instead of using the university’s technical equipment. The outcome was three podcasts  addressing a series of lese-majesty in 1890, the “Kladderadatsch” affair, and the trial against Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1895.

From the first idea to their rough drafts, students profited from each other’s experience and knowledge, helping their projects grow and advance each session. It was amazing to see how creative they were in finding their research questions, digging up and using primary sources, and delivering their case finding in their individual presentation format. I think their projects worked out well, and they can be very proud of themselves, seeing that their outcomes are now available on the university website.

To contribute to an ongoing research project was a great motivation for the students. I found it very satisfying to accompany them during their project, teaching them good scientific practices on their project as well as raising their awareness of scholarly communication. Although from a student’s perspective it demanded some work and time management next to all the other obligations they had, it was a great opportunity to transfer scholarly insights into the public sphere in an appealing way. This experience will  benefit them when  applying for prospective internships and job opportunities at museums or broadcasting corporations.

Of course, the digital workspace has some downsides too. It could not replace the classroom where I can make eye contact and get a sense of whether they got my point. I would have loved to meet my students in person, at least for the recordings. But considering the situation, I think it was an excellent opportunity to try out new types of assignments, and incorporating podcasting is a promising and worthwhile way of getting students to think historically.

Dorothea Dils, Technische Universität Dresden