Black History Month – an interview with Black Central Europe

Thanks for talking to us today! Tell us about black central Europe.

It is with pleasure and thank you for drawing attention to the stories of black Europeans. Simply put, Black central europe is a web resource dedicated to connecting people to the stories of Darkness in German-speaking countries over the past millennium. At the heart of our work is an extensive and ever-growing collection of historical documents, images and videos that chronicle experiences and ideas of darkness, complemented by mapping projects, educational resources, and links to activist and artistic projects.

What approach underpins the work of Black Central Europe?

Our starting point is to understand that there are a thousand years and more of black history on German lands, and that most people know very little about it. By making this more visible and accessible, we can undermine exclusionary myths and open up new perspectives on various stories of Germanity that link the past to the present. Some may assume that this is only a project on and for Black Germans, Black Austrians, Black Swiss, Black Luxembourgers. Rather, it is a project that contradicts the myth that these lands are and always have been monolithically white places disconnected from the rest of the world. By exploring often surprising stories of contact, mobility, inclusion and exclusion, we come to better understand how the inhabitants of Central Europe have always been confronted with ideas of difference and community.

What projects are you currently focusing on?

We have three major projects underway. First, as always, we are working to complete the historical collections. We are currently focusing on the post-1945 period. We are fortunate to have worked with Philipp Khabo Koepsell and the archive and empowerment project Each One Teach One in Berlin, exploring familiar stories in some depth and also revealing unknown or unexpected examples of black activism and community development. We are also working to expand the collection to include more materials from outside of Germany. For example, Patrick Edore, doctoral student at the University of Lincoln (UK), generously shares some of his research to help us better understand developments in Austria.

Second, we strive to always include more work from our university students. This project started as a way to support the teaching of new Black German history classes, and it has always been important to have students engaged not only in learning but also in writing this story. Kira Thurman’s students at the University of Michigan produced a interactive map over a number of years, and last year, Kristin Kopp’s students at the University of Missouri assembled a vast collection of german black biographies. Some of my students at University College London have produced inscriptions on historical documents which have been incorporated into our larger collection of sources.

Third, we’re looking to update the website to reflect the changed context produced by waves of activist awareness and artistic production since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.

What role do digital technology, practices or engagement play in this work?

In the most immediate sense, being able to publish these materials online means making previously unknown or inaccessible stories available to larger communities around the world. First and foremost, that means instructors, but we’re delighted to hear from people who have stumbled upon the site and found useful material there. We have done some work on digital mapping and plan to explore this further. We could definitely do more on social media, and if anyone wants to share our content on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or even – why not? – TikTok, we would love it!

What were the biggest challenges you encountered?

I would say there are two big ones. The first challenge is website funding, which seems to fall between the different types of projects supported by the major funding bodies. We have been fortunate to have the support of our home institutions, but it is in small doses, and it means that the work has to move slowly and sometimes at random.

The other got acquainted with the technology and also worked with copyright regulations. While our web platform (we use WordPress) makes this relatively straightforward now, it hasn’t always been this way, and understanding design principles for the historic web has been a steep (but enjoyable) learning curve. .