With regard to identity, the main difference I noticed between the US and Germany is the binary way in which they identify. As Americans, our identity is much more fluid. For example I can identify as both American and Lebanese. The stricter identity structure in Germany I think is why the question of individuals with migrant backgrounds is so hotly debated. The fact that identifying with one country over another is not mutually exclusive is quite shocking.
Besides my own research project, the most interesting part of this program for me was German perceptions and uses of Native American culture and identity. It’s strange to think that Native American culture was appropriated in a positive light—they were seen as heroes instead of vicious savages. Regardless, appropriation is a negative action, but it was fascinating to see such a vastly different interpretation of a culture. For US purposes, Native American identity was appropriated as a justification for manifest destiny and the acquisition of land. For German purposes, Native American identity was appropriated in order to have a protagonist for a story. Karl May’s story lead to a national love of a culture and associated identity that didn’t actually exist. While the stereotypes differ, Germans and Americans use Native American identity in the same way—incorrectly.
My own research on memorialization also tied in well to identity, particularly how identity is constructed. The merging of East and West Germany in 1990 called for a merging of two very different identities. There is a dual relationship between the commemoration of that former divide and German identity. Changing German identity alters how the divide is commemorated but at the same time, how the divide is commemorated also alters German identity. Based off of my preliminary research, the East/West divide in Germany is still prevalent today. That is inarguable. However “what” is commemorated has changed greatly in the last 25 years. For example, memorials initially had the purpose of erasing East German identity. Slowly there has been a shift towards recognizing that divide however (you can read more about this in my paper).
Overall, this program has made me realize that identity is much more important than I ever realized. I honestly didn’t think I’d become so interested in the research either. It would have been interesting to continue it.