Private actors, public memory and provenance research: Contextualising the Liebermann-Villa, Berlin

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford, in partnership with the Liebermann-Villa, Berlin, Germany. This fully-funded studentship is available from October 2022. Further details about the value of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on our Studentships page. It is expected that the student will spend up to twelve months in Berlin, working with the Liebermann-Villa. In recognition of the additional complexity of such an international collaboration, the Liebermann-Villa will provide the student with working space at its Berlin premises, as well as a direct contribution towards the additional travel and research expenses.

Closing date: midday (UK time) Friday 7 January 2022

Project overview

A photograph of the Liebermann-Villa in Berlin

The Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee, Berlin © sevens[+]maltry, Potsdam

In the past two decades, the identification, research and restitution of objects seized through Nazi persecution has become an obligation for the world’s museums. Following the adoption of the Washington Conference Principles (1998), extensive research has been conducted within public collections across Europe and North America to uncover objects stripped from their original, Jewish, owners during the Third Reich. In 2017 the German Lost Art Foundation (DZK), agreed to fund provenance research projects proposed by non-public actors. This project provides a unique opportunity to explore how the German heritage landscape is being transformed by this shift towards private actors through a focus on the Liebermann-Villa in Berlin: a private museum dedicated to the German-Jewish painter Max Liebermann (1847-1935) and run by the Max Liebermann Society.

Having recently completed a targeted provenance research project, the Villa provides an ideal launchpad for what will be a pioneering study. Beginning with the Villa’s own project, the student will ask how privately instigated projects differ from those previously carried out in public institutions, and what the implications are for public history, the politics of heritage and Holocaust memory. First, there is the potential to compare developments at the Villa with other former Jewish houses. Second, there is the potential to consider the impact of provenance research on private museums like the Georg Schäfer Foundation in Schweinfurt, which recently paid compensation to the Liebermann heirs for several works previously in Liebermann’s collection. Finally, the student will explore the differing considerations that motivate non-state actors - be they museums, the heirs of looted art, or the owners of contested objects – to undertake provenance research projects, and how that impacts both outcomes and the public narrative. Relevant sources include sale catalogues, inventories, photographs of interiors, object files in museums, and the records of the DZK.

This CDA is conceived within a 5-year AHRC-funded collaborative research grant ‘Jewish Country Houses – Objects, Networks, People’ led by Professor Abigail Green from 2019 to 2024, in which the theme of “lost collections” is emerging as an important element. It also dovetails with the DZK-funded provenance research project based at the Liebermann-Villa, and the active research interests of its Director in this area. That broader context would help connect the student to a network of relevant scholars and researchers in the UK and Germany, which stands as a world leader in this area.

The proposed collaboration would bring the successful student into the heart of these networks, offering a unique chance to analyse German developments for application in the UK, for example through an AHRC internship. The student will visit Berlin on an annual basis, and spend much or all of the Second Year based at the Liebermann-Villa, where they will be provided with desk-space and access to the world-leading Liebermann library. The student will be able to present their research in the form of a cabinet exhibition, and at conferences currently planned within the framework of the AHRC grant.

Supervision

The university supervisor is Abigail Green, Professor of Modern European History, University of Oxford. The student will be based in the Faculty of History, which houses a research community of up to 800 senior academics and graduate students, all contributing to a varied menu of research seminars, lectures, academic societies, and other events which cover a wide range of topics. 

The student will benefit from the active supervision of the partner supervisor, Dr. Lucy Wasensteiner, Director, Liebermann-Villa. Dr. Wasensteiner brings significant expertise in the field of Third-Reich era provenance research, Anglo-German cultural relations and the art and life of Max Liebermann.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Successful applicants should have a background in History or Art History, research interests in 20th century Germany, and some experience of provenance research or working with art market records. A reading knowledge of German is essential. Some experience of museum work and/or an established interest in the politics of public memory would be desirable. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Abigail Green in the first instance (abigail.green@bnc.ox.ac.uk).

You should apply to the DPhil in History, by midday (UK time) Friday 7 January 2022, indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time. Further details on how to apply through Oxford can be found on our How to Apply page. Please include a reference to the advertised CDA title in your application form; you do not need to include a reference number.