Tobias Becker (GHIL London) on our co-organized workshop (together with Daniel Steinbach, Exter) “Competitors and Companions: Britons and Germans in the World”
65 years after his death, the magazine „Der Spiegel“ headlines „Wie starb General Sikorski?“ – How did General Sikorski die?
The answer seems to be easy: on the 4th July 1943, a liberator of the Royal Air Force crashed into the sea almost immediately after its takeoff from Gibraltar airport. The crash happened after a stopover. Among its passengers were the Prime-minister of the Polish government-in-exile, General Władysław Sikorski, his daughter Zofia as well as Victor Cazalet, British liaison officer to the Polish forces. Sikorski was on his way back from Egypt and Iraq where he inspected the Polish forces. All eleven passengers died, the only survivor of the accident being Czech pilot flight lieutenant Eduard Prchal.
Sikorski was born on the 20th May 1881 in Tuszow Narodowy (today Poland; then Austria-Hungary) as a son of a farmer. His father died when Sikorski was still a child. He studied civil engineering in Cracow and L’viv (today Ukraine). After his studies he committed himself to underground politics. He fought in the First World War, in the Polish-Soviet War, and always for Polish independence.
The Second World War changed everything: After the defeat of Poland in September 1939, the country was devided between Germany and Russia. Sikorski managed to flee to Paris. He united the Polish exile soldiers (most of them Air Force and Navy) to an improvised exile army under his command. He also became Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile. But after the German had taken Paris, he and his staff had to flee to London to reform the government there under their president Władysław Raczkiewicz. In London, he was received by King George VI., members of the Government and the chiefs of the services and even travelled to the United States to visit president Roosevelt on behalf of the Free Poles. His exile army fought side by side with their allies and under the British flag in the Battle of Britain, in France and in the Orient.
So why did the question about his death come up 65 years later? Only a year before Sikorski’s death, in 1942, Prince George, Duke of Kent and youngest son of King George V. had died in an air crash as well – neither suspicion nor conspiracy followed. In general, travelling by plane was far from being not as safe as it is today.
But the Spiegel article refers to a current event: in 2008 Sikorski’s corpse had been exhumed. The Institute of National Remembrance in Poland (IPN) had expressed doubts about it being an accident and called for an exhumination responding to the many conspiracy theories which had emerged right after the death of the Polish general and carried on in the post-war period.
Some of these theories say, Sikorski’s politics had made him a problem for Churchills appeasement policy and approach towards the Soviet Union. Therefore, this theory says, the British government must have given the order to kill Sikorski. This story and the apparent problematic relation between Poland and the Soviet Union is mostly based on the massacre of Katyń:
In April 1943, the Nazi regime published the discovery and exhumination of thousands of Polish soldiers and officers in a forest near by Katyń. About 22.000 Polish had been executed by members of the Russian NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). Goebbels tried to use this information (which was soon confirmed to be true) as part of German propaganda to weaken the alliance between the Great Britain, the Polish exile-government and the Soviet Union. Sikorski demanded an independent investigation of the massacre by a Committee of the International Red Cross. Stalin, on his part, tried to blame Germany for the massacre and denounced Sikorski as a Nazi collaborator, calling on Iwan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador in London, to end relations to the Polish exile-government.
But was Sikorski really the patriotic trouble-maker towards diplomatic politics between the allies he was made out to be? Even in 1941, Sikorski and Stalin had secured their mutual support in the alliance. And it must have been clear to Sikorski that neither Churchill nor Roosevelt wanted to jeopardize the alliance with Stalin. They had been aware of the Soviet importance in the War against Germany. And this already assumes Sikorski and Katyń even played such an important role in the diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain.
British newspapers like the Times1 described his death as a grievous loss to the Polish people and their allies. They also openly discuss the difficult relation between Sikorski and Stalin in consequence of the graves of Polish officers at Katyń earlier that year, „cunningly exploited by Goebbels“. But, due to the Times2, hopes of a rapprochement were beginning to raise with Roosevelt as mediator. That would certainly clear Stalin as well as Churchill. Additionally, the Times describes Sikorski as “a democrat by nature as well as by nurture, a statesman who never permitted emotion, however justifiably, to colour his own appraisal of events or to warp his judgement in matters of high policy, he played a conspicuously useful part in inter-allied diplomacy”3. According to their view, he even used his visit at the Middle East to explain “his policy of seeking and maintaining an honourable agreement with the Soviet Union”4. The newspaper, however, makes no assumptions concerning a murder and its perpetrator, not even Hitler.
Perhaps the adherents of the murder theories exaggerate Sikorski’s and Poland’s political significance, because the inquiries for further investigations didn’t stop after his death. And there had been two investigations by the RAF including Polish officers in the commission, which found that the most likely cause of the accident was a mechanical blockade. The exhumination of 2008 could exclude that Sikorski had been poisoned, strangled or shot – not more. In fact, no investigation could clarify the situation to absolute certainty, as it is often the case with war time deaths. This is probably the reason why the conspiracy theories emerged in 1943, survived the post-war period (in 1967 the dramatist Rolf Hochhut wrote the play “Die Soldaten”, and had a fictional Churchill say: “I believe it would be best to have Sikorski killed” / “Ich glaube, es wäre besser, Sikorski umzubringen!”) and lasted until 2008.
Perhaps, the Czech pilot Eduard Prchal was right in saying: “The Communists simply can not understand that a statesman can die of a natural death or lose his life in an accident.” He made the heavy Polish luggage responsible for the accident.
referring to: Jan Puhl, Wie starb General Sikorski? In: Spiegel Online, 26.11.2008, http://www.spiegel.de/einestages/zweiter-weltkrieg-a-948032.html
- The London Times, 6th July 1943, p.5, “A Polish Patriot”.
- The London Times, 6th July 1943, p.5, “A Polish Patriot”.
- The London Times, 6th July 1943, p.5, “General Sikorski”.
- The London Times, 6th July 1943, p.5, “General Sikorski” .
GRR Legal History Research group: Our next meeting will discuss “Scandalous Trials” on Friday, 14th June 2017, with short presentations by Susanne Raidt (Marburg), Norman Domeier (Stuttgart/Wien) and Caspar Hirschi (St. Gallen).
In his new book Human Rights after Hitler, Dan Plesch makes a case for rewriting the history of human rights and international criminal law using the declassified archives of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). In view of 36,000 indictments against Nazi and Japanese war criminals facilitated by the UNWCC, he argues that the Allied nations’ response to the Holocaust was more committed than most accounts – focussing on the International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg and Tokyo – acknowledge. His study thus carries on his own already extensive work on the UNWCC and complements publications on the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, such as Reassessing the Nuremberg Military Tribunals: Transitional Justice, Trial Narratives, and Historiography by Kim Priemel and Alexa Stiller.
In nine chapters (see http://www.unwcc.org/chapters/ for short summaries), Plesch seeks to fish the UNWCC “out of the Orwellian ‘memory hole’ into which its contemporary detractors cast it”. He outlines its establishment and the commission’s work, underlining that not only the Nazi leadership was brought to justice, but many more who were responsible for the Holocaust in occupied countries. He also highlights that the UNWCC, in responding to Nazi atrocities, was an important forum for innovations in international law with regard to aggressive war, the defense of superior orders, prosecution of sexual violence etc., and that these innovations were the result of the contributions of non-Western intellectuals and officials as well as the exile governments in London. He strongly criticizes scholarship that overlooks the “international, grassroots-driven campaign to formalize and enforce global norms” (p. 193) and that denies the liberal and global origins of human rights in the 1940s (e.g. Samual Moyn).
The UNWCC’s effectiveness, he puts forward, should be proof that war crimes should and can be prosecuted effectively. Plesch is convinced that there are “moral and practical lessons we can learn from the heroes of this unsung political movement for international justice.” (p. 2) He agrees with Carsten Stahn that we are in need of a “UNWCC 2.0” that enables complementary prosecution of war crimes by national courts while applying international criminal legal standards. Instead of betting on “large-scale, expensive, drawn-out trials of leaders conducted by international (overwhelmingly Western) lawyers and officials”, the UNWCC is an example for effective prosecution of war crimes on a national level “through existing judicial systems.” (p. 204)
Plesch justifies his object of study with the usefulness and applicability of UNWCC practices and norms, e.g. for prosecuting Syrian war criminals. This should be kept in mind when reading his book. Understanding the “past as prelude” always risks downplaying developments that do not fit our narrative in favor of a teleological explanation of the historical past. However, this is a well-researched and well-argued book with a strong appeal for more studies on the UNWCC.
In the all-time ranking of historic speeches, London wartime speeches feature prominently, and Charles de Gaulle’s first calls for resistance are certainly high up on the list. His address to the French nation right after his arrival in Great Britain, and his strong appeal to continue resistance, are known well beyond France. The myth is still strong: This is where de Gaulle declared his leadership of the Free French in London, where he captured the fighting spirit of the resistance against Nazi Germany and Vichy France, laying a fundament for eventual allied victory. The sentiment of the speech, the date of the 18 of June and the name of de Gaulle are so closely linked, that the French leader has subsequently been dubbed “l’homme du 18 juin” (the man of 18 June):
However, the first thing to note about the Appeal of 18 June is that when talking about it we usually refer to the Appeal of 22 June. While de Gaulle did first address the French people right after his arrival in London on June 18th, no recording of the broadcast exists, only manuscripts, notes, and posters printed with its text. Because of its spontaneity, it is also highly likely that the first broadcast only reached a very small audience. The speech we now usually associate with the Appeal of 18 June was actually recorded on 22 June and archived by the B.B.C. as “General Charles de Gaulle: Call to Resistance, 22.6.1940”.
Today, 77 years after its original broadcasting, it is time to have a closer look: What exactly did he say and what did it mean?
In the following paragraphs, I will analyse parts of his speech. I will be quoting the translation available on the BBC website, but for a better impression, I highly recommend listening to de Gaulles speech in the original French available in the INA online collections.
As is well known, de Gaulle openly distanced himself in his speech from Pétain’s acceptance of armistice, calling it “capitulation” and “surrender” and challenges the government’s right to accept it. Doing so, he employs a strategy of different arguments, which he sums up as “honour, common sense, and the interests of the country”:
- the moral argument: honour and duty
- the rational argument: military and financial strength
- the strategic argument: future planning and France’s role in Europe
- 1) Honour and Duty:
“It may therefore be said that this armistice would not only be a capitulation, but that it would also reduce the country to slavery.[…] As long as the allies continue the war, her government has no right to surrender to the enemy.” De Gaulle refers to the other governments-in-exile present in London continuing to represent their country, as an example: “The Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, Netherlands, and Luxemburg governments, though driven from their territories, have thus interpreted their duty.”
While, of course, he had every right to criticise the armistice as an individual refugee, he clearly did not intent to speak as a civilian, but with a political agenda and the idea to address the French people as leader figure. With his discourse, he places himself and the Free France he aims to represent amongst a broader community: The community of European governments-in-exile who had fled to London during May 1940 and now represented the joint Allied war effort – at this point, Soviet Russia still fought alongside Nazi Germany, and the USA were more than reluctant to get involved in yet another messy European war. De Gaulle defines it as a French duty not to collaborate with Germany, but to continue fighting with the Allies. His position, however, is very different from those of the other European powers, and I will discuss his “bluff” below in more detail.
- 2) Military and financial strength
“But we still have a vast empire, our fleet is intact, and we possess large sums in gold. We still have allies, who possess immense resources and who dominate the seas. We still have the gigantic potentialities of American industry. The same war conditions which caused us to be beaten by 5,000 planes and 6,000 tanks can tomorrow bring victory by means of 20,000 tanks and 20,000 planes.” With these words, de Gaulle seems to be addressing the Allied Forces just as much as his compatriots at home: The goal is to convey that France is not lost, that it is strong and battle-ready. The French should be reminded that they are neither helpless nor alone, the Allies should be reminded that France is not a welfare case, but continues to be a strong ally. The motivation behind this is obvious: French soldiers are more likely to join and risk their lives, the allies more likely to provide political recognition and military support, if both believe that this is not a lost cause but a promising venture. Again, de Gaulle is mainly bluffing. The military equipment he is referring to belongs to Vichy France, still the only France recognised by International Law. While later on, de Gaulle manages to mobilise soldiers amongst the French in Great Britain, and gain influence over French troops, in particular in Northern Africa, he had no control over any kind of military or financial resources at the time of his appeal. Additionally, contrary to his allusions, the US had not yet started supporting the allied struggle.
- 3) Future planning and France’s role in Europe
De Gaulle stresses the framework beyond the Franco-German conflict:” This is a world war. No one can foresee whether the neutral countries of today will not be at war tomorrow, or whether Germany’s allies will always remain her allies. If the powers of freedom ultimately triumph over those of servitude, what will be the fate of a France which has submitted to the enemy?”. Again, this part of the speech addresses the French as well as the Allies: Yes, de Gaulle and his project of Free France might seem utopian and almost ludicrous with regard to the current situation, but who knows what the future will hold? De Gaulle plays it as a central argument that alliances can change overnight (and history proved him more than right on this) and that you need to seize all opportunuties you can get to fight this battle. To the French, he paints a picture of eventual ramifications of collaboration: Firmly believing (or at least bluffing to believe) in allied victory, he makes allusions to consequences of discontinued resistance with regard to France’s standing in Europe and the world.
De Gaulle’s Call to Arms
The intent of this broadcast is twofold: In his words, de Gaulle wants to mobilize French soldiers (and others) to continue the fight at the side of the allies and to join him in London, bringing along as much military equipment as they can lay hands on. At the same time, his appeal is a claim to power in London and in the allied hierarchy. His appeal is highly personalised: “I, General de Gaulle, am undertaking this national task here in England. I call upon all French servicemen of the land, sea, and air forces; I call upon French engineers and skilled armaments workers who are on British soil, or have the means of getting here, to come and join me. I call upon the leaders, together with all soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the French land, sea, and air forces, wherever they may now be, to get in touch with me. I call upon all Frenchmen who want to remain free to listen to my voice and follow me.” As we know now, he should eventually be quite successful with this attempt. De Gaulle managed to gather between 2.000-3.000 men in London by August 1940. More men should follow his command in the Northern African theatres of war. Even though, de Gaulle always remained a highly disputed figure, even amongst the French in London. Looking back, the success of his appeal is striking: When calling on Frenchmen to follow him, he was in no position whatsoever to demand this. He himself had just been whisked off by a British plane, arriving the in London only the previous day. No government, national committee or anything along these lines had yet been set up. Considering France committed to armistice, and thus continued existing as a theoretically free country in the form of Vichy France, there could not be a government-in-exile as in the case of the other defeated and occupied European countries. In this light, de Gaulle’s appeal to leave France to follow him to London and join the allied fight was a call to join a one-man-show. Even worse, technically and legally, lacking any kind of status for extra-Vichy forces, this amounted to desertion. Eventually, de Gaulles managed to gather French politicians and military leaders like René Cassin and Georges Thierry d’Argenlieu in London and by the Churchill-de Gaulle accords of 7 August 1940, he was recognised by the British as the leader of France Libre (Free France), and the latter recognised as a military and political partner of the Allies.
While the cooperation between France and his fellow Allies (and certainly on a personal level between de Gaulle and his fellow leaders) did not remain conflict-free during the war, de Gaulle’s bluff with the appeal of 18/22 june certainly payed off. His speech continued to be a symbol for his success, even though it was in no way predictable. In 2005, the appeal of 18 June was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register after being nominated in a joint effort by France and Britain via INA and BBC, arguing that it is proof that “ Radio was no longer just a means of entertainment or propaganda available to the powers that be; it also now provided the technical means to enable an isolated individual to launch a huge resistance movement from outside his own country, to urge his fellow citizens to oppose foreign rule and subservience and to fight for the restoration of freedoms.” The “isolated individual” had played his cards right. As de Gaulle said to conclude his broadcast: “Long live free France in honour and independence!”
Nicholas Atkin, The Forgotten French: Exiles in the British Isles, 1940-44. MUP: Manchester 2003.
Jean-Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, La France Libre: De l’appel du 18 juin à la Libération.Gallimard: Paris 1996.
After the November 2015 Paris attacks, the London Eye was illuminated in blue, white and red, the colours of the French flag, as a memorial to the attacks. The British People – as the most people throughout the world – showed their solidarity with France and the French People. The hashtag #prayforparis went viral.
It was the 15th of June, 1940, when the archbishop of Canterbury concluded the service at Canterbury Cathedral with the following words: “To stay upon God will be our greatest strength”. He was praying for French soldiers and the people of France. In his sermon, he paid tribute to the heroic tenacity, determination and courage of the French armies. No building was illuminated and no hashtag went viral, but that Day of Prayer was held in churches of all denominations throughout Britain and the commonwealth to show loyalty and solidarity with “that sweet enemy”1 France. Why France? The day before, on June 14th, the Wehrmacht had marched into Paris and the Maginot line was about to collapse. Many French were already trying to leave the country, some managed to escape to Britain. The Day of Prayer was usually observed as a day of intercession for international and individual welfare, but on this occasion its special prayer was dedicated to France as an expression of solidarity and unity with the French Allies.
Following the London Times report from 17th of June there was a big congregation at Westminster Chapel. The British King George VI. and his wife, Elizabeth, attended a service at Royal Chapel in Windsor Great Park. Haakon VII, the King of Norway, accompanied by his son was present at Norwegian Church in Rotherhithe. Queen Wilhelmina was at the Netherlands Reformed Church. At the Eglise Protestante Francaise representatives of Belgium, Russia and Italy were among the worshippers.
This Day of Prayer may be seen as a symbol of the beginning of British-French solidarity and efforts in Britain’s politics and society to welcome French refugees in their own country. Even the arrival of the notoriously difficult Charles de Gaulles only two days later was not going to change this.
- Tombs, Isabelle / Tombs, Robert (2006), That Sweet Enemy. The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, London, William Heinemann.
Next week, the Centre for British Studies at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin will host the ADEF Workshop “Competitors & Companions: Britons and Germans in the World”, organized by Daniel Steinbach (Exeter), Tobias Becker (GHI London) and myself. The complete programme of the workshop is available at the ADEF homepage. Please register to attend the workshop. The public Keynote Lecture will be given by Professor Gaynor Johnson (Kent).
GRR Legal History Research group: Our next meeting will discuss “Contracts” on Friday, 12th May 2017, with short presentations by Thomas Pierson (Gießen), Robert Kindler (HU Berlin) and Arvid Schors (Freiburg/Br.).
Recently, the Wiener Library in London has opened the United Nations War Crimes Commissions Archives to the public. The opening has attracted publicity well beyond the academic community (as for example in this article published in the guardian where the now accessible documents have been considered to “rewrite chapters of history”. The documents prove the impact of “smaller” nations on the definitions of post-war justice, thus displaying how collaboration within the London Moment worked: governments-in-exile and exiled experts of international law were highly influential in laying the ground for the work of UNWCC.
I am a Freigeist Fellow at the Department of History, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the principal investigator of the research project “The London Moment”, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. I have been awarded a PhD in Modern History by the Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen in 2008. Since then, I have held fellowships at Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and the Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin, and have lectured in Modern European History in TCD and UCD Dublin, Tübingen and HU Berlin.
I have published on paramilitary violence, pacifism, veterans’ welfare, and international collaboration. My first book on Polish veterans of the First World War, their struggle for social benefits and national recognition, was published in 2011. While working in an international research project on paramilitary violence after the First World War in Dublin, led by John Horne and Robert Gerwarth, I edited a CEH Special Issue entitled “Aftershocks. Violence in Dissolving Empires after the First World War” as well as a volume on Veterans’ Internationalism (both with John Paul Newman).
My current research project “The London Moment” explores the transnational collaboration of governments-in-exile in London during the Second World War and its impact on European political communication in the 20th Century.
I am a B.A. student at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and research assistant in the project „The London Moment“.
My subjects at university are history and philosophy. Since April 2015 I work in the research project „The London Moment“.
Currently I am writing my bachelor thesis about the French exile-community in London during the Second World War in the perception of the British newspapers.
I am a Ph.D. student at the Department of History of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and member of the research project “The London Moment”. I studied history and political science in Freiburg and Montreal as well as North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. My master thesis dealt with transnational networks in international family planning and population control after World War II, and was awarded with the Prize of the Department of History and Cultural Studies for Gender Studies. I received my master’s degree in 2015. In my Ph.D. project, I will follow up on my fascination with transnational collaboration in the twentieth century and turn towards the little-known International Commission for Penal Development and Reconstruction, located in Cambridge and London. Early in the Second World War, this informal network brought together eminent jurists from occupied countries as well as Great Britain. They discussed war crimes trials and the internationalization of humanitarian law and yielded some of the legal innovations that later shaped the Nuremberg Trials.
While the heads of the governments-in-exile met at the West End Hotels like the Dorchester, the Rubens or the Savoy to drink, eat and deliberating on current affairs, their Armies met at the pitches of Stamford Bridge, Selhurst Park or Upton Park.
The Football League First Division (predecessor of the Premier League) had been suspended in September 1939 due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The game operation paused until 1946. But England without Football? Between 1941 and 1944 the Inter Allied Services Cup was held four times. In its first final in 1941 the British Army and the Royal Air Force met. The British Army won 8-2.
On Wednesday, march 26, 1941 the London Times reported on the Belgian Army’s win of the Allies League. Of six matches, they won three, drew two and lost the other. The other teams, taking part in the Inter-Allied Armies Tournament were the Czech Army, who finished second, the Norwegians on third and the Dutch on the last place of the League.
At the same day another article announced the Inter-Allied Services Cup Competition, even sponsored by the British Football Association (FA). New teams entered or were about to enter the Cup: among them the Civil Defence organization, the British Army and the Royal Air Force.
In 1942 the London Police won against the British Army with 6-2. In 1943 again the British Army and the Royal Air Force were the finalists. They drew 2-2 and shared the Trophy. In the last final in 1944, the Royal Air Force could finally take revenge: they won with 3-0 versus the Army.
Although the British teams dominated the finals, there were some international teams consisting of the exile-armies. The most successful team was the Belgian Army (they took part in every year and in three times they even reached the semi-final).
Other teams were the Royal Netherlands Brigade (1941, 1943-44), the Polish Air Force (1941) and the Polish Land Forces (1942), the Czechoslovak Army (1942-43), the Norwegian Army (1942-44) and the Canadian Army (1942-44), even though they did not have a government-in-exile in London. Another team without a government-in-exile, but a national committee was that of the Fighting French (1943).
The temporary Capital of Europe was not only an international microcosm of political and diplomatic elites. It was also a microcosm of international football. Sometimes the matches were not only military or sporting occasions but also political. The heads of the governments-in-exile left their hotels, gentlemen-clubs and restaurants to meet at the football stadium. Among the spectators of the Allied Cup’s final round in 1943 were Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister, Admiral Émile Muselier of France or Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgium Foreign Minister.
The political collaboration, European cooperation and discussions about a post-war Europe between the governments-in-exile lead to a new international law and juridicial system (UNO); and only eleven years after the last final of the Inter Allied Services Cup sixteen European football clubs played in the European Champion Club’s Cub. In a dramatic final Real Madrid could beat Stade Reims with 4-3.
On February 10, 2017, the GRR Legal History Research group at Humboldt University turned its attention toward the history and historiography of European law. Philip Bajon (Frankfurt/M.) presented his research project on the Luxembourg Compromise, asking whether it propelled a change in decision making patterns in the Council of the European Union. He posited that although the Luxembourg Compromise was not necessarily hard law, it established an informal veto culture that shaped the constitutional practice in the years to come. Manuel Müller (Berlin; www.foederalist.eu) discussed why the Maastricht Treaty did not turn into a “constitutional moment” and argued that while the political system became more integrated, the European public sphere did not: The main frame of reference, in which European politics and policies were discussed and legitimized, remained national. Finally, Anna Katharina Mangold (Frankfurt/M.) made a plea from a jurist’s perspective for a critical turn in the historiography of European Law. From her point of view, a teleological narrative of European integration continues to shape the work of legal historians. Therefore, she calls upon them to reveal historical contingencies and path dependencies as well as their own bias in prioritizing a specific narrative or subject matter over another in their research.
The presentations served as a departure point for a more general discussion about (legal) history. While Philip Bajon argued that a historical approach can uncover source material from actors other than official personas and institutions, Anna Katharina Mangold contended that contemporary historians can be too close to the individual whose motivations and actions they want to analyze. To resolve these issues, the participants agreed that both historians and jurists need to contextualize authors and their work by situating them in a specific historical context. A lively discussion followed on the question how researchers should deal with their own positionality and political leanings: While the jurists regarded normativity as essential for a future-oriented research that suggests improvements to today’s legal system from a historical perspective, the historians in the room interjected that a political standpoint – especially if not clearly indicated – can undermine an impartial analysis of belief systems and discourses of the past. This discussion also tapped into the recent public debate on “post-truth politics” and the role of academia within it, raising the question of the meaning of factuality in (deconstructivist) research projects – a concern not just for legal historians.