I am currently researching the history of historical preservation in the German Democratic Republic. In a nutshell, I am interested in how a socialist state attempted to establish its own identity upon a landscape dominated by the feudal palace, the religious church and the bourgoise city hall.
I was surprised to find that very little research had been done on preservation in the GDR and struck out on the idea. The only significant work on the subject is Rudy Koshar's Germany's Transient Pasts but it deals with the GDR in a cursory manner, focusing mainly on the Federal Republic's attempt to come to grips with its wartime past.
My dissertation, titled, "Rising From the Ruins, Turning to the Past" is a play on the national hymn of the GDR, which claims that a turn was made towards the future. For a time, it is clear that the GDR wanted to leave its past behind, as it allowed numerous monuments to decay while deliberately destroying buildings such as the palaces in Berlin and Potsdam.
But in the 1970s, the GDR's efforts to pave over its past gave way to a broader effort to ground East German identity within a broad framework of German history that included positive elements of its bourgoise and feudal past alongside a progressive socialist vision. Coupled with the GDR's international recognition, it became an important project for the state to make its citizens accept the state as their Heimat, or homeland.
I am currently writing the dissertation itself after having spent a year in various archives in and around Berlin thanks to a German Fulbright Fellowship in 2001-2002. I presented preliminary findings of my research at the "East Germany Revisited" conference in Fall 2003 and a version of the paper is available online at http://www.kunsttexte.de/download/denk/campbell.pdf
My research in graduate school has gone in several different directions. A version of a paper on German-American history in Rochester was published in Przeglad Polonijny and I presented a paper on the subject at the Researching New York Conference in 1999. My research on Rochester's German-American community will also be included in the History of German-American Relations which will be published in 2005. I wrote seminar papers on topics as diverse as Phillip, Landgraff of Hesse during the Anabaptist Revolt in Münster, political Catholicism in Germany and an oral history of Ramona Santorelli, a member of the "Topfree Seven" who sucessfully fought for women to sunbathe top free in New York State.