Education and utopia: Technology museums in Cold War Germany
Sehat, Connie Moon
Caldwell, Peter C.
Doctor of Philosophy
In the aftermath of a violent war waged in the name of fascist utopian visions, German museum educators nonetheless explained the political benefits of technology. They did so in view of the new demands for democracy, but as divided Cold War adversaries as well. Educators in four museums uniquely tailored their national and geopolitical lessons to the publics of Munich, Schwerin, Dresden, and West Berlin. However, the democratic technological societies depicted by the museums all contained similar tensions that did not overcome the problems of fascist politics. By wedding democracy, technology, and education unambiguously together, the aims and exhibitions of technology museums ultimately epitomized the persistent allure of utopia in politics well beyond 1945. To begin with, portraying a straightforward connection between technology and democracy was problematic. When museum exhibitions illustrated the tremendous promise of science and technology for creating the "good life," they focused on the powerful and vast extension of human tool-making capacity. However, modern technological systems were also profoundly destabilizing and de-centering for individual subjects, because they created the possibility of 1984-like political repression, environmental degradation, class division, and, most frighteningly, human annihilation. Also, issues in education posed difficulties for a democracy, since the authority of educators themselves was particularly contested in the aftermath of Nazism and the protests of 1968. Yet technology museums minimized social tensions and maintained the advantages of technology for peaceful, equal relations among liberated peoples, thus deferring the resolution of contradictions to the utopias they depicted. In the end, education in Cold War German technology museums continued to resonate with the utopian impulses of National Socialist politics. However, ideology was not the only thing that made the museums utopian, since technology and education themselves had powerful implications for the relationship among individuals, society, and the world.
European history; Technological education