Dr. Kara Ritzheimer is an associate professor of Modern European History at Oregon State University. Her research concentrates on the history of Germany, particularly the development of commercial mass culture, national censorship laws in Imperial, Weimar, and Nazi Germany, federalism, and the formation of national identity in the early twentieth century. She also has expertise in the fields of popular fiction and early film, German constitutionalism, social reform movements, childhood, and shifting notions of social welfare. Her research has benefitted from the support of the German-American Fulbright Commission, the Center for the Humanities at Oregon State University, the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, and the German History Institute.
Her first book, “Trash,” Censorship, and National Identity in Early Twentieth Century Germany (Cambridge, 2016) uncovers the long cultural and political roots of Nazi-era censorship in pre-WWI social reform movements and the family politics of the Weimar Republic.
By exploring small-town and regional encounters with early popular culture, the book demonstrates that local identity and Germany’s federalist system played a key role in fostering negative responses to early movies and dime novels as well as inspiring grass-roots censorship campaigns. Shifting concepts of social welfare and a growing commitment to children’s rights to both an education and a sheltered childhood were crucial to making censorship possible, despite constitutional protections of individual rights and press freedoms in pre-WWI Germany. This study explains why the new Weimar constitution legalized censorship in 1919: anxieties about shifting gender norms and sexual mores led lawmakers to draft a constitution that prioritized social rights over individual rights and thereby opened the door to censorship. The two Weimar-era censorship laws, passed in 1920 and 1926 respectively, sparked an extensive and under-examined debate about morality that ultimately eroded national identity; the enforcement of these two laws acclimated Germans to censorship. In its entirety, the book uncovers the profound links between Weimar and Nazi censorship laws.
Her current project, Girlhood in Nazi Germany, examines the creation of girlhood as a cultural and political project using legal records, Nazi institutional and government documents, school curriculum, and propaganda material produced for girls, including movies, books, and magazines.
She has presented aspects of her research at numerous conferences, including the German Studies Association, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the Western Association of Women Historians, the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth, the German History Institute in Washington, D.C., and the International Girl Studies Association Inaugural Conference.