This talk examines the busy lives of East Germany’s paleontological collections, especially the dinosaur fossils housed in East Berlin’s Natural History Museum. These specimens, which were largely taken during the colonial period from what is now Tanzania and then subsequently reconstructed under the aegis of National Socialism, raise important questions for the study of the GDR. What was the role of the (primordial, colonial, National Socialist) past in socialist science? How do the foreign exhibitions of these significant yet fraught collections reshape our understanding of East Germany’s self-presentation on the world stage? And (most bizarrely) how do accusations from western creationists that East Germany’s most prized specimen was actually a forgery illuminate relationships between science and faith in the Cold War? Taken together, these specimens offer tantalizing insights into the meaning of science and the production of knowledge in East Germany.
Colleen Anderson is a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities and lecturer in German Studies at Stanford University. She studies the history and culture of modern Germany. Her work has been supported by the American Historical Association & NASA, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, DAAD, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, the German Historical Institute, and the Central European History Society.