Alle Beiträge von Sebastian Bondzio

There and Back Again – Dr. Sebastian Bondzio (re)joins the NGHM-Team and shares impressions of his life and work in Washington, DC

In March 2020, the world had only started to become aware of the thing that has now shaped our lives for roughly the past two years. Cases were not limited to Asia anymore, spread like wildfire, and announced what we now know as the first European wave of Covid-19. Efforts to contain the virus by closing of certain towns and regions were failing. Looking down on China or Italy clearly did not do any good. We were still figuring out how the virus’s transmission worked and in the meantime, stores ran out of toilet paper, flour, and disinfectant. Stock prices plummeted. Governments started to close down their borders – even inside the European Union. The hope that this would be over quickly was still present, but slowly yielded to a ubiquitous feeling of dread, that most people in Western Europe had never experienced before. Uncertainty, which had already been a constant companion of the younger generations, reached a new level and has hardly improved since. At least switching to digital formats kept us busy, and now it was ok to spend even more time in front of our screens.

On March 17th, I had just returned from what was planned to be a nice winter sports holiday with some good friends in the Austrian Alps. But because there were some cases in St. Anton, we had left the village as fast as possible and, precautiously, had gone into a 14-day quarantine. That day, I received an e-mail from the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC (GHI) in which I was offered the Gerda Henkel Postdoctoral Fellowship for Digital History at the GHI and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA (CHNM) for which I had applied a couple of months earlier. The fellowship provides a unique opportunity for the recipient to develop an innovative research project in collaboration with the GHI and the CHNM and was supposed to start on August 24th 2020. Seeing this as an appreciation and validation of my ongoing efforts in doing digital historical research and at the same time a chance for exchange and learning even more, I, of course, immediately accepted the offer.

Pretty soon, though, it became clear that lockdowns and the growing understanding that the virus had led to a global pandemic would make an in-person start of the fellowship in DC in 2020 impossible. Vaccines that were promised and a general sense of optimism made us choose January 2021 as the starting date. At the end of January, when George Mason University (GMU) was starting its new semester, I was supposed to be in DC. Getting a Visa proved to be quite a challenge. Help from GMU was perfect, but ever-changing restrictions and regulations meant that planning required a high level of flexibility in what should have been only a routine process. But, the flight was pleasant and everybody on board was aware of their shared responsibility.

Lufthansa Plane from Frankfurt am Main to Washington, DC, Dulles International Airport

Arriving in Washington, DC on January 24th then was quite a process. Coming from the sometimes somewhat drowsy city of Osnabrück to the Capitol of the United States that was still under shock from the terrorist insurrection on Capitol Hill only a few weeks prior and the inauguration of President Joe Biden two days ago, I felt like I had entered a post-apocalyptic movie set. Police and heavily armed National Guard were passing by constantly on what were otherwise mostly empty streets. To live close to a metro line that would be basically equally distant from the GHI and the CHNM, I had moved into an apartment in Rosslyn, on the Virginia side of the DMV area. It was only later that I learned that behind the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Arlington National Cemetery, which basically were my direct neighbors, there was the Fort Myer Military Base, the National Guard’s headquarters, and – two miles down the road – the Pentagon. Pretty soon, I didn’t even notice the presence of military anymore.

The closest I was able to get to the US Capitol in February 2021

Pandemic Rosslyn, with its high rising buildings, that house venture capital businesses next to global companies like Deloitte or Nestlé, seemed like one of those early surreal paintings of De Chirico. Buildings deprived of their natural inhabitants. A world made by humans, for humans, but without them. A compact space designed to be highly efficient, but that didn’t do anything at that moment. Wandering and exploring those abandoned valleys made from concrete and glass I became aware that my life now would be quite a different one. It took me some time to develop a general orientation. But with pretty Georgetown on the other side of the Potomac and Downtown DC, only a few metro stops away, I felt confident that the upcoming year would be no boring one.

The skyline of Rosslyn, VA. the orange one on the left was my apartment building. (Picture taken from Roosevelt Island)

Already back in Germany, Jana Keck, the GHI’s Research Fellow for Digital History, and I had started establishing e-mail correspondence and exchanged our ideas of what we both thought of as being subjects of and directions for digital history. Coming from two quite different parts of the spectrum of digital history, from day one, this proved to be very productive and over time made us become good friends. Being in the USA and tested negative for the coronavirus, we met up for coffee and bagels and Jana asked me to join the GHI’s DH-working group and also invited me to attend the meetings of the DH group of the Max Weber Foundation. In both, ongoing international research was presented and discussed. Switching to a digital format had allowed for these formats that connected the global expertise in digital history.

Three other researchers and I formed the GHI’s first cohort of Visiting Fellows for 2021. Spread out through the city and as yet unvaccinated, for the first couple of months, we met online for our bi-weekly ‘Happy Hours’ in which Axel Jansen, GHI’s deputy director, and Bryan Hart, GHI’s fellowship officer, provided us with essential insights into the GHI’s organizational structures and its rich resources, we were now able to use for our own studies. After all of us were able to get our two initial doses of the vaccine, we switched to in-person meetings and explored some of the bars and beer gardens, DC has to offer.

Other Research Fellows I either met at cozy dinner and frequent birthday parties, for a cup of coffee, or during the GHI’s renowned Research Seminar, in which internal research projects were discussed, and external researchers were invited to share their work. The spectrum of historical topics, methodological approaches and theoretical understandings that got a chance to speak was stimulating and inspired me to reflect my own. Having worked with large sets of historical data myself and being experienced in working with GIS, proved to be a welcome skill set at the GHI. Discussing data structures with researchers who themselves were only starting to tap into digital workflows and consulting with them on their plans for digitizing their own projects, I particularly enjoyed.

During the early months of the Fellowship, at the CHNM, Lincoln Mullen, the director for computational history, was the one who connected me to people and the resources that I needed to do my own research. Through him, I got access to the Center’s powerful server infrastructure, on which I could run my database that contained data on about 11.2 million people from Europe who immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1921. He also invited me to join the Center’s data group, in which PhD candidates, postdocs, and tenured staff presented their projects and discussed ways of working with smaller and larger sets of historical data. Mills Kelly, the CHNM director, invited me to attend the Center’s weekly all-staff meetings that were very inclusive and pretty soon made me feel like being part of the team. Before summer, this, of course, was all still being done virtually.

The RRCHNM sign at GMU’s Research Hall

After summer, CHNM returned to an in-person operation, which finally allowed me to experience this very interesting working environment firsthand. Digital historians of all varieties share their workspace with technical developers to further the cause that had inspired Roy Rosenzweig to found the center in the first place. Democratizing history by using the latest media and technical resources is done there in a collaborative way that ­– in my experience – is otherwise quite unusual for historians.

Commuting to GMU’s Fairfax campus, however, proved to be more of a hurdle than I had imagined it to be. Forty-five minutes by metro were followed by a bus ride that took about the same amount of time. Had I owned a car, the trip could have been done in thirty to forty minutes. It was only later that I learned that GMU’s campus position was deliberately chosen this way. In the late 1940ies, it was clear to Virginians in Richmond that Northern Virginia needed a university. But they had no intention of providing one for those people in DC who were considered too liberal in the old capital of the South. Divisions that only existed in my abstract knowledge of US history before, suddenly, had a real impact on my everyday life. Luckily, the colleagues at the Center and Catie McGeever, a Ph.D. researcher at GMU, in particular, were very welcoming and more than made up for the inconvenience of traveling there. During our lunch- and coffee breaks, Catie was very open to discussing all the things that struck the German part of me as different or even strange in this country that I was so eager to understand.  

Together with a growing group of friends I met at the local climbing gym, this was the backdrop against which I did my research in 2021. In my application for the Gerda Henkel Fellowship for Digital History, I had outlined a vision for a research project, I wanted to develop to the point where I was able to write a proposal for third-party funding. The so-called Castle Garden dataset was supposed to stand at the heart of that project. As I mentioned above, this dataset contains about 11.2 million US immigrants from 19th century Europe. It is the result of an administrative process of knowledge production that started after the Steerage Act of 1819.  My initial idea was to select all those 4.2 million individuals whose country of birth had been written down as being ‘Germany’ – whatever that meant before 1871 – and analyze those datasets to get a deeper understanding of the process of German immigration to the United States during the 19th century. Because I had neither created the dataset myself nor was I involved in the digitization of the shipping/passenger lists, in a second step, I planned to do research on the history of this repository of knowledge as well. This way, the character and idiosyncrasies of the dataset that had emerged in a long and contingent process of knowledge production would become visible and could be taken into account when interpreting the findings. For both steps, migration research and research on the history of knowledge, digital analysis of the dataset would be the starting point for deeper, more qualitative studies. The parts in this hybrid project design thus would be linked by a digitally based mixed methodology.

The topic of German immigration to the United States – as you can imagine – has been studied quite thoroughly. But not a lot of new research has happened during the last 20 years. Analyzing the literature to gain a proper overview of the state of research, however, made one thing very clear. Historical narrations about the process, for the most part, fell into one of two categories. On the one hand, a lot of stories have been written about certain individuals or groups, whose actions have been interpreted as valuable contributions to US-American society or culture. On the other hand, there were millions of German immigrants who embarked on the transatlantic journey and who did not get the same attention. They were handled by late 20th-century historiography as a collective subject and were only represented in aggregated numbers. This way, these ‘masses’ stayed faceless and were described with aquatic metaphors like ‘waves’ ‘floods’ or ‘streams’ that themselves were taken directly from the anti-immigration discourse of the late 19th and early 20th-century. This, of course, only reproduced the immigrants’ marginalization. Efforts to compensate for these deficits remained limited and, as a consequence, our detailed understanding of the process itself stayed quite vague.

Reading additional papers and books on immigration from other European countries, these two modes appeared to be the main ways of storytelling. Moreover, it struck me that proper research on the process of European immigration to the United States during the 19th-century simply did not exist. The few studies that did exist, remained on the level of comparing the statistically produced, aggregated numbers of nation-states. For phenomena like these, Migration research uses the term ‘methodological nationalism’ and calls to overcome it.

At this point in time – we are speaking late August, early September (a lot of talks and papers were supposed to happen in 2020, but then didn’t and needed to be done in 2021 as well) – there was no way that I could develop a project that exclusively focused on German immigration to the United States anymore. Most of the potential of the dataset would have been lost and a chance for historical migration research would have been missed. So I set out to change the project design accordingly. Now, the new goal is to work with all 11.2 million datasets that constitute the Castle Garden dataset and to model and analyze the process of European Migration over a hundred years based on it. The dataset allows leaving national container spaces behind and to identify phenomena, structures, and dynamics of the process that are local, regional, transregional, national, or even transnational. Any spatial and temporal zoom level into the process becomes possible.

At the same time, the project aims at using the Castle Garden data to deal with the complex emergence of the sources. With the Steerage Act of 1819, the US government started its systematic production of knowledge about immigrants in the so-called ‘shipping lists’. Initially, this had two reasons. First, the number of immigrants had skyrocketed at the beginning of the 19th-century. As a result, ships were overbooked and overcrowded. To make things even worse, captains tried to maximize their profit and often did not carry enough rations to feed their passengers. To avoid starvation on board, regulating supplies and controlling the number of passengers thus became a concern. Second, the US government wanted to gain an overview of the number of people that arrived in the country. To that end, the ‘shipping lists’ were to be collected by the port authorities and send to the Secretary of State, who had to summarize them and report the numbers to the US congress. Up until 1921, when the so-called Emergency Quota Act started a new period of European immigration, the Steerage Act was augmented and replaced several times.

These facts are all known pretty well by historiography. What is still to be researched, though, are the discourses and negotiations that surrounded the augmentation and replacements of the Steerage Act. Especially when it comes to the question of how they influenced the knowledge that was produced in the shipping lists. With the Carriage of Passengers Act of 1855 e.g., new categories were introduced into the knowledge and although most of those categories of knowledge might seem natural to us today, it was actually the first time they were used in the process of producing data on immigration. Researching the ways, these categories found their way into the knowledge about the immigrants is something that is highly relevant to historical migration research and the history of knowledge. In this specific case, looking at the history of US censuses, of course, makes sense. But furthermore, I wonder how the learning processes actually looked like and if we can find other patterns or influences.

Among other things, analyzing the Castle Garden dataset by applying exploratory methods can help us identify, at what point in time new categories and attributes were introduced into this process of knowledge production and to identify periods, in which relevant discourses and decisions are to be expected.

These three pillars, a history of European migration to the United States, a history of knowledge of the act of monitoring this process, and a digital operationalization that expands traditional historical workflows by integrating exploratory methodologies, form the basis of a hybrid and inclusive project design. A lot of my work during the fellowship was conceptual and reflexive. The Gerda Henkel Fellowship for Digital History, luckily, provides space for exactly these kinds of work. Tangible results, for the most part, were produced in other projects, where data was already preprocessed for evaluation. (Here you can find a list of my most recent publications) Work for the project proposal itself was mostly preparatory. With the support of Emma Strano, an undergrad student at GMU, I worked through tens of thousands of data fragments that are now corrected and normalized. Still, this was only the beginning of the data preprocessing, and it takes a lot more work to prepare the entire dataset for analysis. At least, now, I have a good estimate of the effort that is needed to reach this goal. Second, I was able to go through some of the sources of the Bureau of Immigration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and its predecessors. But then again, this was just the start. These two holdings contain more relevant sources and the archives of other relevant institutions I haven’t even touched.

Presenting the results of my year of work at the CHNM’s all-staff meeting, December 6th, 2021.

Nonetheless, if you were to ask me, it was quite a productive year. The pandemic of course made arriving and doing my work harder, but being a digital historian it luckily did not need to come to a halt. Most of what I wanted to achieve in my time as the Gerda Henkel Fellow for Digital History, I did – and a lot more. Workwise and otherwise. Right from the start, it was an exciting time in a fascinating country and I still marvel at all the impressions that, yet unordered, are buzzing around in my head. Let’s see, how the narratives will form.

Here, back in Germany, people often ask me if I would move over there indefinitely. I sometimes wonder what motivates them to ask that question. However, the honest answer is, that I don’t know about that. The gray winter clouds hanging low above the city of Osnabrück surely do not help. The bright blue sky and the warming sun in DC are still very present in my memory. But, it is way too early to pass judgment. What I can report is that a new feeling has emerged. A strange pull and a strive for more. I am excited to find out where it will lead me.

For now, it is good to be home again. Every adventure has to end at some point so that new ones can begin. At Osnabrück University, I returned to my former positions as the researcher in the DFG funded Project ‘Überwachung. Macht. Ordnung’ and senior researcher in the working group ‘Data Driven History’. What comes next, is still unknown. I will keep you posted.

The Logistics of Mass Murder. Calculating distances from the Mittelbau-Dora ‘Book of the Dead’

By Dr. Sebastian Bondzio & Lukas Hennies, M.A.

The so-called ‘Book of the Dead’ of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial opens up a unique window into the logistical structures and processes behind the production of death through forced labor and mass murder in the Third Reich. This database contains information on a total of 11,320 people who died directly or indirectly as a result of the working and living conditions in the Mittelbau-Dora camp system. Employees of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials have compiled personal information and made it available to the public. Historical research now has access to rudimentary data on about half of the people who died in the Mittelbau-Dora camp system in the Kohnstein near Nordhausen.[1] In addition to personal information such as surname, first name, and date of birth, the dataset also contains three different types of location information: 1) The place of death, which corresponds to one of the camp locations of the Mittelbau-Dora camp system. 2)  The location from which the prisoners were deported to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, e.g., the offices of the Gestapo, the Criminal Police, the Security Police, or the Security Service of the Reichsführer-SS, as well as other concentration camps. 3) The birthplace of the victims.

Places of death are known for all 11,320 persons in the dataset, also the birthplaces for 8,903 persons and places of deportation for only 4,207. However, due to the mechanisms of the National Socialist disciplinary system, consisting of a series of institutions that organized Nazi terror based on a division of labor, it can be assumed that each person was taken to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp via at least one other station.

A visualization of places of death, places of deportation, and places of birth already indicates the immense scope of the Mittelbau-Dora camp system and shows where death in the camp had its social and emotional relevance.[2] If the places of birth are analyzed in a chronologically differentiated manner, new insights into the operation and functioning of the Mittelbau-Dora camp system will emerge. (More here)[3]

Places of death, Places of Deportation and Places of Birth in the Book of the Dead of the CC Mittelbau-Dora

These initial findings immediately raise questions about the logistical system the Germans set up to deport their millions of victims. People died far from their homes. The distances over which they were deported were immense. Until lately these have either been determined in individual cases or simply estimated. The location data of the so-called death book, however, now make it possible to calculate the distances automatically for all 11,320 victims in the Book of Death. This reveals the extent of the spatial impact of the concentration camp system, and thus makes a very important dimension of forced mobility tangible.

With the help of the data of the Book of the Dead, where the information is available, four distances[4] can be determined: 1) the distance between the birthplace and the place of death. 2) The distance between the birthplace and the place of deportation. 3) The distance between the place of deportation and the place of death. 4) The sum of 2) and 3) as distance, which provides a more tangible impression of the total distance traveled by the victims until their arrival at Mittelbau-Dora. Further, non-spatial attributes in the Book of the Dead allow for the differentiation of these findings.

The greatest distance between the birthplace, the place of deportation, and the camp at Kohnstein was covered by Ivan Karpenko. He was born on June 25th, 1927 in the Russian town of Aim, in the Ayano-Maysky District in the Khabarovsk Krai, 13,684 km from Mittelbau-Dora. We have no further information about his life. We also do not know what caused him to be sent to Flossenbürg concentration camp and from there to Mittelbau-Dora on December 6th, 1944. The only thing we do know is that he died two and a half months later, on March 18th, 1945, in the ” SS-Arbeitslager Hans”, a subcamp in Harzungen. Artur Wenkel, in contrast, covered the shortest distance. His birthplace, Gerterode, was only 36 km from his place of death in Nordhausen, the location of the main camp. About his life, we only know when it ended, too. He died of the consequences of his internment on May 3rd, 1945, already a few weeks after the liberation of Mittelbau-Dora and only five days before the end of the Second World War.

The average distance between the birthplace and place of death of all victims was much closer to that of Artur Wenkel than to that of Ivan Karpenko. Each person covered an average of 1,268 km. This results in a circle around the main location of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, which includes Dublin in the west, Minsk in the east, Naples in the south, and almost reaches Trondheim in the north. Large parts of Southern, Northern, Central, Eastern and Western Europe are included. The immense sphere of the concentration camps becomes visible.

These general findings can be further differentiated. For example, the distance between the birthplace and the place from which a person was deported to Mittelbau-Dora was on average 1,020 km, the average distance between the place of deportation and the place of death was 585 km, and the average sum of the two distances was 1,319 km. From the cases where information on the place of deportation is available, we can thus determine that distances were considerably longer.

A radius of about 1,000 km seems to have been the median impact radius of a concentration camp. This can be assumed on the basis of the averaged distances between the birthplace and the place of deportation, which can be calculated from those cases in which victims were deported to Mittelbau-Dora from other concentration camps: For the eleven victims e.g. who came from the Mauthausen concentration camp, this distance was lowest at 872 km, and for the 102 victims who came from the Flossenbürg concentration camp, it was highest at 1,077 km. The 118 prisoners, who were deported from Auschwitz concentration camp to Mittelbau-Dora, were born within a radius of 928 km. The spheres of influence of the concentration camps thus overlapped, although a more detailed analysis does reveal different regional focal points.[5]

Regional impact of different Concentration Camps based on data from the Book of the Dead of the CC Mittelbau-Dora

A first differentiation also reveals that distances were far greater when a person was deported directly from the Gestapo to Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. The four victims who came from the Gestapo in Halle/Saale had been born an average of 2,681 km from the place of their deportation; persons who came from the Criminal Police in Kassel, an average of 2,340 km. In both cases, they probably were forced laborers from the occupied territories of the USSR who had already been abducted and forced to work in the German Reich before their imprisonment and death in the Harz Mountains.

Method and Scripting

The calculation of distances in more than 11,000 datasets is an example of the advantages of automated data processing. Its results open up new perspectives for research on the concentration camp system in the German Reich, on forced labor and mass murder.

To determine the distances, we have developed a script that calculates distances automatically and en masse using the so-called Haversine formula. The Haversine formula is part of spherical trigonometry and calculates the distance between two points on a sphere. After geocoding the locations in the dataset of the Mittelbau-Dora Book of the Dead, the location data can not only be visualized cartographically. It also becomes possible to compute the location data through x and y-coordinates.

For the use of the Haversine formula, a Python library already exists, which can be accessed under the name ‘haversine‘. To calculate the distance between two points, the geocoordinates of the respective locations must be read in. Furthermore, the function expects a unit for the output of the distances that are being calculated: in this case kilometers, rounded to two decimal places.

Preparatively, we have transferred the coordinates of the points as well as the necessary personal unique identifier (ID) from a relational database into a .csv file, which is read by the script (input file). For this purpose, we also use a Python library that provides certain functions for reading and writing .csv files. Using the ID, this data can be enriched with information from the Book of the Dead and other sources. This later allows differentiated analyses according to time or other personal information.

For each Person in the Book of the Dead the .csv file contains a row that consists of the ID and the geocoordinates for the birthplace, the place of deportation to Mittelbau-Dora, and the place of death. If there is no place given by the Book of the Dead, the coordinates fields are ‘NULL’ – ‘NULL’ describes a state that represents the absence of a value.

In general, historical records of mass data are not complete – in this case, we know the place of death for every person listed in the book of the dead, but not always the birthplace and even more rarely the place of deportation. So, in order not to cause an error message and the abortion of the script for the entire dataset with the first missing coordinate, when calculating the distances, conditions for data processing have to be defined.

This is part of the script:
# read xy-coordinates
    with open(INPUTFILE,encoding='utf-8',newline='') as md_xy_list:
        md_xy_list_reader = csv.reader(md_xy_list, delimiter=';')
        for row in md_xy_list_reader:
            id = row[0]
            # distance birthplace - place of death
            if row[1] != "NULL":
                dist_go_to = "NULL"

For each row in the dataset, the script checks whether the necessary coordinates for calculating the partial distances described above are available. This creates a sequence of if-else conditions for the partial distances, the result of which is either the output of the distance in kilometers or the entry ‘NULL’. The latter is the case if no information is available in a location category of the death book.

Finally, the script writes a new .csv file (output file), which now no longer consists of the coordinates, but instead contains the IDs with the distances between birthplace and place of death, the two partial distances (birthplace to place of deportation, place of deportation to place of death) as well as the sum of the two partial distances. This information can be import into the database for further analysis of the entire dataset or manually selected samples.

The entire script including input and output files can be viewed and executed here. If you want to try the procedure with your own data, you are welcome to clone and edit the script on, a free online notebook.


[1] Approximately 20,000 people died in the Mittelbau-Dora camp complex. See: Also:
Jens-Christian Wagner, Produktion des Todes. Das KZ Mittelbau-Dora, Göttingen 2015; Wolfgang Benz/Barbara Distel/Angelika Königseder (Hg.), Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. Bd. 3: Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, München 2006; dies. (Hg.), Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager. Bd. 7: Niederhagen/ Wewelsburg, Lublin-Majdanek, Arbeitsdorf, Herzogenbuch (Vught), Bergen-Belsen, Mittelbau-Dora, München 2008.

[2] Information on the places of residence and life of the victims is not known. The place of birth is the only information that allows us to narrow down the context of origin. We are aware of the imprecision of this information.

[3] Siehe: Christoph Rass/Ismee Thames/Sebastan Bondzio, People on the Move. Revisiting Events and Narratives of the European Refugee Crisis (1930s-1950s), in: Jahrbuch des Internationalen Tracing Service 5 (2016), S. 36-55; Henning Borggräfe/Lukas Hennies/Christoph Rass, Geoinformationssysteme in der historischen Forschung. Praxisbeispiele aus der Untersuchung von Flucht, Verfolgung und Migration in den 1930er- bis 1950er-Jahren, in: Zeithistorische Forschung, forthcoming.

[4] The term “distance” in this context means the direct distance between two places – independent of e.g. transport infrastructure. It follows the calculation of so-called orthodromes, the shortest distance between two points on a sphere.

[5] See:


Why the History of Knowledge Matters in a Digital History of Migration

“Trying to understand German migration to the United States in the nineteenth century raises the problem of how the U.S. migration regime shaped the data that researchers rely on in the first place.”

In a recent post on the renowned Migrant Knowledge blog, our own Dr. Sebastian Bondzio (currently Gerda Henkel Fellow for Digital History at the GHI in Washington DC and the RRCHNM at George Mason University) reflects upon the necessity for and potentials of a history of knowledge when working with ‘historical big data’ on migration.

Read the full blog post here.

Sebastian Bondzio interviewed by the German Historical Institute (Washington DC)

Since January 1, 2021, Dr. Sebastian Bondzio, Research Associate of the Chair of Modern History and Historical Migration Studies, has been the new Gerda Henkel Fellow for Digital History at the GHI in Washington DC and the RRCHNM at George Mason University in Fairfax (VA).
There he has recently been interviewed about his work of the past years, the approaches used in the working group Data-Driven History@NGHM, and his current project for the fellowship.

Read the full interview here!

Eröffnung zur rechten Zeit – Osnabrücker Gedenkstätten laden in ihre neue Dauerausstellung

Seit 2001 befindet sich im Westflügel des Osnabrücker Schlosses die Gedenkstätte ‚Gestapokeller‘. Zusammen mit der Gedenkstätte ‚Augustaschacht‘, nur wenige Kilometer südlich von Osnabrück, formt sie ein deutschlandweit einmaliges Ensemble. Im ‚Gestapokeller‘ folterte die NS-Geheimpolizei Verdächtige und erzwang auf brutale Weise Geständnisse. Im ‚Augustaschacht‘ richtete sie 1944 ein sog. Arbeitserziehungslager (AEL) ein und deportierte dorthin diejenigen, die sich dem Arbeitszwang zu widersetzen wagten. Um solchen Widerstand zu brechen, schuf die Gestapo im AEL bewusst Bedingungen, die diejenigen in den Konzentrationslagern an Grausamkeit noch übertrafen. Insgesamt 2.000 Menschen waren dort, am Hüggel, inhaftiert, mehr als 100 wurden ermordet oder starben an Entkräftung.

Die historische Verbindung zwischen den beiden Orten hebt die neue Dauerausstellung der beiden Osnabrücker Gedenkstätten hervor. Ab dem 7. Juli 2020 ist sie für den Publikumsverkehr geöffnet.  Unter dem Titel ‚Polizeigewalt und Zwangsarbeit‘ werden dort nun zwei Themen erörtert, die bis heute nichts an ihrer Relevanz verloren haben.
(Weitere Informationen hier)

Die umfassende Um- und Neugestaltung der Gedenkstätten wurde durch intensive wissenschaftliche Recherchen vorbereitet. Dafür kooperierte die Universität Osnabrück (UOS) einmal mehr mit dem Gedenkstättenverein. Befunde und Erkenntnisse aus dem DFG-geförderten Forschungsprojekt ‚Überwachung. Macht. Ordnung. Personen- und Vorgangskarteien als Herrschaftsinstrument der Gestapo‘ der Professur für Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung flossen, parallel zu ihrer wissenschaftlichen Publikation, ebenso in die Ausstellung ein wie die im Projekt aufwändig und vollständig digitalisierte Osnabrücker Gestapo Kartei.

In Ihrer Kartei speicherte die Gestapo auf knapp 49.000 Karten Informationen zu rund 48.000 Personen und hielt in rund 41.000 sog. Sachverhalten fest, was sie Personen zur Last legte. Nutzen die Wissenschaftler*innen der UOS diesen zentralen Wissens- und Vorratsdatenspeicher der Geheimpolizei im Forschungsprojekt zur umfassenden Erforschung der Gestapo selbst, bietet er den Besucher*innen der Gedenkstätte ‚Gestapokeller‘ die Gelegenheit, Individuen an einer digitalen Station selbstständig zu recherchieren, persönlichen Beziehungen nachzuspüren und darüber den tausenden Opfern der nationalsozialistischen Polizeigewalt im ehemaligen Regierungsbezirk Osnabrück einen Namen zu geben.

So ausgestattet bietet die neue Dauerausstellung in den beiden Osnabrücker Gedenkstätten einen hervorragenden Rahmen, um zwei Aspekte der finstersten Zeit deutscher Geschichte eingehend zu reflektieren und diskutieren. Dies ist dringend geboten. Denn der historisch informierte Blick auf die jüngsten Ereignisse in den USA sowie die Reformen in Hongkong gibt Anlass zur Befürchtung, das nichts jemals wirklich vorbei ist. Freiheit war, ist und bliebt ein staatsbürgerliches Projekt.

Und über die Formen moderner Sklaverei haben wir dann noch gar nicht gesprochen…

Dr. Sebastian Bondzio

Neuerscheinung: Soldatentod und Durchhaltebereitschaft. Eine Stadtgesellschaft im Ersten Weltkrieg

Der Erste Weltkrieg dauerte mehr als vier Jahre. Am Ende waren 2 Millionen deutsche Soldaten tot. Sebastian Bondzio fragt in seinem neuen Buch, was dies für eine Gesellschaft bedeutete und wie es ihr möglich war, den Krieg unter dem Eindruck des Sterbens so lange zu führen.

Zur Beantwortung unternimmt seine historische Analyse am Fallbeispiel der Stadt Osnabrück drei Schritte: Erstens vermisst sie das Sterbegeschehen in den Operationsgebieten des Ersten Weltkriegs und zeigt darüber die komplexen Verknüpfungen zwischen den beiden Sphären »Front« und »Heimat« auf.
Zweitens verortet sie die Toten in der Stadtgesellschaft und macht die Übersetzung des Sterbens auf eine Stadtgesellschaft sichtbar. Beide Schritte verdeutlichen die quantitativen Dimensionen des Sterbens im Krieg und rufen dazu auf, das historische Narrativ einer »Massentrauer« zu hinterfragen.
Der dritte Teil nimmt dies zum Ausgangspunkt und arbeitet heraus, wie eine Gesellschaft, die Trauer zunehmend als Bedrohung wahrnahm, sich selbst disziplinierte und zum Zwecke der Kriegsführung eine neue Kriegskultur gab.

Thomas Großbölting / Sabine Kittel: Welche “Wirklichkeit” und wessen “Wahrheit”. Das Geheimdienstarchiv als Quelle und Medium der Wissensproduktion, eine Rezenzion von sebastian Bondzio

In den vergangenen Dekaden wurden zahlreiche, ursprünglich verborgene Vorgänge durch die (Teil-)Öffnung von Geheimdienstarchiven in diversen Ländern für die historische Forschung zugänglich. Dies nehmen Thomas Großbölting und Sabine Kittel in dem Sammelband Welche „Wirklichkeit“ und wessen „Wahrheit“? Das Geheimdienstarchiv als Quelle und Medium der Wissensproduktion zum Anlass, nach den Möglichkeiten historischer Erkenntnis aus geheimdienstlichen Überlieferungen zu fragen.
Folgerichtig überwinden Großbölting und Kittel dafür…

Auf H-Soz-Kult weiterlesen

Hands-on-GIS Workshop – Nachbereitung per VideotutoRial

Am 17. und 18. Februar 2020 fand in der Abteilung NGHM der erste GIS-Workshop statt. In dessen Rahmen wurden Mitarbeiter*innen der Abteilung und unseres Kooperationspartners, dem Institut für Zeitgeschichte der Universität Wien, mit Geoinformationssystemen (GIS) vertraut gemacht.

Während seiner Begrüßung stellte Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass die große Bedeutung von GIS für die Arbeit in seinen Team heraus. Die ‘Interdisziplinäre Konfliklandschaftsforschung’ nutzt GIS als Tool, das Fachübegreifende Kommunikation ermöglicht. Vom Team ‘Historical Big Data’ werden GIS in unterschiedlichen Zusammenhängen analytisch eingesetzt.

Anschließend zeigte Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio die Potenziale und Grenzen des Einsatzes von GIS auf und diskutierte dafür diverse Projekte, die in der Abteilung NGHM in den vergangenen sieben Jahren realisiert worden sind.

Lukas Hennies führte die Teilnehmer*innen in die Datenvorbereitung ein, demonstrierte die Notwendigkeit sorgfältiger Datenvorbereitung und zeigte darüber das Maß an Arbeit auf, das bereits vor der Datenanalyse im GIS aufgewendet werden muss.

Malte Schwickert schloss die Reihe der Einführungsvorträge ab und erläuterte in seinem Beitrag die grundlegende Architektur von und den Datenimport in ArcMap 10, dessen Nutzung die Teilnehmer*innen erlernen wollten.

Es folgten vier Hands-on-Sessions, in denen Dr. des, Sebastian Bondzio, Lukas Hennies und Malte Schwickert die Teilnehmer*innen anleiteten, selbstständig GIS zu verwenden. Für die Nachbereitung des GIS-Worksops hat Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio nun Video-Tutorials erstellt, mit denen die Arbeitsschritte des Workshops noch einmal nachvollzogen und vertieft werden können:

1. Einführung in die Video-Tutorials
2. GIS-Basics und Datenimport
3. Datenvisualisierung I
4. Datenvisualisierung II
5. Datenanalyse
6. Tracking-Tool

Zur YouTube-Playlist geht es HIER.

Dr. des Sebastian Bondzio

Gefallene und ihre Heimat – Den ‚Impact‘ des Ersten Weltkriegs empirisch vermessen

Zwischen 1914 und 1918 starben rund 2 Millionen deutsche Soldaten. Sie hatten auf ständig wechselnden Schlachtfeldern des totalen und globalen Krieges gekämpft, getötet und  schließlich selbst ihr Leben verloren. Während es ihren Verlust im militärischen Kontext möglichst rasch zu ersetzen galt, wirkten die Todesfälle in der ‚Heimat‘ der Soldaten nach. Dort hatte man sich um ihr Wohlergehen gesorgt, musste immer wieder um ihr Leben bangen, schaffte es manchmal, sich Hoffnung zu machen, und wurde am Ende doch vom Tod erschüttert.

Während 1918 rund 85 Prozent der Soldaten immerhin lebendig von ihrem Einsatz zurückkehrten, mussten sich rund 15 Prozent der deutschen Familien der Realität des Soldatentodes stellen. Im Forschungsprojekt ‚Gefallene‘ in der Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Das Sterben von Soldaten im Ersten Weltkrieg und seine Nachwirkungen im Westen Niedersachsens haben wir in der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung zwischen 2013 und 2018 die Folgen des Sterbens der deutschen Soldaten im Ersten Weltkrieg am Fallbeispiel der Stadt Osnabrück untersucht.

Die Leitfrage lautete dabei: Wie war es einer Gesellschaft möglich, vier Jahre lang Krieg zu führen, während über die ganze Zeit hinweg Soldaten aus der Mitte der Gesellschaft starben. Die Resultate des Forschungsprojekts gewähren erstaunliche Einblicke in die emotionalen und kulturellen Mechanismen einer deutschen Kriegsgesellschaft, stellen die etablierten historischen Narrative von ‚Massentrauer‘ und ‚Trauergesellschaften‘ deutlich in Frage und führen zu einer neuen Interpretation der deutschen Kriegsgesellschaft.

Auf dem Weg dorthin haben wir uns digitale Kompetenzen erarbeitet und angeeignet, mit denen wir personenbezogene historische Massendaten differenziert auswerten und sodann in unsere Analysen einbeziehen können. Mit ihrer Hilfe konnten wir die Übersetzungsverhältnisse zwischen ‚Front‘ und ‚Heimat‘ aufzeigen und darüber die Rekrutierungspraktiken des Deutschen Heeres adressieren. Entgegen der Annahme, ein Regiment sei traditionell mit der Stadt seiner Garnison und ihrer Einwohnerschaft verbunden, wird auf diese Weise deutlich, wie divers die regionale Zusammensetzung in einem Regiment war. Zur gleichen Zeit zeigte sich bei der Analyse der rund 2.200 Osnabrücker ‚Gefallenen‘, in wie vielen unterschiedlichen Einheiten diese gedient hatten.

Abbildung 1: Geburtsorte der ‘Gefallenen’ des Infanterie Regiments 78
Abbildung 2: Geburtsorte der Gefallenen’ des Reserve Infanterie Regiments 92
Abbildung 3: Geburtsorte der ‘Gefallenen’ des Reserve Infanterie Regiments 229

Die drei wichtigsten waren das Infanterie Regiment (IR) 78, das Reserve Infanterie Regiment (RIR) 92 und das RIR 229. In ihren zahllosen Einsätzen starben die meisten Osnabrücker Soldaten. Zugleich waren sie in jeder der drei Einheiten immer nur eine regionale Gruppe unter anderen. Der Blick auf die Geburtsorte der ‚Gefallenen‘ dieser Einheiten zeigt dies deutlich: Das IR 78 rekrutierte seine Soldaten vorwiegend in Osnabrück, deckte darüber hinaus den gesamten Raum des Regierungsbezirks Osnabrück ab und hatte aber auch einen sehr deutlichen Schwerpunkt in Ostfriesland, wo das III. Bataillon des Regiments stationiert war. (Abb. 1) Das RIR 92 hatte zwar ebenfalls einen erheblichen Anteil Osnabrücker Soldaten, rekrutierte sich ansonsten aber aus einem wesentlich größeren Raum. Einige Soldaten kamen aus dem Westen und Nordwesten Niedersachsens, viele aber auch aus Bremen oder dem Raum um Hamelns, Hannover, Braunschweig und Göttingen. (Abb. 2) Im RIR 229 machten die Osnabrücker dann nur noch eine Minderheit aus. Das Regiment wurde Ende 1914 in Breslau aufgestellt und wurde zu Beginn des Folgejahres mit einem Ersatz-Bataillon des IR 78 verstärkt. Entsprechend komplex ist der Rekrutierungsraum. Die meisten Soldaten waren direkt in Breslau geboren worden und der Rest des Regiments kam aus dem gesamten Bereich der Provinz Hannover. Dabei treten die bevölkerungsreichen Räume um Hannover und Osnabrück wieder deutlich hervor. (Man kann das Chaos im Regiment erahnen, wenn Ostfriesen mit Schlesiern kommunizieren mussten.) (Abb. 3)

Diese Rekrutierungspraxis hatte folgen für die ‚Heimatgesellschaft‘: Zog nun nämlich ein Regiment in die Schlacht, waren die Verluste häufig hoch. Diese trafen im Deutschen Reich aber nicht geballt eine Stadt oder eine Kommune, sondern verteilten sich über die vielen Ortschaften und Städte des Rekrutierungsgebietes. Diese Verteilungseffekte federten den ‚Impact‘ großer Schlachten auf die ‚Heimatfront‘ ab. Für eine Stadt wiederum bedeute dies, dass die Todesnachrichten sie nicht immer wieder schlagartig trafen, sondern vielmehr stetig in geringem Maß aus ganz unterschiedlichen Schlachtkontexten kamen.

Zweierlei wird aus diesen Befunden sehr deutlich:

1. Darf derjenige, der die Geschichte der Soldaten einer deutschen Stadt studieren möchte, keine Abkürzung nehmen und sich auf ein Regiment fixieren, sondern muss den Aufwand auf sich nehmen, die komplexen militärischen Verflechtungen aufzudecken und dafür zahlreiche und vielfältige Quellen befragen.

2. Bewirkte die breite Rekrutierungspraxis des Deutschen Heeres im Ersten Weltkrieg und die daraus resultierenden Verteilung der Verluste, dass die Herkunftsgesellschaften durch sie in gewisser Weise geschont wurden. Nur durch den gleichzeitigen Einsatz der drei Regimenter zu Beginn und am Ende des Krieges kamen Todesbenachrichtigungen überhaupt gehäuft nach Osnabrück, was dann allerdings unmittelbare Konsequenzen hatte: 1914 verursachten sie einen kulturellen Wandel und führten zur Etablierung einer repressiven Kriegskultur. 1918 versetzten sie die Osnabrücker in Angst und läuteten das Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs ein.

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio

Gestapo-Forschung Digital. Historical Big Data und Data Mining in 3D

In der Arbeitsgruppe Digital History und SocialGIS der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung erkundet Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio digitale Methoden zur Analyse der Osnabrücker Gestapo-Kartei. Diese wurde im DFG-Geförderten Forschungsprojekt “Überwachung. Macht. Ordnung. Personen- und Vorgangskarteien als Herrschaftsinstrument der Gestapo” vollständig, maschinenlesbar digitalisiert. In dieser Form kann das in ihr von der Gestapo gespeicherte ‘Wissen’ über rund 48.000 Personen und den Umgang der NS-Geheimpolizei mit ihnen in seiner Gesamtheit z.B. mithilfe von Geoinformationen (GIS) ausgewertet werden.

Als besonders erkenntnisfördernd erweisen sich dabei Technologien der explorativen Datenanalyse. Sie ermöglichen hypothesenfreie Zugänge zu historical Big Data, visualisieren deren immanente Strukturen und geben Historiker*innen damit die Möglichkeit, auch sehr große historische Datenbestände ausführlich zu beforschen.

Für die 3D-Visualisierung der Gestapo-Kartei wurden die rund 40.000 sog. Sachverhalte der Osnabrücker Gestapo-Kartei auf die erfassten Wohnorte der Personen projiziert, auf deren Karteikarten die Gestapo die Sachverhalte vermerkte. Sie wurden mithilfe von Space-Time-Pattern-Mining-Tools in einem Space-Time-Cube aggregiert und in einem GIS visualisiert.

Als Ergebnis ist nun das in der Gestapo-Kartei versammelte ‘Wissen’ der Gestapo in einem Bild zu sehen. Im GIS wird sichtbar, wann die Gestapo über welchen Raum in welcher Intensität ‘Wissen’ produziert hat. Dieser explorative Arbeitsschritt bildet den Ausgangpunkt für tiefgehende historische Untersuchungen der NS-Geheimpolizei.

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio

Internationale Kooperation in der Digital History des Zweiten Weltkriegs: Griechisches Forscherteam zu Workshop in Osnabrück

Am 17. Dezember 2019 waren Dr. Valentin Schneider, Leiter des Forschungsprojekts ‘Database of German Military and Paramilitary Units in Greece 1941-1944/45’ der National Hellenic Research Foundation, und sein Team zu Gast in Osnabrück. Ziel des eintägigen Workshops war es, eine Datenbank zu testen, mit der im Forschungsprojekt die Daten der Stationierung deutscher Einheiten in Griechenland während des Zweiten Weltkriegs aus militärhistorischen Quellen erhoben werden können.

Einer Einführung in die technischen Grundlagen der Datenbankarbeit folgten Test des Forscherteams mit Originalquellen, um das Datenbankdesign optimal an den Workflow der griechischen Kolleg*innen anzupassen.

Die Datenbank wird vom externen Mitarbeiter des Forschungsprojekts an der Universität Osnabrück, Lukas Hennies, im Rahmen der Arbeitsgruppe Digital History & SocialGIS in der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung entwickelt. Sie dient als Grundlage einer interaktiven WebGIS-Anwendung, die nach Ablauf des Forschungsprojektes der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert wird.

HIER geht es zur Projektwebsite

Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass
Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio
Lukas Hennies, M.A.

Vortrag Online: “Vom Archiv zur Auswertung. Serielle Quellen in der digital History”

Am 4. November 2019 sprach Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio, Senior Researcher und Leiter der Arbeitsgruppe Digital History in der Abteilung Neueste Geschichte und Historische Migrationsforschung, auf Einladung des Arbeitskreises “Offene Archive” im Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. in Berlin über seine digitale Arbeit mit der Osnabrücker Gestapo Kartei im DFG-geförderten Forschungsprojekt “Überwachung. Macht. Ordnung. Personen- und Vorgangskarteien als Herrschaftsinstrument der Gestapo” und präsentierte erste Forschungsergebnisse.

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio spricht beim BStU in Berlin über seine Forschungsarbeit

Link zur Konferenzwebsite:

Dr. des. Sebastian Bondzio