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Cordelia Hess


Institutionen för historiska
Renströmsgatan 6
41255 Göteborg
Box 200
40530 Göteborg

Om Cordelia Hess

Born 1977, docent in history. M.A. from Hamburg University in history, theology and Scandinavian languages (2003), PhD from the same university in Medieval and Modern History (2007). 2009-2012, postdoc at Stockholm university, 2013 docent. Since 2012 researcher at the Royal Academy of Letters, Literature and Antiquities (Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien). In recent years research fellow at Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Tel Aviv University and Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung, Berlin. Since 2014 senior lecturer at the Department of Historical Studies.

Research Activities

My main interest is the interconnection between religion and politics, including the relation between religious majority and minority groups. I am also interested in processes of translation; between different languages, cultural regions and discourses or systems of knowledge. I often focus on the use of history and historical images in contemporary ideologies and political movements. This involves most recently several studies on the history of historiography, mainly in the area of German scholarship of the interwar period and National Socialism and how these scholars created paradigms for medieval population history and cultural history. The geographical focus of my work is on the Middle Low German area and the region that used to be the Teutonic Order’s state during the Middle Ages, Prussia. My research centers around four topics: hagiography, historical semantics, and most recently, Jewish-Christian relations and antisemitism, and late medieval urban conflicts.

My most recent monograph Social Imagery in Middle Low German addresses social metaphors. The purpose of the study is to question the historical narrative whereby the Holy Roman Empire was a homogeneous political construct, as well as to highlight the fact that the changes in the ecclesiastical and secular power relations that took place during the Reformation had their semantic precursor some 50 ̶100 years earlier – at least in the Northern parts of the Empire and in the Baltic region. Besides social ordering within Christian society, the social imagery investigated also draws attention towards its boundaries, here mostly represented by Jews.

Currently, my main project is an exploration of Jewish life in medieval Prussia and a study of the related German historiography. Although there has been substantial research into most aspects of Jewish life and Jewish settlement during the European Middle Ages, Prussia remains largely overlooked. There are two reasons for this: on the one hand, the source material is very limited, and on the other hand, there is a preconception that the German landlords had an active anti-Jewish policy and forbade Jewish settlements. The work of most of the researchers from the late 1800s until National Socialism and also in post-war Germany and Poland supported this thesis. The most influential and comprehensive survey was published in 1937 by Kurt Forstreuter, an archivist at the Staatsarchiv Königsberg who was actively involved in the looting of Polish and Jewish archives in the occupied territories. Forstreuter concluded that the Teutonic Order had functioned as an effective Germanic bulwark ("Bollwerk") against the surrounding Ostjudentum. Despite his undeniably antisemitic perspective, Forstreuter’s assertions about the medieval Jewish communities have never been questioned. My study is not aimed at detecting previously unknown Jewish communities in medieval Prussia, but is going to show that the Teutonic Order did not pursue an active anti-Jewish policy, and that Prussia was an area with comparatively little anti-Jewish propaganda and few conflicts between Christian and Jewish inhabitants.

For a complete list of publications, see Academia