CSS Colloquium: Martin Weiβ, German Maritime Museum, Bremerhaven

"Don’t Mention the War": German Research Vessels and the Cold War

23.08.2017 | Randi Mosegaard

Dato ons 25 okt
Tid 14:15 15:45
Sted Aud G1 (1532-116)

Abstract: Over the course of the 1960s, three new state-sponsored research vessels were built in the Federal Republic of Germany: the fisheries research vessel “Walther Herwig”, the naval research vessel “Planet” and the oceanographic research vessel “Meteor II”. Initially, a total sum of 20 Million DM was earmarked for the construction of these three vessels – ultimately, the oceanographic research vessel on its own cost as much.

The huge price tag provides an indication as to how much importance was attached to each of these ships. This presentation offers a closer look at the reasons why they were built – both those offered in public and those brought forth “behind the scenes”. It will be shown how Germany’s membership of NATO, the outcome of the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I), German marine scientists’ strong desire to dissociate themselves from the fishing industry, and the politicking of one particular civil servant at the West German ministry of agriculture all played a major part in the three vessels being constructed in the way they were.

The events leading up to the construction of these research vessels also serve to illustrate some of the idiosyncrasies of the Cold War as it played out in Germany. At one point, funding for the naval research vessel was in serious danger of being cancelled because it was deemed politically inappropriate for Germans to conduct oceanographic research under the auspices of the German navy.

Finally, it will be argued that while research vessels provide fruitful case studies for historians and sociologists of science in that they bring together nautical expertise, laboratory work and multidisciplinary field exploration, their role as nodal points in the circulation of knowledge can only be fully understood if one takes into account the history of their construction.

Biographical details speaker: Martin Weiss is a postdoctoral researcher at the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, where he is currently working on a new exhibition and book on research vessels and their history. He received his PhD in the history of science from Leiden University in 2013.

Contact details speaker: Martin Weiss, Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum, Hans-Scharoun-Platz 1, 27568 Germany; weiss@dsm.museum; +49 (0)176 204 58 858.

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