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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Germanic Languages & Literatures

Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



The relation between memory and identity is significant, particularly if an identity-establishing entity such as a state has vanished. In the context of GDR memory, this pertains to the type of memory discourse: what is remembered, how, and by whom? What are the differences in the discourse about East German memory between the US and Germany?

Based on approaches of the Aleida Assmann’s approaches to individual, collective, and cultural memory this thesis seeks to examine the notion and impact of archives in collective memory processes and to analyze the extent to which the medium of film as a concrete and abstract archival complex can represent a part of individual and collective memory. Therefore, I combine the notion of the archive – based on approaches of Benjamin and Foucault – with memory discourses, going beyond the archive’s material character. Furthermore, in my analysis I follow the media studies’ definitions of film as a material-based dualistic, communicative and semiotic system.

The analysis focuses on the work of the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which is important for American utilization and circulation of DEFA films and the distribution of audiovisual images of and about the former GDR.

The DEFA Film Library is the only archive and research center outside of Germany devoted to a broad spectrum of filmmaking from and related to the former GDR. The DEFA Film Library has been distributing DEFA movies and providing materials for media education since the early 1990s.

In this thesis, I examine the multilayered role of the DEFA Film Library in US-East German sociocultural relationships, particularly with respect to its impact on raising awareness of East German culture, history and politics through public and academic film programming and exchange. Using the DEFA Film Library’s work as a case study, I analyze the political impact of film work amidst the challenges of preserving, circulating, and communicating the audiovisual memory of the GDR.


First Advisor

Barton Byg

Second Advisor

Skyler Arndt-Briggs

Third Advisor

Jon Berndt Olsen