For the Historians‘ Laboratory, art and academic research belong together: it shows art as research and research as art.
The Laboratory consists of professional historians and has developed a distinctive interdisciplinary approach: on the one hand, established methodologies of contemporary historic research are used to generate material and personae for a documentary theatre; on the other hand, innovative forms of documentary theatre become the means of applied research.
The documentary theatre trilogy “The invention and extermination of the untermensch: Nazi Germany’s organised murder of the Jews, Slavs, and Sinti and Roma” serves as an example for the Laboratory’s way of working. Beginning with the historiographic research of sources, the Laboratory assembles a montage of protocols, file memoranda, letters, recollections and the historians’ own comments. The final result is a multi-perspectival performance: an ongoing experiment between the researcher-performers witnessed by the audience.
The historians present themselves as historians, as both professionals and non-actors. They do not create a role, but display their work on stage: currently, this is their investigation of how the perpetrators of the Nazi atrocities organised their crimes. These Nazi organisers are the focus of the first three projects of the Historians’ Laboratory. The starting point of the engagement with them is the biographical research: the people sitting around the conference tables in their capacities as undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or commander of the Sicherheitspolizei (security police) and the Sicherheitsdienst (security service) are human beings.
Each historian implements the sources relevant to his or her historical character and voices these sources on stage – not as a Nazi but as an academic with a critical distance. Together with the other historians, they continuously complement one set of sources with another and add annotations, all in search for a better understanding of the material. This takes place as an open process, in which the audience can witness and follow each step of the exploration. The historians become a theatre ensemble and simultaneously reflect a group of perpetrators who shared the task to conceive and organise mass murder on a grand scale.
The interaction with the historical events happens here and now, on stage, in front of the audience’s eyes. The past is made present, facts and connections come alive and can be experienced. The result is a hybrid between historical analysis and artistic presentation that could become a paradigm for the combination of art and academic research.
Projects for cultural education, presentations and film screenings form an integral part of the work of the Historians’ Laboratory, which is an officially registered non-profit organisation.
Photo: Philipp von Breitenbach