a1 Oberlin College, 197 W. Lorain St., Oberlin, OH 44074; email@example.com
The study of everyday life has had a particular resonance for historians of state socialism for a variety of reasons. First, the study of everyday life promises to get beyond the notorious doublespeak and rosy scenarios of official discourse. Second, the history of everyday life makes use of the great boon of recent history: the availability of interview subjects. Historians of earlier periods can only look longingly at the surfeit of interview subjects available to those who work on more recent decades. While oral history can have its own problems, the works under consideration in this review largely use them to good effect to get at the lacunae and misrepresentations in official discourse. Third, the study of everyday life offers an important vantage point for understanding the vast majority of citizens who were not resistors and yet challenged the state in important ways. As Sandrine Kott has noted, ‘individual preference . . . constituted a third brake on the “perfect” working of the system’. Finally, the ‘interesting’ events in East European socialism are ones that are people powered, most famously the 1989 revolutions that spanned the region. The history of everyday life offers the promise of explaining the paradox of how supposedly stable regimes which experienced comparatively little open resistance in forty years of existence collapsed in a matter of weeks or even days.
(Online publication June 13 2012)
Annemarie Sammartino is Associate Professor of History at Oberlin College. She is the author of The Impossible Border: Germany and the East, 1914–1922 (Cornell University Press, 2010). She is currently working on a project on housing and urban crisis in East Berlin and New York City. She is also writing a book on migration and mobility in East Germany.