The WorldCafé – a way to discuss history

by Charlotte Jahnz

Charlotte Jahnz (@CJahnz) is a Masters student in history at Bonn University and Community Manager at the Max Weber Stiftung.

One way to discuss history in public is through a WorldCafé, which aims to bring together experts and participants. Gesche Schifferdecker (@GSchifferdecke), press officer at Max Weber Stiftung, is currently organizing the second WeberWorldCafé, “Narrating the First World War – Experiences and Reports from Transregional Perspectives”, which will be taking place at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin on the 16th of September, 2014.

 Q: How would you describe the  WeberWorldCafé?

A: The aim of our WeberWorldCafé is to bring experts and participants together on eye level. The participants are included in the discussion. It works like this: in a coffee house-like atmosphere every expert has their own table, where they have the role of the host. The participants can now decide which table they want to visit, based on the expert’s field of research. After 20 to 30 minutes the participants have to go to another table thus creating new groups with different backgrounds. The results of the discussion are written down on paper tablecloths. This way the next round of participants can see what has already been discussed and make use of not only their previous discussions but also what was said at their “new” table before.

GescheQ: What are the advantages of a WorldCafé compared to a panel discussion?

A: In panel discussions participants usually sit down and listen to experts discussing with each other. At the end of the discussion there is not much time left for questions and it is also quite a challenge for young people to ask an expert within this certain atmosphere. Furthermore, panel discussions are not open for comprehension questions. At a WorldCafé we have the opposite situation: Here, every conversation can totally differ from the one before because the interests of its participants have a huge influence on the process of the discussion. Another great advantage is that you can cover several subtopics if you have about ten experts offering different views on one main topic.

Q: How do you choose your experts?

A: One of the most important principles of the WeberWorldCafé is that we choose young scholars as our experts. It is a great chance to promote them! Young scholars are usually more open for this interactive format, too. Furthermore, it makes it easier for our young participants to discuss on an eye level.

Q: Your next WeberWorldCafé focuses on the First World War. Regarding the mass of articles and events focusing on the Great War, it must have been quite a challenge to find an original approach to the First World War.

A: Of course it was. When you pay attention to the media in Germany, the coverage of the First World War is often focused on the German perspective and the role the German empire played and, still, the question of guilt. The Max Weber Stiftung and our partner, the Forum Transregionale Studien, would like to provide a transregional perspective on the First World War. We think that it is a very rewarding challenge to find out what the First World War really meant for the contemporaries from all over the world – from soldiers to housewifes to prisoners to artists. Instead of just focusing on Europe, table hosts like Dr. Michelle Moyd (Indiana University) or Dr. Torsten Weber (Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien Tokyo) and Dr. Samiksha Sehrawat (Newcastle University) will talk about the impact of the First World War on Africa, East Asia and South Asia. With the help of primary sources the guests will be given the opportunity to explore the impact of the war on everyday life on a global level – and by moving from table to table they will gather a “world view”.

Find more information here:

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