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Unit information: Geographies of Knowledge: Nazi and Jewish Academics in 2015/16

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Unit name Geographies of Knowledge: Nazi and Jewish Academics
Unit code GEOGM0019
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Sherratt
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


The geography of knowledge is a key area in cultural and historical geography, with the ethics and politics of geographical knowledge production an important focus. This unit examines the ethical considerations of knowledge production in relation to pernicious political regimes. It will analyse knowledge production through a case study of one of the most significant examples of pernicious politics in the Twentieth Century, namely German National Socialism. It will address how ideas can be used by political regimes, how truth claims are produced and justified, how socio-spatial dynamics (ex. law, sovereignty, and science) influence what counts as knowledge, and the ethics of response and resistance. The unit will highlight how academics and knowledge producers behave under immoral political leadership, studying both collaboration and resistance. Collaboration will be assessed with geographically significant case studies of Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger. Resistance will be studied by focusing on the influential work of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt and The White Rose. Finally, the unit will address the consequences for knowledge production in the geographical aftermath of political upheaval, looking specifically at the significance of the Nuremberg Trials and the worldwide intellectual impact of National Socialism on diasporas of knowledge production in Europe and America.

This unit aims to examine knowledge production in geographical, ethical and historical context with reference to biography as a key method. It will familiarize students with modern European thinkers central to contemporary geographical theory, including, for example, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. By contextualizing their ideas historically and geographically, students will examine how the Nazi regime shaped knowledge through the pathways of influence, collaboration and resistance. A final central aim of this unit will be to show how biography can be used as a means of studying the dissemination of ideas across geographical boundaries.

Intended learning outcomes

Critical evaluation of the ethics and politics of geographical knowledge production, with particular focus on how knowledge can be assimilated and exploited by pernicious political regimes.

Ethical and historical contextualisation through the geographically important case study of Nazism.

Critical understanding of how biography can be used to study knowledge production, complicity, dissemination, and resistance.

Analytic overview of key theorists and how the complicities and contingencies of their biographies shaped key modern European thought.

A critical appreciation of how geographical knowledge is shaped by political and biographical events, with the specific example of the intellectual impacts of the Jewish-German Diaspora on modern intellectual history in Europe and the Americas.

Teaching details


Assessment Details

Assignment. 4,000 word essay. 100% of marks.

The essay will ask students to answer a question about how knowledge can influence or be usurped by a pernicious political regime. It will assess students’ critical evaluation of ethical issues in knowledge production, the consequences for knowledge production of political resistance or exile, and ask them to analyse the role of biography as a learning tool. It will thereby assess the applied learning outcomes depicted above.

Reading and References

Sherratt, Yvonne. Hitler’s Philosophers, Yale University Press, 2013.

Rose, P. L. Revolutionary Anti-Semitism in Germany from Kant to Wagner. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1990.

Young-Bruehl, E. Hannah Arendt, For Love of the World, Yale University Press, 2004.

Müller-Doohm, S. Livingstone, R. trans Adorno A Biography. Polity Press, 2005.

Dumbach A. and Newborn, J. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2006.

Stephen Daniels and Catherine Nash, eds, Special Issue of Journal of Historical Geography, 30 (2004) pp.449-551 "Life Paths: Geography and Biography