Call for Papers: “Narrating Police” – Between Legitimatizing Claims, Scholarly Reflections and Media Constructs

Call for Paper: 25th Colloquium on Police History

3-5 July 2014, Geschichtsort Villa ten Hompel, Muenster

“Narrating Police” – Between Legitimatizing Claims, Scholarly Reflections and Media Constructs


Local organisers:

Geschichtsort Villa ten Hompel Muenster (Bettina Blum, PhD; Thomas Koehler; Michael Sturm), in cooperation with the chair for Early Modern and Modern History, University of Muenster (Prof Thomas Grossboelting, PhD)


The Colloquium on Police History was founded in 1990 during the Historians’ Day in Bochum. Since then a circle of interested scholars has met once a year at alternating locations in order to discuss the state of police research. In this way, aspects of social, cultural and everyday history have been pointed out. The colloquium concentrates on interdisciplinary and – in a growing manner – international approaches. Attendees with a general interest on police history are very welcomed. We also particularly invite young researchers.

This year the Colloquium on Police History is hosted by the Geschichtsort Villa ten Hompel in Muenster which cooperates for this event with the chair for Early Modern and Modern History of the University of Muenster. The anniversary conference aims to reflect the state and the results of socio-historical and historico-cultural police research over the past two decades. Furthermore, prospective research concepts may be discussed both in a national and international perspective. This year’s title of the Colloquium on Police History “Narrating Police” – Between Legitimizing Claims, Scholarly Reflections and Media Constructs refers to the complex dimensions and diverging intentions when speaking and writing about “the police”. On the one handpolice forces have become research objects for historians and social scientists that analyse the institution and its agents. On the other hand, the members of the police explain and interpret their experiences themselves in order to produce meaning for their actions (or even justify them). Finally, media images as well as their colleagues‘aspirations, expectations, anxieties and aggressions might be projected upon individual policeman or policewoman. As a consequence, the 25th Colloquium on Police History emphasises three aspects:

1.)   Over the last years, a range of research and exhibition projects have been finalized. Some of them led to cooperation between external researchers and police authorities, respectively interested policewomen and –men, e.g. in the exhibition “Order and Destruction. The Police within the Nazi State” [orig.: Ordnung und Vernichtung. Die Polizei im NS-Staat] that was opened by the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin in April 2011. Additionally, the Federal Criminal Police Office [orig.: Bundeskriminalamt] commissioned a study that was released in 2011. Since any apologetic tendencies were missing both the public and the academic community appreciated the projects.

Yet the research, exhibition and educational projects that were initiated by German police authorities focussed mainly on the period of Nazi Germany.  A comparable discourse on Police History in the GDR seems to be rather marginalized. Admittedly, in the last years numerous studies that address the organization of People’s Police [orig.: Volkspolizei], their self-perceptions and operations have occurred. But in what manner do police authorities adopt this theoretical knowledge? In how far do contemporary “Principles of Good Policing” correspond to the patterns of legitimation, e.g. to narratives, perspectives and experiences of those officers who already fulfilled their duty in the GDR and still fulfil their duty in the Federal Republic of Germany?

Furthermore, the question arises as to how far a critical-based police history within the police itself exists. Against the background of Nazi Germany and (despite all the differences) even the GDR: Did and do the research and exhibition projects perhaps function primarily as legitimizing claims aiming to draw a success story of the police in the “old” and the “new” Federal Republic? Or does the police “make use” of its history hoping to better understand social transformations and conflicts? Is a critical preoccupation with the own institution’s history evidence for a progressive orientation to human and civil rights? But to what extent and upon what methods have projects on Police History found entrance into police training and education? The primary question is whether the critical analysis and the preoccupation with history also led to a diversified cop culture.

It would also be inspiring to discuss approaches to police-historical projects beyond caesuras and in transnational perspectives. What do researchers and scholars in other countries focus upon when they examine the police’s role(s) in former colonies or occupied territories? Does the historical knowledge find entrance into police officer training and education?

2.)   The second focus of the colloquium is on the role of contemporary Police History in the context of current historical, cultural- and social-scientific research. Does a consistent research area called “Police History” really exist that can be circumscribed towards different disciplines, e.g. History of Law or History of Administration or Historical Criminology? Or does current Police History benefit from a “cross-sectional” research in contrast to those well-established fields of research?

In particular, projects with an international comparative approach give hope for constructive results here. The Colloquium on Police History provides and even provided a plattform to discuss transnational and interdisciplinary dimensions on several occasions. However, social-scientific, criminological and historical researches into police still seem to go separate ways. Among which aspirations and perspectives ought police-historical researches to be evolved – beyond any empty phrases in grant applications?

3.)   The third aspect of the Colloquium on Police History focuses on media constructs concerning the police. What effect do documentations, exhibitions or fictionalisations – from crime novels to feature films to TV serials – have on police and police work? How do medial images conversely affect the police, their institutional models and their practises of self-dramatization? In how far do police forces try to influence medial images of their institution in a positive way?

Over and above these main focuses a section for workshop and on-going research reports beyond the subject-matter is to be planned.

Languages are German and English.

The organisers will reserve a hotel room for speakers. Travelling expenses can be reimbursed for speakers up to 150 €.

Please submit your abstract for a paper to be presented at the conference (one page max.) until February 28th, 2014. We are looking forward to receiving your proposals and to hosting an inspiring conference.

Mail contact:


Bettina Blum, Thomas Koehler, Michael Sturm