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Designing Democracy

Re-education and the America Houses (1945–1961)- The American Information Centers and their Involvement in Democratic Re-education in Western Germany and West Berlin from 1945 to 1961

Kathleen Hooper

How can firmly established democracies aid and support emerging democracies? Historically, where has this been done? This book looks at the American Information Centers and their involvement in democratic re-education in Western Germany and West Berlin from 1945 to 1961. Referred to as America Houses in Germany, this thesis argues that these institutions continued re-education much longer on a subtle level and were one of the few influencing, yet powerful tools that America had at its disposal to guide democracy. Considering the fact that these Houses were financed with American taxpayer dollars, it remains astounding that so little has been written about them in English to date. This publication seeks to provide unique insights into this fascinating time in US history.
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3. America Houses - The Programs

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3.1 Programs - General

The America Houses all contained libraries and were supplemented with Reading Rooms and Bookmobiles. This extended network permitted the pre-selected books and the “messages” contained within those pages to gain a far-reaching audience. Nevertheless, the books were only one part of the overall America House project. As Dewey had pointed out, democratic societies needed to allow for “diverse gifts and interests in its educational measures,”460 and thus the America House re-education endeavor also catered to these diverse interests through its extensive program offers. Following the concept of pragmatic activities as a means of positive re-education, the Houses actively engaged in offering discussion groups, exhibitions and other pursuits to communicate essential aspects of a democratic society. The following sub-chapters consider several of these program aspects and how they were presented in the Houses before going into detail regarding films, lectures and discussions, exhibitions and music. In addition the last sub-chapter considers the seldom-looked at rise and fall of the children and youth program as well as the reasons for these changes.

Most importantly this chapter starts off with an in-depth analysis of the visitors who attended the Houses and programs. Using statistical information from OMGUS and HICOG, these visitors are considered in a new light; and the difference between awareness and patronage is highlighted. Alone the German public’s awareness of these Houses in the 1950s signifies their seldom-considered historical significance. The high degree of repeat visits, the focus on multipliers...

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