News |"Europeans in Exile: Thomas Mann’s L.A." | Student Projects Presentation of the Capstone Seminar at UCLA

In the Spring Quarter 2021, the Thomas Mann House and the Digital Humanities Program at the University of California, Los Angeles collaborated to offer a seminar on European exile in California.

After fleeing Nazi Germany, the writer and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann found refuge for eleven years in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles. Mann was only one among many European artists and intellectuals who made Los Angeles their new home. The seminar explored Mann’s connections to the city and the network of intellectuals with whom he was in dialogue, such as the sociologists Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, writers like Christopher Isherwood, Vicki Baum and Aldous Huxley, the composers Arnold Schoenberg and Alma Mahler as well as the filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch and screenwriter Salka Viertel. Which places did he and his European fellows visit? What local concerns kept him busy and which are still vital topics in Los Angeles today? Which issues preoccupied many in the European exile community? The seminar examined the depth and breadth of European émigrés’ contributions to Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s and how these contributions continue to influence the city. The course readings, workshops and discussions exposed students to the philosophy and practice of digital humanities methodologies in order to interpret and engage with the course’s themes.

The class was divided into two modules. The first module was lecture-, discussion-, and lab-based. Each session began with a primary source presentation based on the week’s materials. The lecture and discussion were followed by hands-on engagement with digital methodologies. The second module of the course was project-based and asked students to trace the mutual cultural influences between California and Europe in the 1940s. Building on the content knowledge and skills developed during the first module, students worked in groups to create a web-based project exploring and analyzing a theme from the course from multiple angles and paired original scholarship with interactive primary source material.

The results of the student’s research projects are now online and can be accessed and explored on this UCLA website. Students explored topics such as Émigré Immigration Paths: From Europe to Los Angeles and The German Exile Community's Fight Against Nazi Germany. They applied computational methods like "Thick Mapping," "Social Network Analysis,” or "Voyant Tools."

The class was a true embodiment of a digital humanities collaboration. The collaborators each brought different skills and areas of expertise, and the course would not have been possible without everyone involved. The seminar was led by Professor Wendy Perla Kurtz and Anthony Caldwell, Assistant Director of the Digital Research Consortium at UCLA in collaboration with Nikolai Blaumer, Program Director of the Thomas Mann House, and Benno Herz, Project and Communications Manager at the Thomas Mann House.

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