2012 John G. Diefenbaker Award: Alexander von Plato – Finding Canada’s voice in the post-Berlin Wall era
In 1989, the world watched as the Berlin Wall – perhaps the most vivid symbol of the Cold War – was torn down and German reunification talks began. It was an exciting and turbulent time that marked the beginning of a new world order. Naturally the superpowers of the day were involved in the negotiations. But what role did middle powers like Canada play? How did Canada’s international relations change during this era?
Alexander von Plato, one of Germany’s best-known public historians and most prolific oral historian will come to Canada to research these questions – thanks to the Canada Council’s John G. Diefenbaker Award. Von Plato will be hosted in Canada by the University of Winnipeg where he’ll be introduced to a network of historians and other scholars across the province. Lloyd Axworthy, the University’s President and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, will help with introductions to political leaders and their staff from the reunification years.
Professor von Plato is known for his oral history approach to research, which involves extensive interviews with the key players of a specific period. In 1993 he founded the Institute for History and Biography at the Fernuniversität Hagen, Germany’s only oral history centre. During the 14 years he served as the institute’s director, he completed 37 research projects, including two groundbreaking studies of former Nazi slave workers and of the Mauthausen concentration camp. More recently his book, The Unification of Germany – A World Political Power Game; Bush, Kohn, Gorbachev and the Internal Moscow Protocols, is in its third printing and is standard reading for journalists, educators and students. It draws on minutes from all Gorbachev talks with high-ranking politicians, and some 80 interviews of politicians such as George H. Bush, James Baker, Condoleezza Rice, and high-level staff of Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand among others.
Every year the John G. Diefenbaker Award (valued at $75,000) is presented to a distinguished German scholar to spend up to 12 months in Canada. The aim is to encourage knowledge exchange between the visiting scholars and their host university. The University of Winnipeg is a most fitting host for Von Plato as it has established itself as a Canada’s leader in oral history.
During his stay, Professor von Plato will also share his work beyond the academic community. He plans public lectures in Canada and across North America, and will share with the University of Winnipeg his experience using video and working with major television stations to develop documentaries for TV, distance education and museum exhibits