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Interview with Caroline Rothauge (guest researcher)

PhD Caroline Rothauge is for six months, from October 2019 until March 2020, a guest researcher at the CRC 1015 “Otium”. Throughout her stay, the cultural scientist and historian concentrates in areas related to otium with her current habilitation thesis, “Time and Everyday Life. Ideas of and Dealing with (pluri) Temporality in the German Empire around 1900”.

What exactly do you deal with in your habilitation thesis? In what way does it open a new approach for us to the history of the turn of the century?

Modern history is often represented as a linear process of unchecked mechanization, scientification, and rationalization. Along with this frequently comes the assumption that the modern experience of time is constant acceleration. When I look at sources of the German Empire around 1900, though, which give information about the ideas of time and how time was dealt with very much at the everyday level, it becomes clear that the contemporaries of this era lived in a time of ever-increasing temporal diversity. In this way my habilitation thesis shows two things: first, that the regulation and standardization of various times toward the end of the nineteenth century were by no means concluded; and second that a historiography of “time” contributes to a different view of both “modernity” as well as an alleged all-encompassing acceleration.

At what point of your research does the theme of otium come into play?

Because the center of my investigation is relevant to ideas of time and of dealing with time on a completely normal level of everyday life, it is also always about otium. Around 1900, how was otium understood and practiced (and how was it not)? For example, definitions of otium were strongly dependent upon what was, at the time, the understanding of work. At the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, several writings in the field of so-called work studies were published, in which conceptions of otium are to be found. In addition, records for example held by company archives infer, on a very concrete level, that workers – even while at work, by the way! – were able to obtain otium. Furthermore, self-help books were booming around the turn of the century and, thus, are an important source for me. They show which thoughts from the field of work studies were popularized and given as advice to the individuals – including tips for otium.

At the CRC Otium, history is currently not being represented as a subproject. Where do you see potential, specifically for historical research, in relation to otium?

Similar to time, as I mentioned in response to the first question, the potential of specific historical investigations in otium, from my view, lies in the historicization of such categories. Ideas of otium, its corresponding terminology, and the different ways to deal with “otium” are socio-cultural constructions and therefore changeable. Questions of power, identity, class, and gender can be worked out particularly well from this perspective, which requires contextualization. It is exactly within the framework of an interdisciplinary research center where this necessity is once more emphasized: to always disclose what exactly is meant, when otium is the topic at hand. In addition to this, my habilitation thesis could also specifically contribute to a strengthened reflection of which ideas of time are presumed at all, when otium is the focus of investigation. Beyond the conceptual level, my project, due to the historical-critical methods used within it, will certainly provide empirical descriptions of otium practices.