Rory Hanna

Department of History

Research student & Teaching assistant


Thesis title: Student Protest and Activism in West Germany, 1949-1965: Political Conflict, Academic Citizenship, and the Changing Campus




Thesis abstract:

The student protest movement in West Germany during “1968” came as a shock to contemporary observers. Sociologists, after all, had seemingly shown that young Germans were largely apolitical and uninterested in reform.

Although the unanticipated outbreak of revolt in the late sixties suggests that their findings had rested upon flawed assumptions, there has been little interest among historians in tracing students’ critical engagement in the years before “1968”.

My study into student protest and activism between 1949 and 1967 seeks to re-evaluate a period which has been frequently characterised as one of political apathy and deference to authority.

From the student demonstrations against the re-emergence of Nazi cultural elites at the beginning of the fifties to the campaigns to open up higher education to rural and working class Germans in the mid-sixties, the early Federal Republic oversaw a succession of student protests.

These can tell us much about cultural and social changes in early West Germany, and how these processes were influenced by the Cold War, Allied efforts at democratisation, decolonisation in the Global South, and West Germany’s economic miracle.

This project examines instances of protest at several West German universities, including Göttingen, Hamburg, Freiburg, Marburg, Frankfurt, and West Berlin.

Drawing on student newspapers, files from campus political groups, records from university committees, press reports,written memoirs and oral history interviews, it investigates the causes and aims of the protests, the forms of protest used, the attempts by students to frame and legitimise their dissent, and the responses from peers, politicians, professors, journalists, and the wider public.

By highlighting the characteristics, successes, failures, and blind spots of student protest and activism between 1949 and 1967, my research will offer new perspectives on students’ changing mentalities and their contribution to processes of reform in the first years of West German democracy.

  • PhD History, University of Sheffield, 2019 - present
  • MA Historical Research (Distinction), University of Sheffield, 2019
  • BA History and German (First Class Honours), University of Oxford, 2017


  • Sir Ian Kershaw Prize (£600) for the best departmental proposal for fieldwork relating to European history, 2020, 2021
  • German History Society Postgraduate Bursary (£2000) for research expenses, 2020
  • PhD scholarship: AHRC White Rose College of Arts and Humanities
  • George Richard Potter MA Prize in History for best overall performance in assessed work, 2018-2019
  • William Carr Prize (£200) for the best departmental proposal for postgraduate research on the history of German-speaking countries, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
  • Petrie Watson Exhibition Award for extra-curricular research, 2019
  • Faculty of Arts and Humanities Doctoral Academy Masters Award, 2018-2019
  • University of Oxford conferral of scholar status for excellent academic performance, 2016
  • Wadham College Ockenden Prize for best results in first-year German exams, 2014
Teaching activities
  • Since 2017, I have been teaching undergraduates in the University of Sheffield’s Germanic Studies Department.
  • In 2017/18 and during the autumn semester of 2018/19, I taught seminars on modern German history and culture for the first-year module ‘GER105/6: Texts and Contexts’.
  • During the academic year 2019/20, I have been delivering two weekly conversation-focused classes as part of the second-year language module ‘GER201/2: Sprachpraxis’.
Professional activities and memberships
  • Member of the German History Society
  • 'Vor Achtundsechzig. Der Kalte Krieg und die Neue Linke in der Bundesrepublik und in den USA by Michael Frey', German Studies Review 44:2 (2021), pp. 427-429