Our Research

David Robb

Dr David Robb

Senior Lecturer

Phone: +44 (0)28 9097 3341

For media contact email
or call +44(0)2890 973091.

View graph of relations

Research Statement

The History of Reception of Songs of the 1848 Revolution

•1. Short summary of the case study

Dr David Robb's research focuses broadly on the tradition and history of German folk and protest song. His current project with Dr. Eckhard John from the German Folk Song Archive in Freiburg, funded by the AHRC and the German Research Foundation (DFG), focusses on the history of reception of songs of the 1848 Revolution. The research project examines the historical reception of particular songs from this period which have especially helped to shape cultural memory and historical images. These songs have held a pivotal position in the field of German political song research since the 1960s. This research constitutes the first critical anthology of this repertoire. The novelty of the research lies in the integration of historical critical edition and historical commentary, which demonstrates origins, usages and the evolutions of the respective songs with regard to their musical and textual variations. The research results are presented within the structures of the online Critical Historical Liederlexikon of the German Folk Song Archive. This is a public institution used by people far beyond the world of academia. The results of this research are freely accessible on the internet ( ). As a performer himself, David Robb has demonstrated the results of this research to a wider public, for example, at the Rudolstadt Folk Festival in 2010.

2.Underpinning research

The underpinning research is Dr. Robb's work on the relationship between society and music, particularly song. Robb's research is particularly focused on how songs of the 1848 Revolution (and other historical periods) were revived at various points in the twentieth century (Weimar Republic, East and West Germany) in order to reestablish lines of 'democratic' cultural heritage which had been lost or which were broken by the Nazis. Dr. Robb has published two books on this subject: Zwei Clowns im Lande des verlorenen Lachens. Das Liedertheater Wenzel & Mensching (1998) and Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s (2007). The first book, published with the commercial publisher Ch Links and launched at the Leipzig Book Fair in March 1998, is a case study of the satirical cabaret clowns Wenzel & Mensching in East Germany. This duo sang (and performed) songs of historical political protest movements in order to expose the hollowness of the GDR's revolutionary claims. The second book looked at this practice of reviving song tradition from the wider perspective of both East and West Germany and looked at a much wider range of performers. The current on-line critical editions of songs of the 1848 Revolution published in the Liederlexikon will be adapted for a book publication in English for Camden House in New York.

3. References to the research

•(i) Authored books and articles:

David Robb has written the following book:

  • Zwei Clowns im Lande des verlorenen Lachens. Das Liedertheater Wenzel & Mensching (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 1998).

He edited the following volume (of which he also wrote the introduction and five chapters):

  • Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s (Rochester NY: Camden House 2007)

He has published numerous articles on the subject on German political song including these recent ones

•· "A Man's a Man for a' that and 'Trotz alledem': Robert Burns, Ferdinand Freiligrath and their reception in the German Folksong Movement" Modern Language Review, Vol. 156/1, 2011, pp. 17-46.

•· "Narrative Role-Play in German Cabaret Song and Political Song-theatre" New Theatre Quarterly , Vol. 26/1, 2010, pp. 25-37.

•· "The Liedertheater of Wenzel and Mensching: Subversive Use of the Agitprop and Clowning Tradition in the GDR" Theatre Survey (forthcoming edition 2011).

•· 'Political Song in the Cold War' to appear in the volume Cold War Literature, edited by Andrew Hammond (London/New York: Routledge, 2011)

With Eckhard John he has published critical editions of the following songs as part of their 1848 song project for the Liederlexikon (

Research Funding

AHRC/German Research Foundation (DFG) (2009-2012)

Collaborative project with Dr. Eckhard John of the Deutsches Volksliedarchiv Freiburg.

Website Anthology: Lieder der 1848er Revolution in Populäre und traditionelle Lieder. Historisch-kritisches Liederlexikon Liederlexikon £57,130 for David Robb as PI

British Academy Small Research Grant (2008-2009) for research project 'Songs of the 1848 Revolution': £5,630

4. The contribution, impact or benefit

Dr Robb's research into the role of folk and protest song in Germany has been disseminated through books, articles, websites, radio interviews and performances, leading to enhanced public awareness of issues concerning the role political, folk and cabaret songs have played in the history of twentieth century Germany.

Throughout his academic career, Robb has been committed to communicating his work beyond an academic audience. He consciously sought a commercial publisher (Ch. Links in Berlin) for his PhD on Wenzel & Mensching because he knew it would have a much wider impact. He presented this book at two public launches: at the Leipzig Book Fair and the Kulturbräuerei in Berlin in March 1998. He presented the results of his current research project in July 2010 at a colloquium at the Rudolstadt Folk Festival, the biggest festival of its kind in Germany. Robb's collaboration with Eckhard John of the German Folk Song Archive in Freiburg is also significant in respect of impact. This archive is the leader in political and folk song research in Germany. It is dedicated to the research of popular song from an international comparative perspective. Alongside European Ethnology (folklore) it touches on the disciplines of German Studies, Musicology, Media Studies as well as Historical Studies (General History, Social History, Historical Anthropology, Philosophy and Theology). The archive is used by the public in general and is particularly a highly useful resource for school teachers of subjects such as German, History and Music who use folk song in their curriculum.

The reach of Robb's research impact is evidenced by website hits. The Liederlexikon website, on which his research is published, had over 6 million hits ( 6,566,390) in the year 2009 from a total of 163,679 different visitors.

Robb's recognition outside the world of academia is also shown by the reviews of his books in magazines and journals as well as in invitations to give radio interviews, and in his contribution of a special feature of a DVD release. In 2006 Robb gave a BBC Radio 4 interview on the pionneering nature of German electronic music and its role in the German students movement of 1968. For the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 2009 Robb gave a BBC World Service radio interview on the function of political song amidst a climate of censorship in East Germany. The recognition of his expertise on the East German clown satirists and political singers Wenzel & Mensching is shown by his contribution of an essay as a 'special feature' of the official DVD release of Latest from the Da-Da-R (DEFA Film Library 2009).

5. References to corroborate the contribution, impact or benefit

External corroborating sources

Reviews of David Robb Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s (Rochester (NY): Camden House, 2007)

TLS 7 March 2008:

'Despite the literary pertinence of the two Germany's Liedermacher ("song-maker") scene, German-language song is not much considered by critics outside German-speaking countries. But Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s, a new collection of essays edited by David Robb, makes significant amends.'

World Music , 27 May 2008

'simply peerless [...] indisputably the best account on the subject in English [...] a wonderful book'

Folk Music Journal 9/4, 2009

'a fascinating insight [...] highly recommended'

Humanities , March 2008

'a fascinating collection of essays on protest music'

H-Net Reviews , 15 May 2009

'thoughtful and illuminating'

German Studies Review 32/1, 2009

'an excellent overview'

Invited Talks:

University of Liverpool. Women in German Studies Conference (WIGS) IMPACT: German Language Culture and its Reception. 'The History of Reception of Songs of the 1848 Revolution from the 19th to the 21st Century'. 24 July 2008.

University of Basel. Seminar series "Lieder gegen die Kälte", Kulturwissenschaft. "Politische Lieder und Liedertheater. Der kreative Umgang mit dem revolutionären Erbe der DDR". 16 October 2008.

Conference Plenaries:

Conference of University Teachers of German of the UK and Ireland (CUTG). University of Ulster. "The Reception of the Songs of the 1848 Revolution in the GDR." 7 April 2009.

University of Edinburgh . Symposium for Retirement of Bill Webster. "A Man's A Man for a that. Journey of a Revolutionary Song from Scotland to Germany". 5 June 2009.

Symposium at the Rudolstadt Folk Festival. Performance of the story of Robert Burns 'A Man's a Man for a' that' and its German translation. " Trotz alledem". Zum 200. Geburtstag des Dichters und Übersetzers Hermann Ferdinand Freiligrath' , 3 July 2010.

Radio programme contribution

PRI's The World. From the BBC, PRI and WGBH. Global Perspective for an American Audience. "Protest Songs". Documentary by Gerry Hadden, 9/11/2009. (for 20 th Anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall)

Frequent Journals

View all »

ID: 22074