Public Engagement

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang: Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Ein Roman. Berlin. Bey Johann Friedrich Unger. Antiquariat Dr. Haack Leipzig © Foto H.-P.Haack 2008-05-21,, herunterladen Dezember 2013.
Goe­the, Johann Wolf­gang: Wil­helm Meis­ters Lehr­jah­re. Ein Roman. Ber­lin. Bey Johann Fried­rich Unger. Anti­qua­ri­at Dr. Haack Leip­zig © Foto H.-P.Haack 2008-05-21, her­un­ter­la­den Dezem­ber 2013.

The Public Huma­nities: Public Histo­ry first dis­tin­guis­hed its­elf from tra­di­tio­nal his­to­ri­cal scho­l­ar­s­hip in the United Sta­tes, but in the last ten years it has estab­lis­hed its­elf in Ger­ma­ny as well. For some time now, the his­to­ri­cal disci­pli­nes have no lon­ger shared their rese­arch with the public sole­ly through clas­sic for­mats like aca­de­mic mono­graphs, peer-review­ed jour­nals, monu­ments, and muse­ums. In the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, the ran­ge of opti­ons for how to reach the public now inclu­des not only mass media like film, tele­vi­si­on, radio, and news­pa­pers but also new social media like the inter­net, face­book, you­tube, and more. Vir­tu­al tech­no­lo­gies open new pos­si­bi­li­ties for cri­ti­cal enga­ge­ment bey­ond the bor­ders of pro­fes­sio­nal and disci­pli­na­ry expertise. 

Auszug aus dem Brief vom 4. Mai 1938
Aus­zug aus dem Brief vom 4. Mai 1938

Imple­men­ting the­se new approa­ches requi­res that his­to­ri­cal­ly ori­en­ted scho­l­ars not only mas­ter the clas­sic com­pe­ten­ci­es of scho­l­ar­s­hip but also acqui­re prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence with archi­ving, exhi­bi­t­ing, and working with the public through digi­tal mesia. [1] The­se new media in turn trans­for­med the roles of the his­to­ri­an: As aca­de­mi­cal­ly trai­ned experts they still com­mand aut­ho­ri­ty in ques­ti­ons of fac­tu­al know­ledge and the cri­ti­cal rea­ding of sources, but they are no lon­ger the only ones social­ly aut­ho­ri­zed to inter­pret the past or draw mea­nings from it for the pre­sent. “Making histo­ry” is not only a capa­bi­li­ty of all human bein­gs but also a com­mon ever­y­day prac­ti­ce. By sharing this respon­si­bi­li­ty with the public, his­to­ri­ans free them­sel­ves to assu­med dif­fe­rent func­tions: as orga­ni­zer, gui­de, and advi­sor to the public as they enga­ge in his­to­ri­cal inter­pre­ta­ti­on. [2]

Hans Hinrich, Dreiklang, UFA, 1938; USA, Triad, 1938, heruntergeladen Juni 2013 und Exemplare des Films bestellbar von
Hans Hin­rich, Drei­klang, UFA, 1938; USA, Tri­ad, 1938, her­un­ter­ge­la­den Juni 2013 und Exem­pla­re des Films bestell­bar von

Among the first inno­va­tions in the new field of his­to­ri­cal scho­l­ar­s­hip was the digi­tiz­a­ti­on of his­to­ri­cal mate­ri­als and the deve­lo­p­ment of rela­ted tech­no­lo­gies to do so. [3] Yet it may be the new methods that have been deve­lo­ped for ana­ly­zing his­to­ri­cal mate­ri­als that pro­ves more decisi­ve. [4] Today scho­l­ars ana­ly­ze “big data” through “text Mining” and “topic mode­ling.” They visua­li­ze lite­ra­tu­re and histo­ry geo­gra­phi­cal­ly and eli­cit new source mate­ri­als through “crowd­sour­cing.” T&S reli­es most­ly on the lat­ter: the asyn­chro­nous, col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve pre­pa­ra­ti­on of the let­ters for publi­ca­ti­on through digi­tiz­a­ti­on, tran­scrip­ti­on, dis­cus­sion, and ana­ly­sis. The tar­get audi­ence for T&S is not pri­ma­ri­ly aca­de­mics but a broad public inclu­ding rese­ar­chers, stu­dents, tea­chers, and lay­peop­le around the world. The aut­ho­ri­ty to inter­pret his­to­ri­cal nar­ra­ti­ves thus lies not just with the rese­ar­cher and scho­l­ar but with the gene­ral public. This con­cept of “shared aut­ho­ri­ty” is the leit­mo­tiv of the ent­i­re project.

Joseph Karl Stieler, Bildnis von Ludwig van Beethoven, 1820, Beethoven-Haus,, herunterladen Februar 2014
Joseph Karl Stie­ler, Bild­nis von Lud­wig van Beet­ho­ven, 1820, Beet­ho­ven-Haus, her­un­ter­la­den Febru­ar 2014

Media Stu­dies: The huma­nities and social sci­en­ces often rai­se the ques­ti­on of the role of the mass media in a cri­ti­cal enga­ge­ment with the past. [6] Cri­ti­cal theo­ry has war­ned us about the dan­gers posed for a demo­cra­tic socie­ty by a “con­scious­ness indus­try”, which mono­po­li­zes and com­mer­cia­li­zes memo­ry and tre­ats histo­ry, like memo­ry, as enter­tain­ment. [7] Vir­tu­al tech­no­lo­gies have chal­len­ged the disci­pli­ne to address the social con­struc­tion of know­ledge. Com­pe­ting inter­pre­ta­ti­ons and the chal­len­ge of cap­tu­ring the inte­rest of the public play an incre­a­singly signi­fi­cant role, as more and more, peop­le are empowe­red to for­mu­la­te and share their under­stan­ding of histo­ry in diver­se public sphe­res ran­ging from the mass media to new social media. We risk a col­lap­se into an unma­na­ge­ab­le diver­si­ty of par­ti­al public spheres.

Auszug aus dem Brief
Auszug aus dem Brief Aus­zug aus dem Brief

In order to initia­te a dia­lo­gue in com­mon about mat­ters of com­mon con­cern, one must first over­co­me the chal­len­ge of attrac­ting the inte­rest of the­se frag­men­ta­ry publics. Every medi­um for com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on has its strengths and weak­nes­ses. Limi­t­ing oneself to just one medi­um only cir­cum­scri­bes the spa­cial or social reach of the pro­ject and the­re­fo­re the scope of the inter­ac­tions and exch­an­ges. T&S addres­ses this pro­blem head on by crea­ting an inter­me­di­al plat­form for public access and par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on that hopes to bene­fit from the strengths of dif­fe­rent medi­al formats.

The foun­da­ti­on for the pro­ject is a set of love letters–itself clas­sic form of inter­per­so­nal communication.

They are digi­ti­zed, tran­scri­bed, cross­che­cked, and blog­ged using vir­tu­al media acces­si­ble glo­bal­ly on the web. The let­ters are publis­hed on the blog “at least 75 years after” the date of their ori­gi­nal pos­ting [see Edi­to­ri­sche Bear­bei­tung 2.2 Ver­öf­fent­li­chungs­tem­po- bzw. lücken]. Simi­lar­ly, they are broad­cast on the radio and strea­med on the Inter­net as an audio book in mon­th­ly sum­ma­ries. The let­ters are the focus of public work­shops for stu­dents, tea­chers, and seni­or citi­zens in pro­grams for poli­ti­cal edu­ca­ti­on as well as aca­de­mic pre­sen­ta­ti­ons. To be sure, they are the sub­ject of new scho­l­ar­ly arti­cles in peer-review­ed publi­ca­ti­ons; but they are also the basis for his­to­ri­cal dra­mas per­for­med for a gene­ral public. New initia­ti­ves in T&S are now focu­sing on deve­lo­ping an Eng­lish-lan­guage cur­ri­cu­lum for stu­dents of Ger­man cul­tu­re, histo­ry, and lan­guage on the basis of the­se resour­ces as well as an his­to­ri­cal com­pu­ter game that allows users to fol­low the sto­ry of Hil­de and Roland, and perhaps make dif­fe­rent choices.

The inter­sec­tions bet­ween the­se various media for­mats and audi­en­ces crea­tes not only spaces for the public to fami­lia­ri­ze them­sel­ves with ever­y­day life under the Nazis but also con­tem­pora­ry forums for socia­bi­li­ty and con­vi­via­li­ty across social and spa­cial bounda­ries. Doing so requi­res brea­king with the norms of pro­gram pro­duc­tion in docu­men­ta­ries, info­tain­ment, and sit­coms which pro­vi­de their audi­ence with a clear ending and reso­lu­ti­on to the sto­ry wit­hin the scope of one pro­gram. By con­trast, T&S “dece­le­ra­tes” the past by fol­lowing the older rhythm of the post. The slow pace of let­ter wri­ting not only ties our expe­ri­ence of his­to­ri­cal events to that of the his­to­ri­cal actors but post­po­nes our know­ledge of the end of the history—here, of the Third Reich—until Hil­de and Roland expe­ri­en­ced it for them­sel­ves. This approach res­to­res the inherent uncer­tain­ties of the pre­sent to the past.

Gustav v. Estorff, Wir Arbeitsmaiden, Bildbericht, Zeitgeschichte-Verlag Wilhelm Andermann, 1940, herunterladen von, August 2013
Gustav v. Estorff, Wir Arbeitsmaiden, Bildbericht, Zeitgeschichte-Verlag Wilhelm Andermann, 1940, herunterladen von, August 2013 Gus­tav v. Estorff, Wir Arbeits­mai­den, Bild­be­richt, Zeit­ge­schich­te-Ver­lag Wil­helm Ander­mann, 1940, her­un­ter­la­den August 2013

Social Work: Final­ly, the­se diver­se disci­pli­na­ry approa­ches are con­nec­ted to each other through the tech­ni­ques of “recon­struc­ti­ve social work”. It incor­po­ra­tes trends from the Chi­ca­go School of socio­lo­gy [8], psy­cho­ana­ly­sis, huma­nistic psy­cho­lo­gy, and the his­to­ri­cal disci­pli­nes, espe­cial­ly oral histo­ry [9]. In that con­text, Jakob und Wen­sier­ski speak of recon­struc­ting worlds of social mea­ning. [10] Through com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ve pro­ces­ses such as indi­vi­du­al or group coun­se­ling, social workers invi­te par­ti­ci­pants to recall the “records” or inter­na­li­zed records of their own life. in con­trast to a chro­no­lo­gi­cal list of per­so­nal situa­tions over the cour­se of their lives, the­se “records” sub­jec­tively remem­ber and con­sti­tu­te a life histo­ry stam­ped by that individual’s social and cul­tu­ral con­text. [11] In kee­ping with the fin­dings of eth­no­his­to­ri­cal micro­ana­ly­ses that bio­gra­phy is a media­ting con­struc­tion that can reve­al the inter­ac­tions bet­ween social situa­ti­on and indi­vi­du­al con­fi­gu­ra­ti­ons, social workers works col­la­bo­ra­tively with their cli­ents to help them under­stand their own life his­to­ries in their social con­di­tio­na­li­ty and indi­vi­du­al par­ti­cu­la­ri­ties. [12] In this con­text, working with cli­ents on their bio­gra­phy beco­mes an effort at acti­ve re/construction. Social workers can sup­port them as they reap­pro­pria­te their own past with all of its dis/continuities and inte­gra­te it into the pre­sent. [13] They help peop­le ther­eby to beco­me more sen­si­ti­ve to their prac­ti­cal dyna­mics and sur­vi­val stra­te­gies in light of rup­tures in their life sto­ries. Thjis kind of stu­dy and work tre­ats peop­le as con­struc­ti­ve agents of their own life and reco­gni­zed them as experts in their own affairs. Through it, they beco­me the aut­hors of their own life histo­ry. [14] Schi­mank descri­bes this con­fron­ta­ti­on with one’s own bio­gra­phy as an auto­poe­sis in the sen­se of recon­struc­ting their indi­vi­dua­li­ty. [15]

Ernst Hildebrand, Margarethe Hildebrand, Schwiegertochter des Künstlers, 1919,, herunterladen Dezember 2013.
Ernst Hildebrand, Margarethe Hildebrand, Schwiegertochter des Künstlers, 1919,, herunterladen Dezember 2013. Ernst Hil­de­brand, Mar­ga­re­the Hil­de­brand, Schwie­ger­toch­ter des Künst­lers, 1919, her­un­ter­la­den Dezem­ber 2013.

The bio­gra­phi­cal expe­ri­ence with natio­nal socia­lism is beco­m­ing incre­a­singly less tan­gi­ble as a direct nar­ra­ti­ve, at most we can do so only through the genera­ti­on of the so-cal­led “war child­ren”. Still we can gain access to the expe­ri­en­ces of the older genera­ti­ons through through eye wit­ness accounts, dia­ries, sto­ries that have been han­ded down to sub­se­quent genera­ti­ons, and also in let­ters like the ones that form the core of the T&S pro­ject. They record the pro­cess by which indi­vi­du­als lear­ned about their social world and that social world threa­tened their iden­ti­ties. By rea­ding, lis­tening to and retel­ling the­se auto/biographical sto­ries of ever­y­day life under natio­nal socia­lism today, we not only trans­mit them trans­ge­nera­tio­nal­ly but make them rele­vant to the pre­sent. Accord­ing to Pet­zold, social work mea­su­res direc­ted at the aging and elder­ly “should the­re­fo­re tar­get sub­sti­tu­ting com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on for silen­ced dia­lo­gues, com­mo­na­li­ty for iso­la­ti­on, tog­e­ther­ness for lone­li­ness.“ [16] Orga­ni­zing con­struc­ti­ve dia­lo­gue acqui­res par­ti­cu­lar sali­ence when encoun­ters around collec­ti­ve bio­gra­phic work is sup­po­sed to encou­ra­ge lear­ning bet­ween mem­bers if dif­fe­rent genera­ti­ons. [17] The­se kinds of dia­lo­gues put into ques­ti­on fami­li­ar mea­nings and open the pos­si­bi­li­ty for new insights. Mode­ra­tors of such encoun­ters — cal­led “mul­ti­pliers” — should be pre­pa­red to initia­te and gui­de group con­ver­sa­ti­ons, to make con­nec­tions bet­ween the con­tri­bu­ti­ons of the various par­ti­ci­pants, be sen­si­ti­ve to the use of par­ti­cu­lar­ly sali­ent key words, to reco­gni­ze the core ele­ments of the nar­ra­ti­ve, and to deepen the con­ver­sa­ti­on about it through ques­ti­ons. The goals here are to par­ti­ci­pa­te col­la­bo­ra­tively in the cri­ti­cal eva­lua­ti­on of one’s own per­so­nal bio­gra­phies [18] and to gar­ner new insights into the histo­ry of natio­nal socia­lism in the process.

Der Führer am Erntedanktag 20. Sept. 1934 in Goslar beim Abschreiten der Front der Reichswehr Ehrenkompagnie vor der Kaiserpfalz. "Hitler schreitet Ehrenkompanie ab, Goslar," Foto Scherl Bilderdienst Berlin S.W. Deutsches Bundesarchiv, Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst - Zentralbild (Bild 183), Bild 183-1987-0313-503, herunterladen Juni 2014,[view]=detail&search[focus]=1
= Der Füh­rer am Ern­te­dank­tag 20. Sept. 1934 in Gos­lar beim Abschrei­ten der Front der Reichs­wehr Ehren­kom­pa­gnie vor der Kai­ser­pfalz, Foto Scherl Bil­der­dienst Ber­lin S.W. DBa, Bild 183‑1987-0313–503, her­un­ter­la­den Juni 2014

For the pur­po­ses of the T&S Pro­ject, the con­cept of recon­struc­ti­ve social work con­nects the let­ters of Hil­de and Roland to the memo­ries of par­ti­ci­pants in the rese­arch team, at work­shops, on the web­site, in class­rooms, and so on. This plat­form thus offers a uni­que oppor­tu­ni­ty for trans­na­tio­nal, inter­ge­nera­tio­nal, and inter­me­di­al inves­ti­ga­ti­ons of the Nazi past. The task of “mul­ti­pliers” is to initia­te a con­struc­ti­ve dia­lo­gue bet­ween diver­se social groups in order to con­nect the let­ters to the memo­ries and comments of par­ti­ci­pants and frame them all in their his­to­ri­cal and con­tem­pora­ry contexts.

Last The­me: Eth­no­his­to­ri­cal Microanalysis

[1] Über die Ver­mitt­lung von Geschich­te außer­halb der Uni­ver­si­tä­ten sie­he: Jero­me de Groot, Con­suming Histo­ry, Lon­don 2009; David Lowen­thal, The Past is a For­eign Coun­try, Cam­bridge 1985; Rapha­el Samu­el, Thea­tres of Memo­ry, Lon­don 1994; Sam Wine­burg, His­to­ri­cal Thin­king and Other Unna­tu­ral Acts, Phil­adel­phia 2001.

[2] Roy Rosen­zweig, David The­len, The Pre­sence of the Past: Popu­lar Uses of Histo­ry in Ame­ri­can Life, New York 1998; Jor­ma Kale­la, Making Histo­ry. The His­to­ri­an and the Uses of the Past, Basing­s­to­ke 2012.

[3] Feld­post im Zwei­ten Welt­krieg,‑d.html, 11.2014; Samm­lung Frau­en­nach­läs­se am Insti­tut für Geschich­te der Uni­ver­si­tät Wien,, 11.2014; The Sophie Pro­ject: A Digi­tal Libra­ry of Works by Ger­man-Spea­king Women,, 11.2014;

[4] Public Histo­ry in a Digi­tal World – The Revo­lu­ti­on Recon­si­de­red, first Annu­al Con­fe­rence of the Inter­na­tio­nal Fede­ra­ti­on for Public Histo­ry, Uni­ver­si­ty of Ams­ter­dam, 23.– 25. 10. 2014,, 11.2014; Ger­man Stu­dies and Digi­tal Huma­nities, Ger­man Stu­dies Asso­cia­ti­on Annu­al Mee­ting, Ses­si­ons 93 & 123, Kan­sas City, MO, 18. Sep­tem­ber 2014; Ste­phan Robert­son, The Dif­fe­ren­ces bet­ween Digi­tal Histo­ry and Digi­tal Huma­nities, 23. May 2014,, 11.2014; H‑Soz-Kult Redak­ti­on: Edi­to­ri­al: The Sta­tus Quo of Digi­tal Huma­nities in Euro­pe, in: H‑Soz-Kult, 23.10.2014,<>; Spa­ti­al Nar­ra­ti­ves of the Holo­caust: GIS, Geo-Visua­liz­a­ti­on, and the Pos­si­bi­li­ties for Digi­tal Huma­nities, Ses­si­on 29, Ame­ri­can His­to­ri­cal Asso­cia­ti­on, New Orleans, 3. Janu­ar 2013; Tagungs­be­richt: Digi­tal Histo­ry: 13.05.2014–14.05.2014 Zürich, H‑Soz-Kult 18.07.2014,

[5] Nina Simon, The Par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry Muse­um 2010.; Felix Acker­mann, Anna Bar­off­ka, Gre­gor H. Lersch (Hsg.), Par­ti­zi­pa­ti­ve Erin­ne­rungs­räu­me Dia­lo­gi­sche Wis­sens­bil­dung in Muse­en und Aus­stel­lun­gen, Bie­le­feld 2013.

[6] Theo­dor Ador­no, Max Hork­hei­mer, Zur Dia­lek­tik der Auf­klä­rung, Frank­furt a. M. 1969.

[7] Nor­bert Frei, 1945 und wir. Die Gegen­wart der Ver­gan­gen­heit, in: Ders., 1945 und wir. Das Drit­te Reich im Bewußt­sein der Deut­schen, Mün­chen 2005, S. 7–22; Wulf Kan­stei­ner, Die Radi­ka­li­sie­rung des deut­schen Gedächt­nis­ses im Zeit­al­ter sei­ner kom­mer­zi­el­len Repro­duk­ti­on. Hit­ler und das „Drit­te Reich“ in den Fern­seh­do­ku­men­ta­tio­nen von Gui­do Knopp, in: Zeit­schrift für Geschichts­wis­sen­schaft 51 (2003), S. 626–648, S. 646.

[8] Hans-Joa­chim Schu­bert, The Chi­ca­go School of Socio­lo­gy. Theo­rie, Empi­rie und Metho­de. In: Klin­ge­mann, Cars­ten (Hrsg.): Jahr­buch für Sozio­lo­gie­ge­schich­te. Ver­lag für Sozi­al­wis­sen­schaf­ten, Wies­ba­den, 2007, S. 119–166; Ingrid Mie­the, Bio­gra­fie­ar­beit. Lehr- und Hand­buch für Stu­di­um und Pra­xis. Weinheim2011, S. 46

[9]Miethe, Bio­gra­phie­ar­beit, S. 46

[10] Gise­la Jakob und Hans Jür­gen von Wen­sier­ski (Hrsg.), Rekon­struk­ti­ve Sozi­al­päd­ago­gik. Wein­heim 1997, S. 10.

[11] Wolf­gang Ess­bach (Hrsg.), wir/ihr/sie. Iden­ti­tät und Alteri­tät in Theo­rie und Metho­de. Würz­burg 2001, S. 61.

[12] Vgl. Cor­ne­lia Kri­chel­dorff, Bio­gra­fi­sches Ler­nen – Neu­ori­en­tie­rung durch die Aus­ein­an­der­set­zung mit der eige­nen Lebens­ge­schich­te. In: Nach­rich­ten Bun­des­ar­beits­ge­mein­schaft der Senio­ren-Orga­ni­sa­tio­nen (BAGSO), 1/2005, S. 14–15; Dies., Bio­gra­fi­sches Arbei­ten und Ler­nen. Lebens­ge­schicht­li­che Prä­gun­gen als Res­sour­cen. In: Pfle­ge­ma­ga­zin 4/2005, S. 4–12.

[13] Hubert Klin­gen­ber­ger, Lebens­mu­tig. Ver­gan­ge­nes erin­nern, Gegen­wär­ti­ges ent­de­cken, Künf­ti­ges ent­wer­fen, Mün­chen 2003; und Klin­gen­ber­ger, Lebens­lauf. 365 Schrit­te für neue Per­spek­ti­ven, Mün­chen 2007.

[14] Vgl. Man­dy Aftel, The sto­ry of your life. Beco­m­ing the aut­hor of your expe­ri­ence, New York, 1996; Her­bert, Gud­jons, Mari­an­ne Pie­per, Bir­git Wagener-Gud­jons, Auf mei­nen Spu­ren. Das Ent­de­cken der eige­nen Lebens­ge­schich­te, Rein­bek bei Ham­burg, 1986.

[15] Uwe Schi­mank, Bio­gra­phie als Auto­poie­sis – eine sys­tem­theo­re­ti­sche Rekon­struk­ti­on von Indi­vi­dua­li­tät. In: Bro­se, Hanns-Georg & Hil­den­brand, Bru­no (Hrsg.): Vom Ende des Indi­vi­du­ums zur Indi­vi­dua­li­tät ohne Ende. Bio­gra­phie und Gesell­schaft, Bd. 4. Opla­den, 1988, S. 55–72.

[16] Hil­ari­on Pet­zold, Exchan­ge Lear­ning – ein Kon­zept für die Arbeit mit alten Men­schen. In: Pet­zold, Hil­ari­on (Hrsg.): Mit alten Men­schen arbei­ten: Bil­dungs­ar­beit, Psy­cho­the­ra­pie, Sozio­the­ra­pie. Band 57, Rei­he Leben ler­nen, Mün­chen 1985, S. 79.

[17] Jür­gen Seh­rig, Befrem­den, Aner­ken­nung und Selbst­er­kun­dung. Inter­views zur Mit­be­tei­li­gung und Fas­zi­na­ti­on im Natio­nal­so­zia­lis­mus, Kon­stanz: 2013.


[18] Johan­na Kohn, Ursu­la Caduff, Erzähl­ca­fés lei­ten. Bio­gra­fie­ar­beit mit alten Men­schen. In: Hau­pert, Bernhard/Schilling, Sigrid/Maurer, Susan­ne (Hrsg.): Bio­gra­fie­ar­beit und Bio­gra­fie­for­schung in der Sozia­len Arbeit. Bei­trä­ge zu einer rekon­struk­ti­ven Per­spek­ti­ve sozia­ler Pro­fes­sio­nen. Bern 2010, S. 211 f.

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