Annette Kehnel has held the Chair of Medieval History at the University of Mannheim since 2005. She studied history and biology at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, at Somerville College Oxford and at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. After completing her doctoral studies at Trinity College Dublin (PhD 1995), she taught and conducted research at LMU Munich, then at TU Dresden, where she habilitated in 2003.
Annette Kehnel work is internationally comparative, and she has held visiting professorships and research stays in Paris, Oxford, Bogota, Beijing, Jerusalem, Fribourg/
She held various positions at the University of Mannheim, was Vice Dean and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities (2010–2014), Ombudsperson for Young Academics, and Board Member of the Ekkehard Foundation. Since 2021 Annette Kehnel has been Vice President for Student Affairs and Teaching of the University Mannheim.
What are historians doing in the 21st century? What contribution do they make to shaping the enormous challenges and transformation processes as a result of global climate change? Annette Kehnel offers a broadening of horizons with her cross-epoch research projects. She calls for a departure from the “hic-et-nunc” perspective of the present in favour of sustainable and long-term models of thought and action. History trains the sense of possibility.
Based on her early research on the history of medieval monasteries and orders in Ireland, Italy and England, she reconstructs “cultures of sustainability” in pre-modern societies, and shows how, in the interplay between culture, religion and economy, behaviour and patterns of action are handed down that we would call sustainable today.
How was awareness of social sustainability promoted in the economically flourishing cities of Upper Italy? In order not to lose the people on the downside of late medieval economic growth, the city councils founded pawnshops, which we would call microcredit banks today. They organised access to capital and thus the possibility of market participation, not through charity but through small loans. Pawns were accepted as collateral for loans, thus ensuring long-term social cohesion (see Tanja Skambraks' work).
Women have been overlooked for a long time. They are a blind spot in research. A case study on the southern French city of Montpellier examines the role of women as contractual partners, investors and heirs in commercial transactions, sales contracts and wills (see Verena Weller's project).
Nuns also managed their own finances. Currently, a series of previously unprocessed account books from medieval nunneries in Kirchheim/
How can collective resources that belong to everyone and can only be used jointly be used sustainably without destroying them? How can the atmosphere, groundwater, soil, oceans and rainforests be shared equitably and sustainably? The fishermen of Lake Constance in the Middle Ages and the early modern period demonstrate this and confirm the research of Nobel Prize winner Elionor Ostroms.
“Cities of Ladies” – the Beguinages, first founded in the late 13th century, are an example of sustainable and long-lasting architecture that ages well and is suitable for changes of use (see Vittorio Lampugnani, architect, ETH Zurich / Harvard).
“Small is beautiful” (1972) – E. F. Schumacher's plea for a return to human moderation, the need for less instead of more and more, seems to be a constant companion of people and can be traced back to Greek antiquity.
Annette Kehnel deals with all these aspects in her book " Wir konnten auch anders. Eine kurze Geschichte der Nachhaltigkeit”.
“Wir konnten auch anders” was awarded the NDR Non-Fiction Book Prize 2021 and was on the Spiegel bestseller list in autumn 2021. It has been translated into Korean, Arabic and Dutch. The English edition will be published by Profile Books, London, in autumn 2024.