Prof. Dr. Hannah Ahlheim
Contemporary History, Gießen

Contact Details

Prof. Dr. Hannah Ahlheim
Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Historisches Institut / Zeitgeschichte
Otto-Behaghel-Str. 10 C
35394 Gießen

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Biographical Note

Hannah Ahlheim is Professor of Contemporary History at the Justus Liebig University Gießen. She habilitated at Georg-August University of Göttingen in 2016 and received her PhD at the Ruhr-University of Bochum in 2008. In 2018, her habilitation thesis „Der Traum vom Schlaf im 20. Jahrhundert. Wissen, Optimierungsphantasien und Widerständigkeit“ was published by the Wallstein Verlag. Further focuses of her work are the history of National Socialism, the history of antisemitism and the history of work and time.

Measuring dreams. REM-sleep and dream-deprivation in the sleep laboratory

In 1953, under the egis of Nathaniel Kleitman, a group of researchers at the University of Chicago discovered the so-called REM (rapid-eye-movement)-sleep. In these stages of sleep, the (closed) eyes of the sleeping subject were moving quickly in every direction, and at the same time the EEG recorded curves similar to those of wakefulness, although the person could barely be awoken. Scientists soon agreed that they had found a way to identify “dream” phases during sleep. The elusive phenomenon of dreaming seemed to have been captured on paper. It could be explored in a scientific manner, by an observer from the “outside”. In this light, researchers such as Kleitman’s student and co-worker William Dement hoped that, with the help of REM-sleep-research, the physiology of sleep could be linked more closely with methods of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Dement started to experiment with REM-sleep, above all by depriving his subjects of these sleep phases. However, such attempts were not as successful as anticipated, and after only a few years the physiologically oriented discipline of sleep research removed the idea of psychoanalytically influenced dream research from its agenda.
This project scrutinizes how the assumption that a dream could be caught by means of scientific measurement and records shaped the very idea of dreaming. What concepts of dreaming were developed, not only by the scientists and experts but also by the public? What conflicts arose, and why exactly have the paths of sleep and dream research parted again?