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Forging the Collective Memory

Forging the Collective Memory: Government and International Historians through Two World Wars

Edited by Keith Wilson
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Forging the Collective Memory
    Book Description:

    When studying the origins of the First World War, scholars have relied heavily on the series of key diplomatic documents published by the governments of both the defeated and the victorious powers in the 1920s and 1930s. However, this volume shows that these volumes, rather than dealing objectively with the past, were used by the different governments to project an interpretation of the origins of the Great War that was more palatable to them and their country than the truth might have been. In revealing policies that influenced the publication of the documents, the relationships between the commissioning governments, their officials, and the historians involved, this collection serves as a warning that even seemingly objective sources have to be used with caution in historical research.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-828-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. Introduction: Governments, Historians, and ‘Historical Engineering’
    (pp. 1-28)
    Keith Wilson

    Governments have never taken the view that they, and what they regard as their property, the official records of the governance of the state, exist for the sake of historians. If anything, and especially so far as recent international history is concerned, the collective view of governments has been that the situation has been, and must remain, the other way round. This governmental view has generated much tension between historians on the one hand and governments and their officials on the other. On the part of the historians this tension, this incompatibility of interests, may be illustrated by Lord Acton’s...

  5. Chapter 1 The Historical Diplomacy of the Third Republic
    (pp. 29-62)
    Keith Hamilton

    Diplomatic archives are the raw material of international history. They are also an invaluable asset for those charged with the administration and conduct of foreign policy. Besides providing enlightenment on past developments and precedents for current and future negotiations, they usually contain material for education and propaganda.² During the Weimar era the officials of the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin sought through the publication of their prewar records to exculpate Germany from the ‘war guilt’ attributed to her by the victorious Allies.³ Other governments responded by sanctioning and sponsoring similar documentary publications, and in the 1920s archivists, historians and librarians were harnessed...

  6. Chapter 2 The Unfinished Collection: Russian Documents on the Origins of the First World War
    (pp. 63-86)
    Derek Spring

    The imperial Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not been in the habit of regularly publishing correspondence about its activities comparable to the British Foreign Office Blue Books. In the second half of the nineteenth century there was only one near contemporaneous publication. This consisted of 155 documents from the Anglo-Russian correspondence about central Asia published in 1886 to give the Russian government’s view of the recent crisis and its background.¹ A public opinion was certainly emerging in Russia in this period, but in an autocratic political system in which the public did not have formal channels by which they...

  7. Chapter 3 Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany After the Great War
    (pp. 87-127)
    Holger H. Herwig

    Joseph Fouché, a man for all seasons who served the Directory, Consulate, Empire, and restoration as minister of police, was once reputed to have stated that any two lines from any oeuvre would suffice to have its author hanged. Indeed, the efforts of various Germans, both in official and private capacities, to undertake what John Röhl has termed ‘patriotic self-censorship’ with regard to the origins of the Great War reflect the sentiment expressed by the great French censor a century earlier.¹ For nearly fifty years, until Fritz Fischer’sGriff nach der Weltmachtappeared in 1961, which in many ways offered...

  8. Chapter 4 Senator Owen, the Schuldreferat, and The Debate Over War Guilt in the 1920s
    (pp. 128-150)
    Herman Wittgens

    Contacts in 1923 between officials of the German Foreign Ministry and Senator Robert L. Owen, Democrat from Oklahoma, seemed to hold out the promise of making the United States Senate a forum in the historiographical propaganda campaign conducted against Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles. This campaign against the so-called war-guilt article was intended to weaken the alleged moral and legal basis of the treaty, undermine confidence in it, and so create a climate of opinion favourable to the revision of the material clauses.¹ The major themes of the German innocence campaign emerge clearly from the so-called ‘Professoren Denkschrift’,...

  9. Chapter 5 History as Propaganda: The German Foreign Ministry and the ‘Enlightenment’ of American Historians on the War-Guilt Question, 1930–1933
    (pp. 151-177)
    Ellen L. Evans and Joseph O. Baylen

    In his essay ‘The Outbreak of the First World War and German War Aims’, Imanuel Geiss presented a ‘preliminary sketch of a very complicated story, based … on the study of about half of the rich material of the Kriegsschuldreferat in the Political Archive of the Auswärtiges Amt at Bonn’.¹ It is the purpose of this essay to illustrate and evaluate the campaign of the Kriegsschuldreferat (also known as the Schuldreferat or Referat ), a subsection of the German Foreign Ministry, to assist the American revisionists against the antirevisionists and to show how Dr Alfred von Wegerer, the editor of...

  10. Chapter 6 Austria and the Great War: Official Publications in the 1920s and 1930s
    (pp. 178-191)
    Ulfried Burz

    Although there was much controversy over Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles and Article 177 of the Treaty of St. Germain, which attributed sole guilt for the outbreak of war in 1914 to Germany and Austria-Hungary respectively, it did not spur either German or Austrian historians to take a prominent part in the ‘war-guilt debate’.¹ The pioneering research was left to foreign historians such as H. E. Barnes, S.B. Fay, G.P. Gooch (who very early on disputed the sole guilt of Germany), P. Renouvin, B.E. Schmitt, and L. Albertini.² A possible reason for the behaviour of the German historians...

  11. Chapter 7 The Pursuit of ‘Enlightened Patriotism’: The British Foreign Office and Historical Researchers During the Great War and Its Aftermath
    (pp. 192-229)
    Keith Hamilton

    Access to public archives and the value of their contents are matters of obvious concern to all serious historians. They were subjects to which Charles Webster, the newly appointed professor of modern history at the University of Liverpool, turned his attention in the inaugural lecture which he delivered on 10 December, 1914. Just four months after the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and Germany, and at a time when liberals and socialists were reaffirming and redefining their objections to a secret diplomacy which they held in large part responsible for the war, Webster argued that a truly national foreign...

  12. Chapter 8 The Imbalance in British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898–1914: Gooch, Temperley, and the India Office
    (pp. 230-264)
    Keith Wilson

    G.P. Gooch and H.W.V. Temperley selected for publication, and were allowed to publish (as an appendix in volume iii ofBritish Documents) not only E.A. Crowe’s Memorandum on the Present State of British Relations with France and Germany of 1 January 1907, but also the minute on it in which the foreign secretary stated that ‘the part of our foreign policy with which it is concerned involves the greatest issues, and requires constant attention’. They did not select for publication in any later volume Sir G.R. Clerk’s Memorandum on Anglo-Russian Relations in Persia of 21 July 1914, which the same...

  13. Chapter 9 Telling the Truth to the People: Britain’s Decision to Publish the Diplomatic Papers of the Interwar Period
    (pp. 265-288)
    Uri Bialer

    The conflict between secrecy and publicity is one of the most delicate issues in foreign policy. Not long ago, absolute monarchs were able to conduct diplomacy that was really secret and could make war and peace – not to mention less cardinal decisions – without explanation. However, in the age of mass armies and of total wars, public opinion has to be mobilised and the issues of foreign policy need to be elaborated, justified and defended, even by nondemocratic governments. On the other hand, professional diplomats continue to claim that secrecy is often a crucial prerequisite for successful foreign policy. Modern international...

  14. Appendix: Harold Wilson and the Adoption of the Thirty-Year Rule in Great Britain
    (pp. 289-293)
  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 294-294)
  16. Index
    (pp. 295-300)