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Imperial Germany Revisited

Imperial Germany Revisited: Continuing Debates and New Perspectives

Sven Oliver Müller
Cornelius Torp
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Imperial Germany Revisited
    Book Description:

    The German Empire, its structure, its dynamic development between 1871 and 1918, and its legacy, have been the focus of lively international debate that is showing signs of further intensification as we approach the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Based on recent work and scholarly arguments about continuities and discontinuities in modern German history from Bismarck to Hitler, well-known experts broadly explore four themes: the positioning of theBismarckianEmpire in the course of German history; the relationships between society, politics and culture in a period of momentous transformations; the escalation of military violence in Germany's colonies before 1914 and later in two world wars; and finally the situation of Germany within the international system as a major political and economic player. The perspectives presented in this volume have already stimulated further argument and will be of interest to anyone looking for orientation in this field of research.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-287-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Sven Oliver Müller and Cornelius Torp
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Cornelius Torp and Sven Oliver Müller

    What sort of structure was the German state of 1871? What sort of powers and phenomena dominated it? What sort of potential for development did it possess? What inheritance did it leave behind? How did it shape the future course of German history? These questions have been at the heart of numerous historical controversies, in the course of which our understanding of Imperial Germany has fundamentally changed. Modern historical research on the German Empire was shaped by two important developments.¹ The first was the Fischer controversy at the beginning of the 1960s, which put the question of the continuity of...


    • Chapter 1 When the Sonderweg Debate Left Us
      (pp. 21-36)
      Helmut Walser Smith

      German history has traversed a long complicated terrain, with the Reformation, the convulsions of the religious wars, the precarious hold of the Enlightenment, the shock of Napoleonic invasion, the failed Revolution of 1848, and the impact of Bismarck as important markers of a tortuous past that ended, insofar as history can end, in collapse. The Third Reich was not predetermined by this history, but nor can it be thought to be without it. Otherwise, the Nazi period would seem like an unfortunate accident, divorced from any connection to a longer view of German history and culture.

      To most readers, the...

    • Chapter 2 The Impossible Vanishing Point: Societal Differentiation in Imperial Germany
      (pp. 37-50)
      Benjamin Ziemann

      In the third volume of hisHistory of German Society, Hans-Ulrich Wehler painted a broad and powerful picture of the political reform blockages in Germany from 1870–1914 and of the authoritarian remodeling of the political system of Imperial Germany. The military’s special constitutional position, the absence of a genuine parliamentarization although parliament increasingly had more duties, the formally non-political, in fact however conservative-authoritative “government through the civil service,” and the “radicalization” of a new “Reich nationalism”—these are just a few examples of Germany’s negative record in regard to political reform from 1870–1914.¹ It is possible to criticize...

    • Chapter 3 Was the German Empire a Sovereign State?
      (pp. 51-66)
      Dieter Grimm

      This essay treats a topic which is not at the heart of the historical research into the German Empire. Hans-Ulrich Wehler, for example, answers the question: “What was this new Empire, founded by way of a treaty on 1 January 1871?” by saying that its “principle of construction” was the establishment of a central state, to which the mediatized member states had transferred certain sovereign rights.¹ According to Wehler the “formal sovereignty” lay with the Bundesrat, which, however, was not the power center. Symbolically, the Kaiser was increasingly considered the “actual sovereign of the Reich,” whereas the “key institutional position”—...

    • Chapter 4 Theories of Nationalism and the Critical Approach to German History
      (pp. 67-80)
      John Breuilly

      Nationalism began to be treated as a subject in its own right in the interwar period, though still as an aspect of nation.¹ It remained contained within the national framework that characterized historical writing.² This blocked the formation of an autonomous concept of nationalism.

      Kedourie broke this link in his seminal 1960 study, as the opening sentence makes clear: “Nationalism is a doctrine invented in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century.”³ However, for two decades his book had little influence, as it treated nationalism as a radical doctrine, largely consigned to the past. Only from the early 1980s...


    • Chapter 5 The Authoritarian State and the Political Mass Market
      (pp. 83-96)
      James Retallack

      In this chapter I consider how research on my principal themes has evolved since the 1980s.¹ In the process I will identify some open questions for future research. Some initial observations are required to place my twin subjects in the context of three discussions found elsewhere in this volume, dealing with World War I, culture, and transnationalism. They also begin the task of explaining why the two bodies of scholarly writing on the authoritarian state and on the political mass market have relied so heavily on each other in the past—and should continue to do so.²

      Did World War...

    • Chapter 6 Using Violence to Govern: The German Empire and the French Third Republic
      (pp. 97-106)
      Heinz-Gerhard Haupt

      There is little in the historical literature on either the German Empire or the Third Republic on the structure of the violence within these countries. The parliament, developments in individual states and the structures of civil society are seen as significant, within the framework of a liberal interpretation of Germany from 1870–1918 and the development of its political culture, but not the structure of violence. Even in the cultural and political histories of the French Republic, the army and the police are not among the central actors. One of the reasons for the relative unimportance that both historiographies attentions...

    • Chapter 7 Women’s Suffrage and Antifeminism as a Litmus Test of Modernizing Societies: A Western European Comparison
      (pp. 107-124)
      Ute Planert

      How “modern” was the German Empire in comparison to other European countries? How willing was it to undertake necessary reforms? The answer to these questions has changed considerably during the last few years. While some authors still include the German Empire as part of Europe’s “conservative east,”¹ from the perspective of comparative social history the GermanSonderweghas merged into the variety of European paths of development.² Although Hans-Ulrich Wehler still holds with verve to his stimulating formula of the GermanSonderweg, he has acknowledged considerable modernizing successes during the German Empire. Nevertheless, the doyen of German social history attests...

    • Chapter 8 Germany in the Age of Culture Wars
      (pp. 125-140)
      Olaf Blaschke

      The “Age of Culture Wars”—to stress this point first—was coined neither by the author of this chapter nor by the editors of this volume, who were kind enough to ask him to write about this topic. Rather, it was coined by Albert Ehrhard. The historian of the Catholic Church wrote over one hundred years ago: “Throughout Europe conflicts have come up between governments and the Catholic Church which may one day give our age the label of the ‘Age of Culture Wars’” (Zeitalter der Kulturkämpfe).¹

      The forty-year-old Erhard had to wait a long time for this labelling to...

    • Chapter 9 Their Favorite Enemy: German Social Historians and the Prussian Nobility
      (pp. 141-156)
      Stephan Malinowski

      In German social history, the nobility has for a long time had about the same position that “backward peoples” had in the work of American modernization theorists.¹ Since the 1950s, Berber, Bantu, Southeast Asian rice farmers and the Prussian nobility were perceived to have shared a modernization deficit, diagnosed by social scientists inspired by modernization theory. This analogy is not completely ridiculous for a number of reasons. For one, already in 1830 German liberals made fun of the nobility as an “exotic Indian tribe,”² and between the French Revolution and the founding of Germany in 1870–71 the nobility worked...

    • Chapter 10 A Difficult Relationship: Social History and the Bourgeoisie
      (pp. 157-172)
      Manfred Hettling

      German social history and working-class history were so closely linked like partners in a long marriage. Beginning with the studies of the “Vereins für Socialpolitik” in the late nineteenth century, research into the working class was at the center of social historical studies; historians were especially interested in the material conditions of the lower classes during industrialization. In the Federal Republic of Germany, this interest in living conditions was especially strong in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of the motivation for this interest came from the way East German historians investigated the history of the working-class movement, concentrating on the...

    • Chapter 11 Cultural Nationalism and Beyond: Musical Performances in Imperial Germany
      (pp. 173-186)
      Sven Oliver Müller

      Successful politics requires successful exaggeration. If one wants to conquer the political realm, there is no such thing as too much exaggeration. Both the ruler and his subjects are anxious to define the desired situation through their own public portrayal. Those who want to structure the interaction in the political arena must do so within the framework of the existing conditions in society, in order to define their interests in their own words. This can be seen not only when one examines election campaigns but also when one examines the musical culture of the German Empire. Here the manifestations of...


    • Chapter 12 1914–1945: A Second Thirty Years War? Advantages and Disadvantages of an Interpretive Category
      (pp. 189-200)
      Jörg Echternkamp

      The idea that there are clear lines of continuity from the First to the Second World War is hardly new. Already toward the end of the 1970s, the American diplomat and historian George F. Kennan interpreted the First World War as “the great seminal catastrophe of this century,” perceiving a break in the course of world history from 1914–18 to 1939–45, the influence of which extended even into the Cold War.¹ The end of the Cold War in 1989–90 made one think once again about the beginning of this period, increasing the interest in the First World...

    • Chapter 13 The Enduring Charm of the Great War: Some Reflections on Methodological Issues
      (pp. 201-212)
      Roger Chickering

      Several years ago, American audiences were riveted to their televisions by Ken Burns’ epic history of “The War.”¹ Burns did not have to identify the war in question, for in the United States the Second World War (which is what everyone in Burns’ audience understood “the war” to mean) figures as the pivot in America’s twentieth century, the “good war” fought by the “greatest generation”—an event that rivals the American Revolution and the American Civil War as this country’s defining historical moment.² The First World War, by contrast, occupies a much more modest, peripheral place in the American national...

    • Chapter 14 The First World War and Military Culture: Continuity and Change in Germany and Italy
      (pp. 213-226)
      MacGregor Knox

      The First World War, for all its horrors, was not in all respects the primordial catastrophe allegedly at the root of the far greater horrors of the quarter-century that followed. The two powers in the middle of the scale of 1914–18 destruction, Germany and Italy, passed through the cataclysm with their civil societies largely intact. Their institutions fared less well. But even in Germany, much of the political and institutional landscape remained eerily in place; this essay is above all a study in continuity.

      The forty-year gap—as of 1914—between Italy and Germany in economic development and literacy...

    • Chapter 15 A German Way of War? Narratives of German Militarism and Maritime Warfare in World War I
      (pp. 227-238)
      Dirk Bönker

      The narrative of an authoritarian German militarism set against political modernity and civil society has long served as a master narrative for modern German military history. But by now, the validity of this narrative has been successfully called into question. The narrative fails to situate the German experience with militarism within common European and transatlantic war cultures and politics of militarization; it offers too simple and overdrawn a portrayal of societal and cultural militarization in Germany; it ignores the importance of technocratic reasoning and industrialized warfare in understanding the German military; and it pays too little attention to transformations and...

    • Chapter 16 German War Crimes 1914 and 1941: The Question of Continuity
      (pp. 239-250)
      Alan Kramer

      For professional historians it is no longer a matter of debate that the German army committed war crimes both in the First and the Second World War. Interest has shifted, in a revival of the old controversy about theSonderweg(special path) of German history, to the question of possible continuities. Clearly, few would today claim that Nazi warfare represented a linear continuation of the warfare of Imperial Germany, merely embellished by racist ideology. But does that mean a radically new type of warfare emerged in 1939, revealed by the disposition to commit massive war crimes and genocide?

      At first...


    • Chapter 17 From the Periphery to the Center: On the Significance of Colonialism for the German Empire
      (pp. 253-266)
      Birthe Kundrus

      For a long time, the German colonial experience had a shadowy academic existence. German colonialism came on the scene too late, was too superficial and lasted too short a time to have left behind any deep tracks.¹ And, in truth, the period of German colonial rule lasted only a little more than thirty years—from 1884 till 1918. As a consequence of its defeat in World War I, Germany was required by Article 119 of the Versailles Treaty to give up its overseas “possessions to the allied and associated Great Powers.” The first German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, had opposed...

    • Chapter 18 The Kaiserreich as a Society of Migration
      (pp. 267-280)
      Thomas Mergel

      Historians have only gradually become aware of the degree of mobility in nineteenth century society. This holds especially true with respect to imperial Germany—its society is perceived as being notoriously static among traditional social historians. Yet millions of Germans emigrated out of Germany, and hundreds of thousands of non-Germans, perhaps even more, either temporarily or permanently immigrated during this period. Internal migration, which mobilized a large section of the German population, took place on an even greater scale, yet remained largely unnoticed for a long time. Indeed, there was considerable movement within the authoritarian fabric of the Kaiserreich.


    • Chapter 19 Wilhelmine Nationalism in Global Contexts: Mobility, Race, and Global Consciousness
      (pp. 281-296)
      Sebastian Conrad

      Between 1880 and 1914, the integration of the international economy, the political and imperial expansion of the West, and the increase in cultural exchanges across national borders contributed to a complex set of cross-border engagements that historians have begun to call globalization. This did not go unnoticed by contemporaries who closely witnessed this process with enthusiasm, or apprehension. Not much unlike today, the question of how to grasp the relationship between the nation and the process of transborder exchange received much attention. The most common interpretation was one that perceived globalization—or internationalization, in contemporary parlance—as a natural stage...

    • Chapter 20 Imperial Germany under Globalization
      (pp. 297-312)
      Cornelius Torp

      In the nineteenth century the world became much smaller, and the speed with which this happened impressed contemporaries. “Modern transportation,” noted the State Secretary of the Interior, Graf Posadowsky, in a speech to parliament when submitting a new German customs tariff in 1901, has brought “countries which are thousands of miles away from us into a geographical market position as if they were in front of the doors of our customs offices.” The “globe” has been “pressed together” as if “it were a rubber ball.”¹ This compression of time and space was caused by the transportation and communication revolutions in...

    • Chapter 21 German Industry and American Big Business, 1900–1914
      (pp. 313-324)
      Volker Berghahn

      This contribution deals with aspects of the history of the Wilhelmine empire and its embeddedness in the international system before 1914 that have been overshadowed during the last two decades by more fashionable genres of historical writing, such as the history of daily life and gender, of minorities, popular culture, and identity. By contrast, I am interested here in problems of political economy and of the role of economic actors before World War I. What has motivated me to contribute this essay to a volume that is largely concerned with non-economic questions is the hope that economic history will once...

  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 325-336)
  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 337-340)
  12. Subject Index
    (pp. 341-344)
  13. Index of Persons
    (pp. 345-348)