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The Search for Normality

The Search for Normality: National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Germany Since 1800

Stefan Berger
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Search for Normality
    Book Description:

    TheHistorikerstreitof the 1980s has ended inconclusively amidst heated debates on the nature and course of German national history. The author follows the debates beyond the unexpected reunification of the country in 1990 and analyzes the most recent trends in German historiography. Reunification, he observes, has brought in its wake an urgent search for the "normality" of the nation state. For anyone interested in the development of the national master narrative in more recent German historiography, this book will provide an essential guide through the multitude of historical debates surrounding the nation state.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-711-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Stefan Berger
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Foreword ‘The Search For Normality’ Six Years Later: History Writing and National Identity in Germany at the Beginning of the 21st Century
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)
    Stefan Berger

    ‘Identity is impossible without history, and there is no history without identity’. Thus stated the president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, at the lastHistorikertagin Halle in September 2002. Rau was calling on historians to write history that would foster feelings of national identity under the conditions of a rapidly changing immigration society (Einwanderungsgesellschaft).¹ Just before theHistorikertagopened, Hans-Ulrich Wehler had controversially remarked on Germany’s ‘problems with its Turkish population (Türkenproblem)’. Muslim Turks, he had argued, were impossible to integrate into German society. Wehler had then gone on to pontificate on the undesirability of Turkey’s...

  6. Chapter 1 Historiography and Nation-Building: Some Preliminary Remarks
    (pp. 1-18)

    The nation has returned to Germany with a vengeance. A ‘new right’ has emerged in the reunified country with the resurrection of ‘a self-confident nation’ as the focal point of its programme.¹ Of course, nationalism always survived within the plethora of extreme right-wing organisations that accompanied the history of the old Federal Republic. It scored spectacular successes at the ballot box in the early 1950s, the late 1960s and the mid-1980s. However, what is worrying about the post-reunification renaissance of the national idea is that ‘new right’ thinking had some impact on the centre-right and even on some sections of...

  7. Part I National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Germany 1800-1989

    • Chapter 2 The National Tradition in German Historiography, 1800-1960
      (pp. 21-55)

      Ever since the nineteenth century much of German historiography has been dominated by professional historians whose main aim was to educate, emancipate, agitate or indoctrinate. German historism’s claim to objectivity only thinly veiled its tendency to legitimate the existing political conditions and therefore to write the history of the victors. By the middle of the nineteenth century the socalled Prussian historians were writing history which could ably support the demands for a unified nation-state. Most of them would probably have agreed with Hayden White’s remark that only antiquarians or cultural necrophiles studied the past as an end in itself.¹ This...

    • Chapter 3 The Impact of Fritz Fischer
      (pp. 56-76)

      As has been noted in the previous chapter, the survival of Prussianism rested on historical interpretations which portrayed Nazism as the evil exception to an otherwise proud national history. It was at this, the very heart of the post-war national tradition, that Fischer struck with his publications in the late 1950s and early 1960s.¹ Fischer maintained that Europe had not slithered into war in 1914. Instead he pointed the finger at Germany’s elites who, he argued, saw the Serbian crisis as an opportunity to achieve hegemony in Europe. Fischer sought to underline his thesis by demonstrating how widespread expansionist war...

    • Chapter 4 Decades of Postnationalism? German Historiography from the 1960s to the 1980s
      (pp. 77-108)

      In the last chapter I argued that the Fischer controversy had a significant impact on West German historiography in that it contributed to ending the stifling consensus on the national tradition. Some historians were quick to announce a fundamental change of paradigm.¹ The writing of history, Rüsen argued, was moving ‘fromverstehende Geisteswissenschaftto historical social science’.² Kocka argued that the paradigm change in historiography was in line with a general move from nation to society in the post-war era.³ For Wehler the old paradigms of a political history of states and their foreign policies were gradually superseded by new...

  8. Part II The Search for Normality after 1990

    • Chapter 5 Imperial Germany and the Sonderweg Revisited
      (pp. 111-123)

      In November 1990, just one month after official reunification, Karl-Heinz Janßen, a historian working for the German weeklyDie Zeit, attacked what he perceived as renewed efforts to whitewash Germans of their historical guilt in the twentieth century. Reminding historians of the profession’s long nationalist legacy, he warned against repeating the mistakes of the past and engaging upon national apologias when critical self-examination was what was most needed.¹ That year, Schulin expressed his concern about the ‘renaissance of attempting to endow Germans with national identity’.² In 1994, Konrad Jarausch perceived ‘increasing signs that a new nationalism is spreading even amongst...

    • Chapter 6 Germany’s Darkest Years Revisited
      (pp. 124-148)

      The renationalisation of German historiography has been closely linked to renewed attempts to exculpate the German nation from its darkest years. One can distinguish between four separate strategies: first, Ernst Nolte’s theory of a European civil war which has endowed the Nazis and even genocide with historical ‘legitimacy’; secondly, efforts to historise National Socialism which are combined with theories of Nazism as a consciously modernising force in twentieth-century German history; thirdly, various efforts to portray the German nation as Hitler’s victims; and finally, a return to the view of the national-conservative opposition to Hitler as the ‘true’ Germany which upheld...

    • Chapter 7 ‘The Second German Dictatorship’
      (pp. 149-175)

      The history of the GDR has become the most booming field of research within contemporary German historiography. Public interest in the topic has been high as it lends itself to being used as an effective weapon in the day-to-day political battles as well as in the broader identity debate, which since reunification has reemerged with renewed vigour. In this chapter I would like to assess the place of GDR history and historiography in efforts to renationalise the German identity. Therefore it will be necessary, first of all, to look at the revival after 1989 of totalitarianism as a framework for...

    • Chapter 8 The Old Federal Republic as the New Sonderweg
      (pp. 176-197)

      We have already seen above thatSonderwegnotions pre-1945 have been further eroded after 1989/1990. Those who are intent on renationalising German historical consciousness instead began to interpret the history of the Federal Republic between 1949 and 1990 as the newSonderweg. A new framework for the history of the old FRG was provided by Karl-Heinz Bohrer who saw its society and politics characterised by its alleged provincialism.¹ From being a success story, the history of the Federal Republic has become a mere divertimento in German national history. For Weißmann, the Federal Republic lacked ‘all those historical characteristics as leave...

    • Chapter 9 The National Revival in German Historiography
      (pp. 198-229)

      Reunification of Germany in October 1990 convinced some historians that a re-evaluation of the role of the nation in German history was on the cards. They now attributed a new ‘normality’ to the nation in their writings. This new national rhetoric also found expression in the search for new national symbols. It became prominent in the context of political efforts to whip up national sentiment after November 1989. The national debate in Germany brought, amongst other things, frequent calls for a paradigm change in German historiography from society to nation. All these aspects of the renationalisation of German identity need...

    • Chapter 10 The Reactions of British and American Historians to Changes in German Historiography after Reunification
      (pp. 230-250)

      German historiography has often been so absorbed by its own vitriolic debates that it finds it difficult at times to look beyond national boundaries. Yet after 1945 there have also been important moves in the direction of greater Europeanisation and internationalisation. Never before have there been more exchange programmes, more opportunities for conducting research across national boundaries, more attention in scholarly journals to research published in other countries. Such developments have to be set against the way history departments at German universities are organised, with their great emphasis on German history, and their longcursus honorumfor younger scholars who...

    • Chapter 11 Conclusion
      (pp. 251-258)

      History does not have to repeat itself, in fact, it rarely does. The national turn in historiography which I have depicted in chapters five to nine, leaves vast swathes of German historians unaffected, and the plurality of opinions on the nation-state seems, for the time being at least, guaranteed. The current situation is a far cry from the predicament of nineteenth-century historiography. The rise of historiographic nationalism in Germany happened in a century that has been rightly described as a classical one for nation-building processes all over Europe. Closely connected to the rise of historism and the emergence of a...

  9. Biographical Appendix
    (pp. 259-275)
  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 276-297)
  11. Index
    (pp. 298-308)