Advanced Readings in German Historiography

Course Description: 

German-speaking historians have contributed significantly to the development of history as an academic discipline. This fact is strongly correlated with the central geographic position of the German cultural sphere on the European continent and the political importance of German states in European history over the past 200 years. These are excellent, if not necessarily pleasant reasons to take a closer look at German historiography in the original language of its authors. German history gave German historians a lot to think about and we want to look at selected authors since the Napoleonic Wars and scrutinize their writings as well as the circumstances under which they were working. We will follow a rough chronological order in the seminar, from historicism to new trends in Global History followed at German research institutions. We will look for interconnections between the different authors discussed. On our way to the 21st century we make stops at central scholars like Max Weber and decisive debates like the discussion of a German “Sonderweg” leading straight from Luther to Hitler or the “Historikerstreit” about the singularity of the Holocaust and the Holocaust as a defining moment of post-War German identity. The latter in particular has come under intense scrutiniy again with the rise of right-wing parties in Germany.


The course is well suited for students who want to get familiar with German historiographical debates and writing styles. If you want to focus on a research topic involving German source reading later in your studies, this course could come in handy, as well. The course requires German reading skills only. If you are able to read German newspaper articles with the help of a dictionary, you fulfill the language requirements. The syllabus is a proposal and will be adapted to the needs and skills of the participants after the first in-person meeting. This includes the possibility to downscale the reading list. The syllabus includes mostly male authors which is in itself already very telling about German academic culture on which we could reflect in class, as well. A potential on demand focus point could be practical issues like online resources or encyclopedias. 

Learning Outcomes: 

The course provides students with a basic knowledge of the German historiograpic “scene” and gives you a better understanding of German academic culture in the humanities and authors who shaped the discourse of their discipline. You get a better sense of different methodological approaches to study the past of mankind (at least since the Renaissance) and develop the insight that great scholars can make great mistakes, as well, and are children of their times, deeply intertwined with their societies’ contradictions. 


Each student is obliged to send me a short email on his/her reading impressions before the start of each class (preferably one day before the course). These will not be graded but help me to adapt the course to your needs and see which difficulties you encountered. There are no formal requirements for the style of the “reading impressions”,  feel free to express what you (dis)liked about the texts, which questions came to your mind and what you would like to discuss in class. At the end of the term an essay of 1,500-3,000 words is required related to a text, idea or author we discussed in class.