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German History in Modern Times. Four Lives of the Nation by William W. Hagen (review)
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Reviewed by
William W. Hagen. German History in Modern Times. Four Lives of the Nation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 463p.

Professor William Hagen of the University of California, Davis has written an engaging, versatile, and well-illustrated work that will certainly find use as a [End Page 76] textbook in history and German Studies courses. For more seasoned scholars as well, this book will be a worthwhile resource to chart new approaches to modern German historiography and cultural studies. The source material is in many respects well known, and Hagen has skillfully examined considerable portions elsewhere over "more than a few decades of reading, writing and teaching" (xvii). Indeed, it is precisely because of his long academic involvement with German history that he is able to illuminate and authoritatively summarize its contours in promising ways for future research. The book is a well-written invitation to approach pre-1990 German history as four distinct yet interconnected lives or "nations." Equally importantly, the cultural and political patterns Hagen traces can be used to contextualize developments in his posited fifth iteration of the German nation, the post-1990 Germany now "taking shape under globalizing and multicultural skies" (424).

Hagen's concise introduction is a rich survey of important periods and schools in German historiography, including the 10-point "standard model," "negative identity" and "separate path" models, as well as Marxist and liberal-democratic perspectives. Drawing on his four decades of scholarship, however, Hagen here introduces an approach that stresses "a succession of polynational existences" (17) in an attempt to minimize the influence of ideology on analysis while embedding "German" history in a wider European context. The main text, as per its title above, is then divided into four sections, each illuminating major events and movements within a particular time period both chronologically and thematically: Holy Roman Empire to the French Revolution, 1789-1914, 1914-1945, and 1945-present. In most cases, these divisions mirror those seen in other histories of Germany. Yet the prominent analysis of the transnational, federative Holy Roman Empire as Hagen's starting point is an essential demonstration of the validity of his "polynational existence" thesis, not least given the structure of the European Union, of which (West) Germany is a founding member.

The 24-page bibliography that follows is very valuable to the novice or one not able to read German-language sources. It lists not only masterworks of German history - general, cultural and political - written in English or translated over time, but also a considerable number of translations of German literature and first-person memoirs spanning several centuries. The final section helpfully lists subtitled versions of seminal, readily available German films. Interestingly, German Studies scholars who came of age in the 1990's will note apparent proof that the "Goldhagen moment" has passed, since none of his works or the scholarly debate occasioned by them find direct mention in the bibliography or Hagen's main text. Photographs, maps and other illustrations throughout the text vividly [End Page 77] underscore cultural and historical moments Hagen mentions, and many of these appear in an English-language text for the first time.

Several aspects of Hagen's work deserve special attention. First, as noted above, the book admirably embeds "German" culture in a larger transnational Central and Eastern European context. This includes a well-grounded discussion of the Austrian and Hungarian dimensions of "German" culture and politics at many points in the text, which is a most welcome feature. The term "German" has of course been defined in diverse ways throughout the millennia, but rarely with such stress on the multicultural, transnational dimensions and influences as here. In keeping with the first point, cultural aspects arranged by theme within the time periods Hagen addresses will be of value to students, professors and researchers alike. The move away from strict chronological organization of survey courses in German Studies is relatively recent, though German history's scope and the structural limits of the one- or two-semester sequence have long suggested such an approach. Hagen deftly demonstrates how one can compactly but thoroughly pay due attention to both, and is one of the few scholarly works recently...