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Confronting History

A Memoir

George L. Mosse; Foreword by Walter Laqueur

Publication Year: 2013

Just two weeks before his death in January 1999, George L. Mosse, one of the great American historians, finished writing his memoir, a fascinating and fluent account of a remarkable life that spanned three continents and many of the major events of the twentieth century.
            Confronting History describes Mosse's opulent childhood in Weimar Berlin; his exile in Paris and England, including boarding school and study at Cambridge University; his second exile in the U.S. at Haverford, Harvard, Iowa, and Wisconsin; and his extended stays in London and Jerusalem. Mosse discusses being a Jew and his attachment to Israel and Zionism, and he addresses his gayness, his coming out, and his growing scholarly interest in issues of sexuality. This touching memoir—told with the clarity, passion, and verve that entranced thousands of Mosse's students—is guided in part by his belief that "what man is, only history tells" and, most of all, by the importance of finding one's self through the pursuit of truth and through an honest and unflinching analysis of one's place in the context of the times.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

...Of the American historians of his generation George Mosse was one of the greatest teachers, perhaps the best known abroad, and certainly one of the most beloved. There were many long and thoughtful reviews of his life and work in the German and French press, in Italy and Israel. They showed among other things that George had become a legend in his own lifetime, for they also included stories which almost certainly had not happened...

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1 - Introduction: On Native Ground

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pp. 3-6

...autobiography hardly apply. The most common reason is to pass one's own history on to one's descendants, and I have none. Then there are those who have lived a public life or who regard themselves-rightly or wrongly-as makers of history, and I cannot make such a claim. As an academic I deal with documents, ideas, and theories which could presumably...

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2 - The Setting

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pp. 7-18

...opulent lifestyle which served to block out the realities of life. What other child had a car and driver of his own when not yet ten years of age and was driven to primary school when other children walked? Moreover, a series of governesses took care of all my needs. I had my own living room as well as bedroom at my disposal both in Berlin and on the country estate just outside the city. I took such a lifestyle for granted...

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3 - Family Matters

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pp. 19-52

...did not realize its full importance. The family's deeds which affected my life, and indeed defined my place in German society, seemed to have been accomplished before my time. No living family member, with the possible exception of my sister or my stepmother, was destined to playa decisive role in my life. The decades before the First World War were an age in...

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4 - Building Character in Salem

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pp. 53-70

...autobiography I must analyze how I myself conceived of people and institutions, how they struck me as I lived among them, and all but ignore their own views of themselves, their own self-representations. This change of focus is no easy task, and at times the writer of this memoir and the historian are in conflict. As I now come to analyze...

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5 - Experiencing Exile

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pp. 71-93

...dates, and I was to feel no nostalgia, no real emotion, when eventually I revisited the scenes of my youth, including Schenkendorf, where I had had so many happy times. This was no doubt because I was so young when I left and because, as I see it, my real growing up took place outside Germany. Being forced to leave at the very start of the Third Reich, I never experienced the oppressive environment under which Jewish boys like myself...

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6 - Political Awakenings

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pp. 94-112

...from those I was forced to live with) and asserted my own tastes and intellectual priorities. But first I was confronted with the problem of what I should study, for I had no defining interests as yet, though I knew that I would specialize somewhere in the humanities. The choice of a subject to be studied had to be made immediately when I entered the university; there...

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7 - Gaining a Foothold

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pp. 113-128

...line, for it was said that first-class passengers received much better treatment from the United States immigration officers. This was surely one of the many rumors about crossing borders which circulated among refugees, for whom such passages from nation to nation were often a lifeline. I remember that indeed I received preferential treatment, as the immigration formalities were handled aboard ship and not at...

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8 - The Iowa Years

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pp. 129-149

...creative writing, and theater were then at the height of their creativity and power, and it would have been difficult to find their equal anywhere else. They formed a contrast with the relative remoteness of Iowa City, the absence of an urban hinterland, and the seemingly endless cornfields which surrounded the small town (the population at the time was roughly...

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9 - Finally Home

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pp. 150-170

...I now had a foundation upon which I could build; there was no real rupture with the past, and themes like Americanization or the road to respectability no longer applied. In Madison I started on an intense academic involvement which at the same time led to a new intellectual understanding of my environment. The broadness of experience which in Iowa came with involvement in modern art or creative writing no longer...

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10 - Confronting History

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pp. 171-186

...indeed renowned, historians. It was a rather tight-knit group of scholars who, whatever their attitude toward each other, were united in their passion for history. As Bill Hesseltine, who exemplified this passion and whom I respected for it, used to say: We should eat, sleep, and dream history. This atmosphere proved fruitful for my own work...

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11 - Journey to Jerusalem

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pp. 187-202

...former Jewish refugee. However, I had no relatives in Israel; moreover, during the war I had made some anti-Zionist speeches emphasizing that nothing must be put in the way of Britain's winning the war, not even the quest for a Jewish homeland. I was no Zionist, in any case, but instead thought that planting a Jewish colony in Palestine...

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12 - Excursus: London as Home

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pp. 203-211

...wartime, no year has passed that I did not stay for some time in that city. Moreover, the basic research for most of my books was done there, at first in the British Museum, watched over by the ghosts of Karl Marx and Charles Darwin, and then in the Wiener Library, which specialized in the history of National Socialism. This library deserves a special...

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13 - The Past as Present

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pp. 212-220

...And yet, as I write these lines, thousands of miles from Berlin, my grandfather has managed, in spite of the Nazis and the Second World War, to make us wealthy once again. The postwar government initiated a process through which the properties confiscated by the Third Reich were returned to their former owners. The West German federal government started this...

George L. Mosse Seriesin Modern European Cultural andIntellectual History

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pp. 221-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780299165833
E-ISBN-10: 0299165833
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299165840
Print-ISBN-10: 0299165841

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 30 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2013