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November 2002 · Historically Speaking2 1 A DISPATCH FROM GERMANY Michael Hochgeschwender Recent discussions among both German historians and the German public about German history have been shaped by two apparently contradictory schemes. On the one hand, the events of 1989-1991—the fall of the Berlin wall, the sudden collapse of the Soviet empire, and German reunification—led to an intensified and renewed interest in the history ofdie German nation-state. On die otlier hand, in die light ofEuropean unification, globalization, and die events ofSeptember 1 1, 2001, Germans also feel die need to see dieir history in an international context. Since 1989, German historians have tended to focus on national history, particularly die Nazi past and die murder ofEuropeanJewry. Mass media, especially television, fed diis trend. For example, Guido Knopp, Germany's leading TVhistorian , concentrated his attention on die history of the Third Reich and die Second World War. Furdier , he and die influential weekly Die Zeit—togedier widi odier media—covered all die major historiographical debates relating to 1933-1945, such as the heated controversies about the theses of Daniel Goldhagen, Norman Finkelstein, and Peter Novick. This media coverage, however, was only a small part ofa larger effort to come to terms with die German past. Professional historians tried to cope widi the problems of the pre-Nazi era. This research produced detailed and subde treatments of German history. Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Heinrich-August Winkler, for example, published multi-volume master narratives of 19th- and 20di-century German history. Yet die focus ofdiese and odier works produced some negative side effects. The obsession widi die nation-state provincialized German historiography. Non-German diemes were neglected. The histories of Eastern Europe, die United States, Asia, and Africa became marginalized—whatvalue did these have for interpreting German national identity? At die Historikertage (meetings ofthe German Historical Association) of 1998 and 2000 diis insularity reached its peak. Non-German history—even European history—was barely mentioned. This phenomenon did not escape die critical notice ofthe public and die media. And today, die one-sidedness of German hisThe obsession with the nation-state provincialized German historiography. NonGerman themes were neglected. The histories of!Lastern Europe, the United States, Asia, and Africa became marginalized . . . tonography in the 1990s seems especially inappropriate. Germans (and odier Europeans) have to learn to cope intellectually widi dieir common future and to diink in terms of a common past. At present, diere are two popular book series here focused on a European history (Europäische Geschichte, edited by Wolfgang Benz, and Europa bauen, edited by die French historian Jacques LeGoff). If only diere were more. Viewing German history from the perspective of European or world slavery, even disease contributed to this shared history. In Germany, however, diose historians who, in recent years, have looked beyond die nation's borders have tended to comb European and North American archives for the secrets to the mystery of modernization. According to Conrad, modernization is indeed an important subject, and he diinks it can be understood better if scholars widen dieir range ofvision. Europe's colonies, he argues, were laboratories for die modernization process in Europe and die United States. Therefore, it should be possible to form a research design diat interprets, for instance, urbanization in different nations and cultures , including non-Western ones. Conrad was not the first to argue for a more transnational approach to German history. Since die 1980s a minority of German historians have been trying to escape die narrowness of the nation-state as die dominant point of reference for dieir work. German-American relations has proved to be an especially valuable field of experimentation. The notions ofAmericanization (Volker R. Berghahn) and Westernization (Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Axel Schildt) arose from die analysis ofGermanAmerican relations. Students of Americanization have examined die material and social impacts of American popular culture on Western Europe, especially West Germany and widi a special focus on die post-World War ? era. Thereby, its research program at history need not be an attempt to get rid of a very early time became transnationalized, die negative apects of a specifically German past.Just die opposite is true. In an international context, die particularities ofGerman...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 21-22
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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