Rewriting German History is a Festschrift for Sir Richard Evans on the occasion of his retirement as Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University. With the exception of Geoff Eley, Evans’ contemporary, and author of the introductory essay, the editors and contributors are Evans’ former PhD students, ranging from one of the very first, Lynn Abrams, who completed her PhD in 1989, to one of the very last, Rachel Hoffman, who finished hers some 25 years later. Many are now incumbents of prestigious posts, including the two aforementioned, holder of the chair of modern history at Glasgow University and Fellow of Kings College, Cambridge. Geoff Eley introduces the volume by asking whether there has been a distinctive British approach to German history. Eley is a master of the generationally and socially contextualized historiographical survey, and this chapter is no exception. Along the way, he deftly locates the significance and highlights of Evans’ career. For the present reviewer, as someone half a generation behind Eley and Evans, the same age as their oldest PhD students, it was a pleasure to see the German History scene as it existed when I entered the profession, sketched in with a generous and accurate eye. It seems fair to argue that in the 1970s and 1980s, British historians were at the forefront of a series of interlinked challenges to orthodoxies in German history writing, strengthening moves within Germany towards social history and away from the history of high politics and encouraging the embrace of the history of the everyday, of women’s history and more. In all of this, as Eley notes, Evans could claim to be the emblematic figure. Yet British approaches to German history were always varied, and the teaching of European History in the UK has now become so internationalized, with so many talented German historians in post, that it is not clear that there can be any kind of distinctive ‘British’ approach to the field any more. This is very evident in the present collection. Over the years, Evans has recruited both from the UK and the continent some of the brightest of students writing British dissertations in European History, but without imposing a common approach or topic. Collecting their work in one place thus produces a volume that is as pleasant to read as it is hard to review, and certainly one that resists any kind of common line. If there is one strong theme that unites a great many essays in the volume, however, and in a way a rather fitting one given the above comments, it is that German history has been internationalized. Only two of the contributions remain resolutely focused within Germany. Bernhard Fulda shows how the artist Emil Nolde benefited after the war from what we might call the ‘Gnade der ausgestellten Werke’, namely the good fortune to have had his work lambasted as degenerate art in the eponymous 1937 exhibition, despite Nolde’s enduring pro-Nazi sympathies. Hester Vaizey reminds us of the importance of listening to ordinary East Germans to understand the balance between disruption and continuity and between improvements and challenges after 1989. All the other contributors in some way break out of the national frame. Some do so by deploying German case studies to interrogate broader historical models or approaches. Two chapters, for example, tell a German story to challenge broader conventions in gender history. Using instances from Hamburg divorce cases, Lynn Abrams seeks to recover nineteenth century women’s ability to articulate notions of individuality and authenticity even in the bourgeois era of ‘separate spheres’. Victoria Harris contrasts popular and official demonization of the pimp, on the one hand, with the prosaic and less one-sidedly exploitative reality, on the other hand. Although there is a German story here (state regulations precluded the emergence of a US-style notorious ‘King of Pimps’), the real target of her piece is a particular kind of feminist historiography and its hallowed assumptions about male-female exploitation in prostitution. Other contributors explore international flows and interactions to undercut purely national readings of German history. In an intriguing history of Cologne Cathedral’s completion and subsequent image, Astrid Swenson demonstrates that it was always as much an international monument as a national one, creating communities of financial support and interest that extended well beyond Germany’s borders. Equally rich is Tom Neuhaus’ account of the way nationalist rivalry coexisted with regional loyalties and transnational cooperation in European excursions to the Himalayas. Rachel Hoffman alerts us to symmetries and entanglements in national responses to the many assassination attempts on the crowned heads of Europe. Yet others explore the legacy of German rule or German power in borderland regions or areas formerly ruled by Germany. Jan Rüger’s chapter shows how elites in post-World War I Heligoland (in German hands but subject to demilitarisation) played England and Germany off against each other to maximize regional advantage. Elisabeth Vlossak’s account of efforts by Alsatian ‘Malgrez Nous’ (the conscripts who had fought with the German army) to assert their honor and claims in postwar France is fascinating, above all because of the complex balancing act between manliness and victimhood, agency and coercion that the former soldiers tried to negotiate. Their finessing between these different values might have worked in Alsace, but often resonated poorly in the rest of France. Hugo Service’s sketch of the cultural cleansing of German influence in postwar Poland shows an inverse relationship between expulsions and cultural cleansing. Where many Germans were allowed to stay, as in western Upper Silesia, cultural de-Germanization was at its most thorough. Finally, a cluster of contributors juxtaposes Nazi Germany with other international powers and developments, be it to pursue comparison, to demonstrate entanglement or to establish new models of influence. Bradley Hart argues that there was a stronger pro-Nazi group among British eugenicists than has been recognized. Christian Goeschel shows that Mussolini’s influence in Nazi Germany waxed and waned. In an intriguing chapter, Bianca Gaudenzi draws parallels in the commodification of party and leadership symbols in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In both cases, party leaders waged partial war on the desacralization of hallowed symbols through kitschy reproductions; but in both cases, commercial production of artefacts continued, evincing and reinforcing popular appropriation of fascist and Nazi iconography. In a wide-ranging and closely argued piece, David Motadel shows how Nazi efforts to mobilize support in the Muslim world collided and intersected with racial policy on the ground, evident in occupied Paris as much as in Einsatzgruppen murder operations in the Crimea. Arbitrary decisions in the latter case led one Crimean group representing a distinct regional fusion of Jewish and Islamic Tartar traditions, the Karaites, to be ‘reprieved’ and another, the Krymchaks, to be slated for death. Hitler’s ostensible remarks about the Armenian genocide are often cited, but Stefan Ihrig traces the relevance of the Turkish genocide for Hitler in an intriguing new way, showing that intense debates in early 1920s Germany made the idea of genocide ‘available’ at a key moment of the NSDAP’s intellectual formation. In view of all these connections, it is fitting that the volume should close with a contribution that explicitly reflects on the possibilities and limits of transnational history. In an extraordinarily succinct, wide-ranging and deeply sourced account, arguably the most impressive and satisfying of the collection, Nikolaus Wachsmann reviews scholars’ efforts to place Nazi concentration camps in an international context, be it in the form of a genealogy, a structural comparison or an entangled history. There is no space here to do justice to the subtlety of his analysis, but Wachsmann’s conclusion that the camps were largely made in Germany, and that beyond some basic functional equivalences they show substantial differences from fascist or Soviet systems, is well argued and well taken. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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