In Memoriam Hermann Wellenreuther

Von
Norbert Finzsch, Historisches Seminar, Universität zu Köln

Hermann Wellenreuther, emeritus chair of the Department of Early Modern Studies at the University of Göttingen, passed away on Easter Eve 2021. A wife and a daughter survive him. Hermann Wellenreuther was one of the most important German historians of the North American English colonies and England's history from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Born in Freiburg/Breisgau in 1941, he grew up in Aglasterhausen, a rural community in Baden-Württemberg. He studied history, German philology, and sociology at the Ruprecht Karls University in Heidelberg and the University of Cologne. Among his Heidelberg teachers was Werner Conze. With his dissertation "Faith and Politics in Pennsylvania 1681-1776," he received his doctorate in 1968 under Erich Angermann. Böhlau Verlag published the dissertation in 1972. In this study, Wellenreuther problematized the attempts of the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”) to implement the peace teachings of the Sermon on the Mount in the administration of Pennsylvania's pluralistic citizenry within the British Empire. The British Empire, as Wellenreuther showed, endured only because it continually relied upon the implementation of military power. The Quakers' problem was that their concept of religion was similar to that of an empire insofar as their "Holy Experiment" struggled with a fundamental internal contradiction. This contradiction stemmed from commitment to the "peace testimony" and the use of political authority over non-Quakers. Wellenreuther's dissertation continues to be cited today.

From 1970 to 1983, Wellenreuther was a research assistant at the Anglo-American Department of the Department of History at the University of Cologne. Due to his influence, English history of the early modern period became a focus of teaching and research in Cologne. There he habilitated in 1979 on the topic of "Representation and Large Landed Property in England 1730-1770." This book sparked controversy among historians of the 18th century because he accused older researchers of failing to understand the character of elections in England. He presented a revisionist model of the sociology of elections in Britain by studying the Duke of Bedford's activities in various counties and, by exposing the manipulation of leases to increase the number of voters and analyzing loans. He demonstrated how the bond between landlord and tenant was maintained over the long term. In 1983, he accepted an appointment to the chair of Medieval and Modern History in the Faculty of Philosophy at Georg August University, where he was also elected dean.

Wellenreuther was an early proponent of a modern social history that followed the paradigms developed by Werner Conze. Like Conze, Wellenreuther believed that historical processes could not be understood exclusively due to political decisions or great ideas but should be studied in the context of a comprehensive consideration of all social factors and their interactions. These included the economic system, population development, income differences, patronage relations, and religion's influence.

In 2002, Wellenreuther was a visiting professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. A DFG research stay of several months took him to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. During numerous visits to archives, Wellenreuther acquired a detailed knowledge that few researchers of his time could match.

Wellenreuther was an extremely productive researcher, having authored or edited 38 books. His later work focused on Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg, the patriarch of the German-speaking Lutheran Church in North America, and on the Pietist Hallensian pastors in North America. An overview of his publications can be found in the 2006 Festschrift Atlantic Understandings, edited by Claudia Schnurmann and Hartmut Lehmann. Even after his retirement, Wellenreuther published numerous monographs, including four volumes of the monumental History of North America in Atlantic Perspective from the Beginnings to the Present. Between 1983 and 2008, he was chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the City of Krefeld. He directed the conference series Krefelder Historische Symposien, which regularly organized scholarly historical conferences involving German and American historians in Krefeld. In 2003, he received the Schurman Prize for American History, Politics, and Culture from the Association for the Promotion of the Schurmann Library of American History at the Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg.

Hermann Wellenreuther's importance as an academic teacher can hardly be overestimated. He insisted on high academic standards yet was approachable and tolerant. Numerous young historians benefited from suggestions, encouragement, and support, even if he was not the person's doctoral supervisor. His first concern was for "his people," the close circle of students whom he regularly invited to his home with great hospitality. His academic students included Claudia Schnurmann, Thomas Müller-Bahlke, Ralf Pröve, Norbert Winnige, Volker Depkat, Carola Wessel, Heiko Dieckmann, Claus Heinrich Gattermann, Sünne Juterczenka, Markus Meumann, Sascha Möbius, Raingard Esser, Vera and Ansgar Nünning, and Karl Tilman Winkler.

He was married to Marie-Luise Frings-Wellenreuther, who had received her doctorate from Erich Angermann in 1978. After her death, he married Claudia Schnurmann, who later became chair of North American History at the University of Hamburg. He is sorely missed by his family, friends, and colleagues.

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Veröffentlicht am
22.04.2021
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