Rezensionsessay / Review Essay: Light and Shade in History: Reflections on the Historiography of the German Second Empire

Zwischen Licht und Schatten. Das Kaiserreich (1871–1914) und seine neuen Kontroversen

Aschmann, Birgit; Wienfort, Monika
Frankfurt am Main 2022: Campus Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
399 S.
€ 32,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
John Breuilly, Emeritus Professor, Department of Government, London School of Economics

From master narratives to light and shade

I begin with a review of “Zwischen Licht und Schatten”1 (henceforth ZLS), including historiography and present concerns when these are explicit. Then I select earlier publications to trace backwards through what I regard as the main trends in the historiography, principally in the Federal Republic of Germany. Finally, I return to ZLS and suggest some conclusions about changes in the historical treatment of the Second Empire.

Can one tell a book by its cover?

The cover of ZLS displays a photograph of the “life reform advocate” Gustav Nagel (1874–1952) and his wife, posed beside a portrait of Wilhelm I and his grandson Wilhelm II.2 Imperial portraits frequently adorn such covers, invariably in military uniform. In sharp contrast, Nagel is wearing a woman’s dress and holding flowers while his wife holds a bowl of fruit. Gender “identity” is explicitly juxtaposed against “monarchical masculinity”. It is hard to imagine a book on the German Second Empire bearing such a cover even as little as a decade earlier.

The cover of just such a book, edited by Sven Oliver Müller and Cornelius Torp and published in 2009, portrays German soldiers carrying a flag as part of the Seymour Expedition of 1900. This was a multinational force sent to China to repress the Boxer Uprising. Capitalist globalisation had become of interest in the years following the collapse of the USSR. The cover of the abridged 2011 English edition is a photo of a 1908 balloon race meeting in Berlin. The publisher, not the editors, chose this image, so perhaps no historical idea but just the desire for a striking image explains the choice. Nevertheless, this is a multinational gathering and balloon flight is transnational!3

Covers of books by Thomas Nipperdey and Hans-Ulrich Wehler – the two West German historians who arguably were the major figures shaping post-1945 historiography – disclose different themes. Volume 1 of Nipperdey’s 1866–1918 study shows an impressionistic painting of a suspended railway taking materials to a factory; volume 3 of Wehler’s “societal” history, an iron foundry. Nipperdey’s volume 2 cover depicts the Bismarck monument in Hamburg; the English translation of Wehler’s seminal volume “Das Kaiserreich” an imaginative drawing of Bismarck surveying a scene of war and destruction; his volume 4 a Nazi rally. Over a few decades, the images have shifted from industrialisation, war, and rulers to global capitalism, gender, and culture wars.4

Historiography as Light and Shade

Present concerns5 are registered at the very start of the editors’ introduction citing attacks on statues of Emperors and Bismarck, part of a transnational trend including Confederate heroes in the USA and slave owners in the United Kingdom.6 The text moves on to more specifically German issues such as Hohenzollern claims for compensation for family property confiscated after 1945, and how far colonial violence and killing by the Second Empire established precedents for mass murder by the Third Reich. ZLS does take up other themes, informed by a combination of contemporary concerns and responses to the historiography.

There are fourteen essays. Subjects such as war7, Bismarck, antisemitism, economy and society, state welfare provision, urbanisation, and the leading academic historians of the time can be found in similar collections published over the last fifty years, though those in ZLS contain fresh insights. More novel as subjects are violence, colonialism, men and women (including feminism and homosexuality), democratisation, attitudes towards nature, Hohenzollern propaganda, and collective memory. I must radically select themes from this richness.

The introduction juxtaposes particular pasts against particular futures to show the changing role of teleology in shaping historical accounts. The 1848 revolutions are set against the Weimar Republic for the theme of “the failure of liberalism”; the colonial violence of Wilhelmine Germany against the Holocaust for that of “genocide”; mass politics in the Second Empire against the liberal democracy of the Federal Republic for “democratisation”. The focus also tends to shift from 1871 to 1890 as starting point, and from 1933 to 1939–1941 and then 1945 as end point.8

Some authors dispute interpretations associated with such teleology. Christoph Nonn warns against projecting back the centrality of Nazi antisemitism on to the Second Empire, comparing other cases to relativise that of Germany. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt does something similar for state violence, Ulrike Lindner for colonialism, and Frank Becker for war, as well as adding invaluable longer-run perspectives. These comparative essays call into question notions of German exceptionalism; the German case becomes either one special path amongst many (rendering the notion meaningless) or one variant on a common path.

Standing somewhat alone is the important essay by Hedwig Richter on democratisation which is neither systematically comparative nor just about Germany. Richter shifts between Germany, western Europe, and the USA in ways which I think obscure both commonalities and German peculiarities. For example, how might one explain the “peculiarity” of a massive socialist party? Mass support for political parties, including from workers, was a common feature in western Europe and countries of overseas white settlement, but this was a notable German feature, just as the absence of any significant working-class political party was of the USA. The lack of systematic comparison – for example, treating German nationalism in terms of antisemitism and racism, but not doing the same for other countries – undermines the drawing of reliable conclusions about either German peculiarities or common features, as does the making of comparisons between Germany then and later. These shifts of comparisons and themes also make it difficult to discern any central argument.

More focused on Germany but able to accommodate a comparative perspective because of the shared concepts and measures deployed transnationally by urban and economic historians are the essays by Thomas Mergel on urbanisation and Werner Plumpe on the economy. Plumpe stresses economic growth in Germany, presenting this as especially dynamic within a European context. Mergel makes a similar case for urban growth, emphasising the development of more intensive and extensive modes of communication, though underlining that this was accompanied by anti-modernist critiques, including lifestyles. He also argues for the absence of “mass culture” – a central assumption made by these critiques – but rather the presence of “multiple cultures”, as well the formulation of ideas of “planning”, something which other historians suggest imparts a “dark side” to the concept of modernity.

The essay by Sandrine Kott and Wilfried Rudloff on the welfare state also confines itself to Germany. There is no sharing of concepts such as those on urban and economic growth which lend themselves to comparison. However, it builds its argument in a systematic way. Its notion of “multiple perspectives” is not one of diverse themes but of interrelated levels: a “bird’s eye”, an “intermediate”, and a “worm’s eye” view. The first outlines the complex system that developed during the empire, especially the legally compulsory insurance funds which effectively turned large social groups, especially trade unions, into junior partners within an extended state. The second examines the different levels and types of participation involved. Employers dominated accident and injury insurance, bureaucrats the age and invalidity schemes, and trade unions sickness insurance. The third considers how these groups interacted, as well as the roles played by others, such as doctors, hospitals, and lawyers. This systematic organisation makes it possible to extend the arguments to wider themes in the Second Empire and to enable comparisons with other periods in modern German history as well as other countries.

This German exceptionalism is not explicitly addressed in other essays entirely on German subjects.9 The concern with modernity, its threats as much as its opportunities, is central to Birgit Aschmann’s essay on attitudes towards nature. Epidemics arouse fear about how these can spread in a “mass society” as well as optimism about the capacity of modern science and medicine to “master” such challenges. “Mastery” is central to the discourse surrounding major engineering projects, considered through the case study of the Nord-Ostsee canal. Critique of negative aspects of modernity is explored in the section on “life reform”, focussed on the figure of Nagel (see front cover), who travelled the country preaching a back to nature way of life which he exemplified in his own body and dress.

Two of the remaining essays are in the field of intellectual history. Frank Lorenz Müller shows how the Hohenzollerns used historical myths and images to boost the monarchy, such as placing statues of emperors in prominent public places and funding museums. It is easier to detail the “production” than the “reception” aspect of this, though Müller cites mockery of such efforts, especially in socialist, Catholic, and satirical journals. These different projects had short “shelf lives” showing, as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ernest Renan emphasised at the time, that history is as much, if not more, about forgetting than remembering.

Wilfried Nippel’s essay on Berlin historians concerns academic and political disputes between Johann Gustav Droysen, Theodor Mommsen, and Heinrich von Treitschke. Much of this was confined to elite, mainly academic circles. However, von Treitschke became well known, in part due to his antisemitic writings against which Mommsen reacted. He was manifestly inferior as a scholar to Mommsen, and as an intellectual to Droysen. However, his very biases and blind spots (for example no serious research into Habsburg history) help account for his popularity.

Neither of these two essays lends themselves to extension beyond their specific subjects. This is also the case with Monika Wienfort’s essay on gender. There is a brief survey of women and philanthropy, noting the shift from honorary to professional activity, and of women’s campaigns for rights – legal as well as political. A third, more diverse theme concerns gender, especially scandals sometimes involving the monarchy, and on men’s associations, especially involving duelling. It is an eclectic piece which finishes in praise of eclecticism, observing that the historiographical trend away from “master narratives” and towards “multiperspektivischen Blicken” (p. 192) has promoted research into new or hitherto neglected issues, such as gender studies.

There are, therefore, different types of historical accounts in this book, ranging from transnational comparison to the eclectic treatment of a loosely linked set of issues. However, the general thrust of the book – in most of the chapters, and in explicit arguments in the introduction and conclusion – is against “master narratives” and “black and white” judgements, and in favour of “multiple perspectives”, shades and light. How did we arrive at this state of research?

Earlier Historiography

To begin with the 2009 Müller / Torp volume: As with ZLS, the introduction and many of the chapters critique notions of German exceptionalism.10 However, unlike the eclectic approach of ZLS, this is largely conducted in the same systematic spirit as what it criticises. Helmut Walser Smith considers how teleologies based on different periods (“vanishing points”) lead to changing emphases. Benjamin Ziemann utilises modernisation theory, especially that of Niklas Luhmann, to explore modernisation as social differentiation. This contrast even has some force when the same historians contribute to both books. The Mergel essay on the Second Empire as a mass migration society is more systematic than his urbanisation chapter in ZLS, while Haupt, taking the same theme of violence, has a more balanced Franco-German comparative treatment than in his ZLS essay which shifts between Germany and a range of other comparisons. Other chapters are explicitly transnational, most explicitly section 4 on “Das Kaiserreich in der Welt”. However, as I am not reviewing this book, space does not allow me to support this claim in detail.

Taking the historiography back a little further, one can note such systematic critiques of German exceptionalism in both general and specialised publications. Perhaps the best known of the first kind is the Geoff Eley / David Blackbourn extended essay which shifted the focus from elite to mass politics, and from Germany as a special case of “partial modernisation” to that of one variant of capitalist modernisation. That in turn builds on a “darker” conception of modernity than the westernisation one of Wehler. This historical emphasis in turn draws on the theoretical works by Michel Foucault, Detlev Peukert, Zygumt Bauman, and others. Peukert’s “dark” view of modernity is shown in his understanding of Max Weber, very different from that of Wehler.11

There are different implications in these approaches, some of which move away from modernist to post-modernist perspectives, from an emphasis on objective social structure and societal change to one on discourse, identity, and collective memory. Nevertheless, these pre-2000 critiques were generally pitched at the same level of ambition as the Sonderweg approach, aiming to replace that “master narrative” with an alternative one.

The same is true of research-based critiques. A good example is provided by two collaborative research projects into the 19th century German bourgeoisie and the city based in the universities of Bielefeld and Frankfurt. Led by Lothar Gall, the Frankfurt project mainly produced monographs on individual cities with a stress on continuities between pre-industrial and industrial bourgeois groups. The Bielefeld project tended towards publishing collections of essays on specific themes and emphasised breaks and discontinuities.12

In its project, the “Bielefeld” school also conducted a strategic retreat from less tenable theses, notably that of the “feudalisation of the bourgeoisie”. Two key points were conceded. The first was that the adoption of aristocratic titles and ways of life by successful businessmen did not mean sacrificing their interests or their power; indeed, these could be ways of penetrating “traditional” sites of power. The second was that there was nothing peculiarly German about this; it happened in France and Britain. It is the United States of America which is peculiar, lacking as it did pre-modern monarchies, aristocracies, and established churches with which the elites of industrialising capitalism must negotiate.

These debates and critiques questioned less “master narratives” than the one taking the form of Sonderweg.13 This raises a question about Nipperdey, the historian invoked as just such a questioner, citing his oft-quoted remark that historians should tell stories (Erzählungen), made up of many shades of grey, not the contrasts of black against white.14 Was Nipperdey anticipating later critiques, or reiterating the historicism associated with earlier historians such as Leopold von Ranke? Or have later critics of master narratives and black and white judgements projected back on to Nipperdey their own views? To suggest the latter requires a closer analysis of what one might call the Wehler-Nipperdey dispute.15

Let us start with that key term “master narrative”.16 At first glance, linking this to Wehler rather than Nipperdey is puzzling. It was Nipperdey who asserted that history was “eine Erzählung”, i.e., a (singular) narrative. Indeed, he drove this point home by beginning and (almost) concluding his great three volumes as the start and finish of a story: “Am Anfang war Napoleon”; “Der Krieg war zu Ende. Das Kaiserreich hatte zu existieren aufgehört.”17 Like Herodotus, Nipperdey treated history as a stream; the historian stepped into it at one moment and out of it at a later moment. Where the stream would flow next, no-one could say. History was a story, not a sequence of determinate causes and effects. However, one could not tell any story one pleased. Nipperdey had views not merely about the objective existence of events and their sequencing and significance, but also about specific causes and effects. It is not clear to me that in these respects he was very different from Wehler. Given the persuasive and argued way Nipperdey tells his story, why can we not treat this as a “master narrative”?

By contrast, one thing Wehler does very little, and when he does so often badly, is tell a story. This is the case, for example, in his treatment of the 1848–1849 revolutions.18 Sonderweg is less a master narrative than a master thesis, just as one might call the Eley / Blackbourn master thesis “variants on capitalist modernisation”. However, critiques – whether based on an alternative master thesis or the rejection of any master thesis – have the polemical advantage that they can refer to themselves negatively: they are not the Sonderweg thesis. The question then becomes: do we need master theses or does it suffice to explore “shades of grey” and “light and shadows”?

Before exploring that point, it is also necessary to unpick different elements involved in such terms as shades of grey, black and white, light and shadow. Unlike what I have called “master theses” (Sonderweg, capitalist modernisation, partial modernisation) these are not concepts, they are images. Concepts sustain arguments; images flesh out assertions.

Furthermore, they are used in relation to two different claims; what David Hume called “is” and “ought” propositions. Nipperdey blurs this distinction in his juxtaposition of “black and white” against “shades of grey”. The image of “black and white” primarily relates to moral propositions. This becomes clear when Nipperdey segues from “Gutem und Bösem” to “Schwarz und Weiß”. However, the “shades of grey” image – although it could refer to moral judgements (nothing is wholly good or wholly bad) – is more often used to refer to empirical propositions.

These two kinds of propositions relate to different kinds of historical subjects. Moral judgements relate to intentional action, whether individual or collective. Most historians have little difficulty in making clear their moral positions on genocides, whether against the Herero in South-West Africa before 1914, or under the Third Reich. On the other hand, in seeking to explain those genocides as a sequence of events historians shift to a complex range of concepts, debating different interpretations, placing emphases in different ways.19

Once one makes this distinction and recognises that the disagreements amongst historians mainly involve empirical claims, then it would be best to put aside images of black, grey, and white. (Furthermore, they arbitrarily leave out all the other colours in the spectrum!) One can now return to the Nipperdey-Wehler dispute as a series of empirical disputes. Such disputes are most fruitfully conducted within what Pierre Bourdieu called “intellectual fields”. There are two basic conditions for constituting an intellectual field: a set of shared assumptions and contending arguments assembled on that common ground.

The common ground is what I will call “modernisation”. When the Second World War ended Nipperdey was 17 and Wehler 13 years old. As they entered and moved through university, gaining their degrees and taking up academic positions, their world was dominated by the transformation of the Federal Republic from a totally defeated and discredited country to a dynamic economy and liberal democracy – the most dramatic example of such change in western Europe. This transformation was dominated by the USA, and confronted by Soviet communism in eastern Europe, including the German Democratic Republic. By the mid-1960s it had become clear that “the west” was winning this competition. Intellectually this was the heyday of modernisation theory, something which claimed to describe and explain western success and was preached to the “under-developed” world as a superior path forward to that of communism.

Wehler, Nipperdey, and their academic peers were intellectually and morally formed in this world. Typically, empirical and moral arguments were closely associated, indeed sometimes collapsed into each other. Germany presented a special problem. Empirically, it had been the most successful European example of modernisation from the last third of the 19th century. Morally, it culminated in the barbarism of the Third Reich. The Sonderweg thesis was designed to account for both features: modernisation was “partial”, lacking some of the features – especially political institutions and values – that characterised the other major cases of capitalist modernisation. In Weber Wehler found the social theorist who operated at the same level of ambition as Karl Marx and upon whose ideas he could build his own interpretation. Wehler and his close associate Jürgen Kocka also followed Weber in insisting that historians had to operate with explicitly chosen questions and values; they could not hide behind some notion of objectivity which pretended that what they wrote was “simply” what happened: “wie es eigentlich geworden ist”.

In conceptual terms one needs models (“ideal types”) as ways to grasp complex reality. Also, given that modernisation involves increased social differentiation, necessarily abstract concepts of functional specialisation are needed to make connections across different spheres of social action. Such concepts can be given different forms and levels of abstraction. Wehler and Kocka were at Bielefeld at the same time as Luhmann and Reinhart Koselleck who propounded different notions of modernity. Luhmann elaborated an ambitious and abstract theory of modernity with little historical content, while Koselleck conceptualised the historical breakthrough of modernity in terms of mentalities rather than economic and political structures.

Nipperdey was equally aware of the need for concepts of modernity. I consider his work in this respect as similar to that of Wehler; seeing modernisation as a pattern of societal transformation and making connections across different spheres of social action. The difference is that Nipperdey does not make this explicit in the way Wehler does.

Compare, for example, his and Wehler’s treatment of changes in the German lands during the period of Napoleonic domination. Nipperdey deploys modernisation as an “intentional” concept, that is as a project undertaken by key elites, rather than as a “structural” concept, that is to describe and analyse a discrete set of changes. This enables him to present modernisation as if he was narrating the work of elites rather than utilising an ideal type. Nevertheless, Nipperdey analyses Napoleonic reforms under the three “ideal typical” headings of concentration and intensification of state power, integration of diverse territories, and creation of a society of equals. Wehler does something similar but more explicitly using concepts such as “modernisation from above” and “defensive modernisation”. Furthermore, both historians provide the same regional balance of treatment: most on Prussia, intermediate level of detail on the medium-sized states created by Napoleon, and a short, cursory treatment of Austria. That makes “teleological” sense as the historian anticipates the Prussian-led unification of the other German states and the exclusion of Austria from that unification. It makes little sense as an Erzählung “in its own terms”.

One can repeat such comparisons. Why then is Nipperdey seen as offering a different kind of historical account from Wehler’s? I think the answer is mainly one of rhetoric and style. Wehler was poor at writing narrative history; rather he outlines propositions and ideal types and then virtually “produces” the actual events from these. Nipperdey, by contrast, conceals his theoretical labour beneath a smooth narrative, making events appear as something he observes and narrates.

Nipperdey and Wehler followed in the wake of explicit modernisation theorists. Konrad Jarausch and Michael Geyer cite a number of these: Alexander Gerschenkron, Barrington Moore, Dietrich Rüschemeyer, Ralf Dahrendorf. Jarausch and Geyer themselves do not so much reject the notion of master narratives as insist that there cannot be one definitive version. However, they do hold on to the idea that any attempt to grasp the way different spheres of societal action connect and how in turn this shapes a series of changes requires the use of a central set of concepts and themes.20 The danger is that when such ideas of multiple paths and variants are introduced without being placed within an explicit comparative framework, they will be used by the historian to tell a series of stories, which in turn can break down into or give rise to ever more particular stories.

Beyond Light and Shade

This brings us back to light and shadows, infinite shades of grey, the call for multiple perspectives. The introduction and conclusion to ZLS favours these qualities in historical writing and endorses critiques of “black and white” and “master narratives”. It is important not to confuse the distinction between multiple and master perspectives with the distinction between “special” and “general” histories. One can write a special history with an explicit conceptual structure which enables one to place that history within broader contexts. The chapter on the welfare state by Kott and Rudloff in ZLS provides such an example. Conversely, one can write a general history as a series of multiple accounts which are juxtaposed, rather than connected.

My sense is that there has been a shift towards multiple perspectives in both special and general histories in academic historical accounts. (I have not examined a representative sequence of history textbooks and so cannot make similar claims about them.) Here I have drawn on a very small sample of books, but I think one can discern something more general at work.

If this is indeed the trend, how might one explain it? The shift to new questions due to new contemporary concerns does not in itself suffice, as that only changes the questions, not the kind of answers one might offer. I think there is something deeper involved.

One element, what has variously been called the “cultural” or “linguistic” turn, has been well documented. These interests, by contrast with those which conceptualise social structures and changes independently of how they are experienced and perceived, are difficult to connect into generalising accounts. There have been efforts to make such connections such as Luhmann’s notion of “reflexivity”, but they tend to remain abstract, not embodied in particular historical accounts.

This concern with reflexivity can also be connected to a changing sense of modernity. For historians of the period of the Second Empire writing in post-1945 Europe modernisation meant a specific set of changes captured in such terms as industrialisation, urbanisation, bureaucratisation – above all, in various and connected achievements of new kinds of power extending across the world. This power had become uncontrolled and destructive in two world wars, but now there was a sense in both the capitalist and the communist world that it could be brought under control and channelled in positive ways, even if accompanied by an acute fear that a nuclear conflict between these two worlds could also lead to the destruction of humankind. That sense of direction has since been lost as societal change seems to accelerate and differentiate in ways beyond control or even understanding. Perhaps multiple perspectives are one reflection of this trend.

However, I think there is also something more specific at work which has made the construction of historical accounts around a central narrative focused on national history increasingly difficult. I begin by distinguishing between three types of account which I call explanatory, interpretative, and sequential.21 “Master theses” which treat large-scale historical subjects over decades or even centuries combine these three types. However, this depends on certain conditions which applied to German historiography after 1945 but which have been much weakened in recent decades.

Typical examples of explanatory history are books on the origins of the first world war. One begins with a known event and then traces back to different streams of earlier events which are presented as converging on the event to be explained. This is different from sequential history which maintains its focus on one particular subject throughout. The classic genre of this type is biography. By contrast, an interpretive account typically focuses on one period – treated as a unit - making connections between different activities during that period. Books with such titles as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ are of this type.

Master theses integrate these three types. We have a period treated as a unit, for example 1871 and 1933. We have a subject the identity of which endures across the period, for example Germany. We have streams of events which converge to connections across that period, for example “partial modernisation”.

Essential to this German historiography is the concept of the nation. This conjoins nation as cultural unit with state as political unit. The connection was especially clear-cut in the unfinished history of 19th century Germany by von Treitschke. His chapters alternate between German high culture and Prussian politics. The two sequences converge on the key event of the formation of the German Second Empire. That then becomes a key moment for 20th century German historiography, leading to accounts from the Second Empire to 1914, or 1933, or 1939–1941, or 1945, or 1991. Heinrich August Winkler’s book on German exceptionalism makes explicit when this historiography ceases to be valid; when Germany “rejoins” the west.22 Germany has left its special path and become just one state and nation within “the West”. This is emblematic of the general decline of the concept of the nation for the writing of contemporary history. Germany, with its recent formation as a nation-state, its dramatic transformations, victories and defeats, culminating in its destruction as a single nation-state in 1945, enabled this national approach to take an especially sharp and persuasive form. That approach no longer seemed to work well for the post-1945 period. And when Germany “re-unified”23 it did so within an explicitly European and even global framework with institutional structures such as the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union, all of which made it difficult to resume a national historiography.

The decline of national historiography as a framework for writing historical accounts, whether in specialised academic, general interpretive, textbook, or popular forms does not mean the end of nationalist historical accounts. Indeed, the decline of the one has enabled the rise of the other. However, such history is polemical and partisan, unlike history written within a national frame and with powerful concepts such as industrialisation and bureaucratisation – more generally modernisation – which enabled the presentation of master theses and fruitful debates. One challenge today is how to combat the writing of such history without resort to the now inadequate national frame. Efforts have been made to do this using European, transnational, global and other frames but there remains much to do. Multiple perspectives and the registering of many shades and colours can provide much food for thought. However, one should always be striving to put this into a larger, coherent frame, even if the effort is never-ending and constantly changing.

1 This is a review article that started as a review of Birgit Aschmann / Monika Wienfort (eds.), Zwischen Licht und Schatten. Das Kaiserreich (1871–1914) und seine neuen Kontroversen, Frankfurt am Main 2022.
2 I think those are the two figures (and not Wilhelm I and his son Friedrich) but cannot be sure because of the small size of the image. A note explains that this is a wedding photo of Nagel, “life reformer and wandering preacher” and his first wife Maria Anna Konhäuser, but adds nothing more. Nagel is considered in the chapter by Wienfort.
3 Sven Oliver Müller / Cornelius Torp (eds.), Das Deutsche Kaiserreich in der Kontroverse, Göttingen 2009; Sven Oliver Müller / Cornelius Torp (eds.), Imperial Germany Revisited. Continuing Debates and New Perspectives, New York 2011. I owe the information on the English cover to Cornelius Torp.
4 Thomas Nipperdey, Deutsche Geschichte 1866–1918. Erster Band: Arbeitswelt und Bürgergeist, München 1990; Thomas Nipperdey, Deutsche Geschichte 1866–1918. Zweiter Band: Machtstaat vor der Demokratie, München 1992; Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Dritter Band: Von der „Deutschen Doppelrevolution“ bis zum Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges 1849–1914, München 1995; Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte. Vierter Band: Vom Beginn des Ersten Weltkriegs bis zur Gründung der beiden deutschen Staaten 1914–1949, München 2003; Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire. 1871–1918, London 1985; Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871–1918, Göttingen 1973.
5 A personal note of relevance. When it was decided to publish a second edition of the book, I had edited on 19th century Germany, the publishers – following a market survey of US colleges – asked me to include two new chapters on gender history and transnationalism by Ute Frevert and Ulrike Lindner respectively. John Breuilly (eds.), 19th Century Germany. Politics, Culture, and Society 1780–1918, 2 ed., London 2020 (1. ed. 2001).
6 In 1989–1990, but little considered in the west, were the removal of statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and local rulers as communist regimes were toppled in eastern Europe. The Middle East saw something similar when regimes were overthrown.
7 ZLS ends in 1914, omitting the first world war, the last years of the German Second Empire. Absence of subjects can tell one as much about current interests as presence.
8 See Helmut Walser Smith, Jenseits der Sonderweg-Debatte, in: Müller / Torp, Kaiserreich, pp. 31–50.
9 One criticism of the “special path” historiography was that it worked with implicit comparisons in which an idealised “west” (meaning primarily France, the UK, and the USA) was set against the many defects of Germany.
10 This approach is especially associated with the work of Hans-Ulrich Wehler and colleagues at Bielefeld University and referred to as Sonderweg (“special path”).
11 Detlev Peukert, Max Webers Diagnose der Moderne, Göttingen 1989.
12 I compare these two projects in John Breuilly, The German Bourgeoisie from Radicalism to Nationalism, in: German History 14/2 (1996), pp. 223–231.
13 Focusing on the Sonderweg debate omits three major fields of historiography. First, there is imperial historiography. (No one – rightly – takes the history written during the Third Reich seriously.) With the exception of work on the established academic historians of the Second Empire (see Nippel in ZLS), there is little on “non-establishment” figures, notably Catholic, socialist, and liberal-radical historians. Second, there is the Weimar period which to some extent was continued by historians in exile after 1933. Finally, for the post 1945-period, there is the Marxist historiography of the German Democratic Republic. Lack of space makes it impossible to explore these historiographies.
14 See Nipperdey, Zweiter Band, p. 905: “Die Menschen unterschieden sich nicht in gute und böse, das Kaiserreich war nicht gut und nicht böse oder nach Gutem und Bösem deutlich unterscheidbar: Die Grundfarben der Geschichte sich nicht Schwarz und Weiß, ihr Grundmuster nicht der Kontrast eines Schachbretts; die Grundfarbe der Geschichte ist grau, in unendlichen Schattierungen.”
15 The most detailed studies of both Nipperdey and Wehler as historians have been written by Paul Nolte: Paul Nolte, Hans-Ulrich Wehler. Historiker und Zeitgenosse, München 2015; Paul Nolte, Lebens Werk. Thomas Nipperdeys Deutsche Geschichte. Biographie eines Buches, München 2018.
16 Today one obvious reaction is to the gendered term “master”. However, I will continue to use the word because I cannot think of a better, non-gendered term.
17 Thomas Nipperdey, Deutsche Geschichte 1800–1866. Bürgerwelt und starker Staat, München 1983, p. 11; Nipperdey, Zweiter Band, p. 876. There is a short reflective conclusion which ends in the quotation about shades of grey.
18 I made this criticism in my review article on volumes 1 and 2 in John Breuilly, Wehler's Gesellschaftsgeschichte, in: German History 9/2 (1991), pp. 211–230, especially p. 226, and in a general way in John Breuilly, “Wo bleibt die Handlung?” Die Rolle von Ereignissen in der Gesellschaftsgeschichte, in: Paul Nolte u.a. (eds.), Perspektiven der Gesellschaftsgeschichte, München 2000, pp. 36–42.
19 In practice, this distinction is often difficult to make. An example is the dispute between the “functionalist” and the “intentionalist” approaches to the Holocaust.
20 Konrad H. Jarausch / Michael Geyer, Shattered Pasts. Reconstructing German Histories, Princeton 2003, chapter 3.
21 I encountered this three-fold distinction many years ago when reading for a philosophy of history course and have found it very useful. Unfortunately, I did not keep the reference! If anyone reading this article knows the text, I would be grateful for the details.
22 Heinrich August Winkler, Der lange Weg nach Westen. Erster Band: Deutsche Geschichte vom Ende des Alten Reiches bis zum Untergang der Weimarer Republik, München 2000; Heinrich August Winkler, Der lange Weg nach Westen. Zweiter Band: Deutsche Geschichte vom „Dritten Reich“ bis zur Wiedervereinigung, München 2000.
23 These terms unification, partition, re-unification are themselves based on assumptions about the nation which should be regarded as concepts to enable the construction of historical accounts and not as real or enduring unities.

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