I’m teaching modern Germany again this fall. Based on my experience last fall, I have decided not to go with Frank B. Tipton’s Modern Germany as a textbook. As much as I liked its affordability, breadth, and depth, it proved too much for the uninitiated in German history. This sentiment seems to have been nearly universal in the class, no matter how much effort students put into the class or what grade they earned. This semester I’m going with Mary Fulbrook’s Concise History of Germany. That might seem like a drastic swing in the other direction, but I have thought more about what I need a textbook to do: offer a basic narrative and highlight a limited number of key themes. The rest can be covered through other books, online readings, and class discussions. This is not a perfect solution, but it will give me much more flexibility in the classroom. I also think it will help make German history more accessible to my students. And Fulbrook’s narrative is by no means dumbed down. It’s just short.

Here’s the complete list of the required books:

  • Mary Fulbrook, A Concise History of Germany, Second Edition, Cambridge UP, 2004 [ISBN-13: 9780521540711]
  • Alfred Kelly, ed., The German Worker: Working-Class Autobiographies from the Age of Industrialization, U of California P, 1987 [ISBN-13: 9780520061248]
  • Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914–1918, Second Edition, Cambridge UP, 2004 [ISBN-13: 9780521547802]
  • Detlev J. K. Peukert, The Weimar Republic, Hill & Wang, 1993
    [ISBN-13: 9780809015566]
  • Robert G. Moeller, The Nazi State and German Society: A Brief History with Documents, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009 [ISBN-13: 9780312454685]
  • Uta G. Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany, U of California P, 2000[ISBN-13: 9780520211391]

The emphasis of the books is strongly twentieth-century, although the sources in Alfred Kelly’s book also include much from the nineteenth century. We will fill in gaps for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the overviews and primary sources offered in the excellent online German History in Documents and Images.

Finally, here’s the course description:

This course will explore social, economic, cultural, and political developments in Germany from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first. Topics to consider include the dual revolutions of the nineteenth century, industrial and political, and their accompanying social and cultural effects; the creation of a German nation-state from a loose collection of independent kingdoms, principalities, and city-states; developments in war and society that led not only to the creation of a German nation-state in 1871, but also to the two World Wars that ended in Germany’s division and the Cold War; the integration of West Germany into NATO and the European Union, on the one hand, and East Germany into the Warsaw Pact and Soviet economic structures, on the other hand; and, finally, reunification of the capitalist West and communist East within the context of Western economic, political, and security frameworks. The World Wars and Holocaust pose central challenges for us as we consider the shifting nature of Germany as both an idea and a state over the past two centuries; however, we will consider other lines of development in modern German history as well.

I’m teaching a graduate course at Mason this summer called “War and Society in Modern Europe.” I haven’t worked out a syllabus yet, but here is a course description and book list. There will be other readings, too, but these are the books that we’ll read in common.

Course Description

Modern European history cannot be understood without also studying the history of war. Likewise, the history of war in modern Europe cannot be understood independently of the broader social, political, cultural, economic, and technological context within which Europeans fought their wars. Ironically, however, military developments do not receive adequate attention in general European history, and broad developments in European society tend to be overlooked in histories of warfare—or so it often seems. In fact, there are general historians, albeit too few, who incorporate military history into their research and teaching, and there are military historians who carefully contextualize their work. If military history is sometimes looked down upon in the academy, its practitioners and those who refuse to accept the label of “military historian” have nonetheless produced an impressive body of work. In a field described with labels such as “war and society” and “new military history,” it has become possible to link military history, social history, cultural history, gender history, political history, and economic history to understand the all-encompassing activity that war became by the early twentieth century, if not earlier. In this course, we will sample some of this literature as well as a limited number of primary sources, whereby the emphasis will be on the historiography. We will discuss books in common, and each student will also present and write a review of a specialized monograph. The larger project for the term will be a historiographical essay that reviews the relevant literature on a specific topic, either covering an aspect of war and its societal context or examining a seemingly nonmilitary development and its actual relationship to war.

Required Books

  • Connolly, Owen, The Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, 1792–1815. New edition. Routledge, 2005. [ISBN: 0415239842]
  • Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of German Unification. Arnold, 2004. [ISBN: 0340580178]
  • Gregory, Adrian. The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. Cambridge UP, 2008. [ISBN: 0521728835]
  • Davis, Belinda J. Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics, and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin. U of North Carolina P, 2000. [ISBN: 0807848379]
  • Stites, Richard. Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia. Indiana UP, 1995. [ISBN: 0253209498]
  • Mosse, George L. Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars. Oxford UP, 1991. [ISBN: 0195071395]
  • Klimke, Martin and Maria Höhn, A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany. Palgrave, 2010. [ISBN: 0230104738]

Recommended Books

  • Townsend, Charles, ed. The Oxford History of Modern War. Updated edition. Oxford UP, 2005. [ISBN: 0192806459]
  • Morillo, Stephen with Michael F. Pavovich. What is Military History? Polity, 2006. [ISBN: 0745633919]

Students who are unfamiliar with the material or are eager to learn more might also want to read two classic surveys on this subject: Geoffrey Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe 1770–1870 and Brian Bond, War and Society in Europe 1870–1970.

Yesterday I asked how I could integrate the consumption history I’m learning into my teaching, and I pointed to a couple examples where it’s already there. But I missed a glaringly obvious one: the Great War.

Consumption is a vital part of the story in Gerald Feldman’s classic Army, Industry, and Labor in Germany, 1914—1918 (1966), insofar as the purchasing power of labor was inextricably linked to Germany’s social and political stability and, therefore, the country’s ability to produce sufficient armaments to continue fighting. The point is more accessible in Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914—1918 (1998 and 2004), which I have used in a course on the Great War and will use again next fall in one on modern Germany. There is also Belinda Davis, Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics, and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin (2000), which I will be using in a graduate course on war and society this summer.

I also usually bring up a much earlier aspect of consumption history when I address the Enlightenment and the public sphere: coffee houses. To make this point, there is a delightful reading from before the Enlightenment on the Internet Modern History Sourcebook: “The First English Coffee-Houses, c. 1670—1675.”

Of course, none of this is informed by a specific historiography of consumption history, but it does point out how this topic is already in my teaching. But there’s a difference between including a topic and addressing it systematically. To think about war and society in Europe, I can at least draw on the periodizing nomenclature of cabinet war, people’s war, and total war to help describe the level of societal involvement in interstate conflicts over the past few centuries (Stig Förster et al.). If such language and periodization exists for understanding consumption history, I have not yet learned it.

Perhaps the main point is to recognize modern consumer societies as having a history in the first place, instead of taking them as a direct reflection of human nature and, hence, rendering them ahistorical, as too often happens in simplistic political rhetoric that opposes capitalism and communism—rhetoric that invariably finds its way into student spoken and written comments. I sometimes try to do this with economic thought in the early modern period, but historicizing capitalism should be a central historiographical problem for the modern era, too.

Since I began my editing job a little over a year ago, I have begun learning a little about a lot of history that I had previously never experienced. While my editing has included a variety of smaller projects as diverse as the interests of the institute’s fellows and recent alumni, my main area of responsibility is editing a new series on consumption history. Two volumes are under contract, and a third will be very soon, but I’ve been forcing myself to sit on my hands and not go into details here until things are actually published.

Meanwhile, I have begun to wonder how I might integrate what I’m learning about modern consumer societies into my teaching. Connections sometimes come up spontaneously in class, but maybe I could do something more meaningful. Well, in the past I have used Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames (aka The Ladies’ Paradise), which I first encountered as a teaching assistant for Sandra Horvath-Peterson. And next fall I will use Uta Poiger’s Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany in a survey of modern Germany. But how could I approach the issue more systematically (when I am able to make some time for reflection)?

There is an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about how Texas is changing the content of its American high school history textbooks. Instead of taking potshots at its clear abuses of history, however, the author locates it in a broader context of history curricula and identity politics over the past few decades. See Sam Tanehaus, “In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right.”

Kevin Levin of the blog Civil War Memory thinks that the focus on textbooks in this newest episode of America’s culture wars misses the point, however. He points out that much history teaching is no longer focused on textbooks. He has a point. Even those of us who still sometimes use textbooks and do not rely as heavily on the internet see history education in terms very different than those of the Texas Board. See “Texas, Textbooks, and the Battle For Our Children’s Souls” and “If I Should Teach American Exceptionalism . . .

Here is the description for the course I’m planning to teach at George Mason University this summer:

Hist 388-B01: Approaches to European Military History.

This course examines manifold approaches to the military history of Europe. On one hand, it is a historiography course about military history’s questions, methods, and assumptions. On the other hand, it is an overview of the varieties of history that focus on war and the military in their societal context. In part, we will consider military history’s location within academic history more generally, as well as its relationship to military education and even the mainstream book market. In the main, though, we will focus on the varieties of academic military history and its many areas of research, including how battles were fought, how soldiers experienced those battles, how war and war planning looked in staffs and cabinets, the position of peacetime militaries in their societies, the effect of war on civilian societies and economies, the implications of gender studies for military history, and images of soldiering and war among aimed at youth. We will also address some of military history’s controversies, including the role of technology in effecting historical change.

This course is intended for anyone interested in history. It assumes no prior knowledge of military history, though a basic knowledge of European history would be helpful. The course will be based on readings and discussions, not lectures. Part of the time we will read articles and books in common, and other times students will read individualized assignments and discuss their findings with the class. In this way we will leverage our numbers to learn more as a group than we could as individuals. We will concentrate on secondary sources, though we might occasionally look at primary source excerpts that shed light on the historiography. Grades will be based on class participation (including reading presentations), three short historiographical papers based on the readings, and an annotated bibliography that focuses on a specific historical topic.


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