Interpreting German History 1814-1914 - HY31034

Quick Facts

  • Level 3
  • 30 Credits
  • Semester 1
  • 24 places
  • History - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 50% Examination 50%
  • European Studies module choice.

Module Details

The shadow of Hitler and the Third Reich looms large over the interpretation of 19th century German history as German historians have wrestled with the thorny questions of long-term continuities:

  • Was the descent into a genocidal dictatorship a complete aberration from the culture of Goethe, von Humboldt and Heine?
  • Or was Nazism the logic consequence of continued authoritarian rule by traditional elites, keeping the "people" marginalised from politics. 
  • Was the militarism that permeated all civilian life responsible for extreme nationalism and discrimination of ethic and religious minorities? 

This module makes extensive use of the website German History in Documents and Images (GHDI) with hundreds of German primary sources in English translation.  This allows students to investigate topics of their own choosing and to develop their personal research specialism for presentation and essay. 

During seminars we will discuss some of the major changes since 1945 in the interpretations of 19th Century German History.  Historians who experienced the Third Reich struggled to make sense of the "German Catastrophe" and tended to draw a sharp line between the period before 1918 and what came after.  In the 1960s, a younger generation of historians began to challenge the view of the Third Reich as an aberration, seeing the political culture and social structures of nineteenth century Germany as the precondition for extremism of the Third Reich.   

The module focuses on the following topics:

  • German Liberalism and the challenges from extreme conservative elites and radical socialists
  • German nationalism in various forms, from simple interest in folklore to extreme chauvinism
  • The question of German Unification and the struggle for Austrian or Prussian hegemony
  • The relationship between Catholicism and Lutheran Protestantism
  • The conditions for ethnic and religious minorities, notably Poles and Jews
  • Bourgeois understanding of general relations, and the rise of the feminist movement
  • Concepts of masculinity, education, science and militarism


Dr Anja Johansen


This module is assessed as follows:

  • Essay (35%)
  • Presentation (15%)
  • Examination (50%)


Suggested Reading

  • D. Blackbourn., Fontana History of Germany 1780-1918 (London 1997 & 2003)
  • J. R. Evans., Rethinking German History (London 1987)
  • J. R. Evans., Rereading German History: from Unification to Reunification (London 1997)
  • J. J. Sheehan., German History, 1770-1866 (Oxford 1989)

Access the online reading list system