Instructor: Dr. Neil Thornton


A German historian, Thomas Nipperdey (1927-1992), opens a history of Germany with “in the beginning was Napoleon.” It is in this spirit that we start with a look at the impact of the French Revolution and Napoleon on the German states of the time.  This leads to an examination of how most of those states became a unified German Empire in 1871.  Bismarck has a starring role and we will consider why this was so and how historians have assessed him.  While much of the focus will be on political changes, these are only understood if we look at economic and social developments as well.  Industrialization started later in Germany than in Britain or in France, but progressed rapidly.  Cities grew and new class configurations emerged.  Religion exercised an influence on politics and people’s daily lives.  We will take a long view of the nineteenth century and include events up to 1914.

German history, more than that of many countries, is haunted by our awareness of where it goes in the twentieth century.  Historians have debated whether the roots of Nazism can be found in the nineteenth century.  Those who make such arguments have pinpointed a variety of events as significant. Some suggest the first constitution of the Empire was authoritarian at heart.  Both Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm II have been criticized.  Nazism is beyond the timeframe of this course but we will take note of this debate about Germany’s “special path” to see how it has influenced historians’ interpretations of the nineteenth century.

In place of a textbook, the course will use assigned weekly readings. These will usually be journal articles by academics and will occasionally include primary documents as well. There is one two-hour lecture and one discussion group per week.  Evaluation will be based on two written assignments, discussion-group participation, and a final exam.  The exact percentages for these will be announced later but the likely breakdown is 20% for participation in a weekly discussion group, 20% for the first assignment, 30% for the second, and 30% for the final exam.

The course aims to have students finish with a good knowledge of the significant events in nineteenth-century German history.  They should have a greater understanding of how historians have written about the various topics, the kinds of evidence they have used, and areas where debates occur.  They should have more confidence in their ability to analyze articles by historians and in their ability to present their own arguments both in writing and discussion.