Germany A nation in its time : before, during, and after nationalism, 1500-2000

Helmut Walser Smith, 1962-

Book - 2020

For nearly a century, historians have depicted Germany as a rabidly nationalist land, born in a sea of aggression. Not so, says Helmut Walser Smith, who, in this groundbreaking five-hundred-year history - the first comprehensive volume to go well beyond World War II - challenges traditional perceptions of Germany's conflicted past, revealing a nation far more thematically complicated than twentieth-century historians imagined. Smith's dramatic narrative begins with the earliest glimmer...s of a nation in the 1500s, when visionary mapmakers and adventuresome travelers struggled to delineate and define this embryonic nation. Contrary to widespread perception, the people who first described Germany were pacific in temperament, and the pernicious ideology of German nationalism would only enter into the nation's history centuries later. Tracing the significant tension between the idea of the nation and the ideology of its nationalism, Smith shows a nation constantly reinventing itself and epxlains how radical nationalism ultimately turned Germany into a genocidal nation. Smith's aim, then, is nothing less than to redefine our understanding of Germany: Is it essentially a bellicose nation that murdered more than six million people? Or a pacific, twenty-first-century model of tolerant democracy? And was it inevitable that the land that produced Goethe and Schiller, Heinrich Heine and Käthe Kollwitz, would also carry out mass murder on an unprecedented scale? Combining poignant prose with an historian's rigor, Smith, for example, re-creates the national euphoria that accompanied the beginning of World War I, followed by the existential despair caused by Germany's shattering defeat. This psychic devastation would simultaneously produce both the modernist glories of the Bauhaus and the meteoric rise of the Nazi Party. Nowhere is Smith's mastery on greater display than in his chapter on the Holocaust, which looks at the killing not only through the tragedies of Western Europe but, significantly, also through the lens of the rural hamlets and ghettos of Poland and Eastern Europe, which were the origin of more than 80 percent of all the Jews murdered. He thus broadens the extent of culpability well beyond the high echelons of Hitler's circle all the way to the local level. Throughout its pages, Germany also examines the indispensable yet overlooked role played by women throughout the nation's history, highlighting great artists and revolutionaries, and the horrific, rarely acknowledged violence that war wrought on women. Richly illustrated, with original maps created by the author, Germany: A Nation in Its Time is a sweeping account that does nothing less than redefine our understanding of Germany for the twenty-first century. --

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Subjects
Published
New York, NY : Liveright Publishing Corporation [2020]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xvi, 590 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 479-560) and index.
ISBN
0871404664
9780871404664
Main Author
Helmut Walser Smith, 1962- (author)
  • PART I
  • THE NATION BEFORE NATIONALISM
  • Seeing Germany for the First Time (c. 1500)
  • "Germany ... As If in a Mirror" (c. 1500-1580)
  • The Tears of Stoics (c. 1580-1700)
  • PART II
  • THE COPERNICAN TURN
  • Partition and Patriotism (c. 1700-1770)
  • The Surface and the Interior (c. 1770-1790)
  • De l'Allemagne (c. 1790-1815)
  • PART III
  • THE AGE OF NATIONALISM
  • Developing Nation (c. 1815-1850)
  • Nation Shapes (c. 1850-1870)
  • Objective Nation (c. 1870-1914)
  • PART IV
  • THE NATIONALIST AGE
  • Sacrifice For (c. 1914-1933)
  • Sacrifice Of (c. 1933-1941)
  • Death Spaces (c. 1941-1945)
  • PART V
  • AFTER NATIONALISM
  • A Living Concept of Fatherland (c. 1945-1950)
  • The Presence of Compassion (c. 1950-2000)
  • Epilogue:
  • The Republic of the Germans at the Beginning of the Twenty-Second Century.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Smith's robust history of German nationalism emphasizes evolving notions of nationhood and continuities that have endured despite 500 years of tumult. Once a hodgepodge of dissimilar city-states and warring principalities, Germany began the nineteenth century with an assertively defined sense of self that the twentieth century would see weaponized to devastating effect. How did this happen? Prior narratives have pointed to Napoleon's occupation of Prussia as the moment in which Germans came together under the banner of nationalism. But Smith suggests an earlier quickening, as advances in transportation and cartography, along with the shared trauma of the Thirty Years' War, gave rise to a uniquely German national identity. While perceptions of Germanness would change to meet shifting politics and outlooks, Smith argues, certain features would persist, including notions of violence, exclusion, and primacy. Powerful chapters on the losses of WWI and the "death spaces" of WWII underscore different dimensions of sacrifice, another salient expression of German nationalism. And if today's German identity seems to privilege internationalism and compassion (and perhaps soccer), uglier impulses remain. Fresh ideas, lots of maps, and vivid prose. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

Smith's robust history of German nationalism emphasizes evolving notions of nationhood and continuities that have endured despite 500 years of tumult. Once a hodgepodge of dissimilar city-states and warring principalities, Germany began the nineteenth century with an assertively defined sense of self that the twentieth century would see weaponized to devastating effect. How did this happen? Prior narratives have pointed to Napoleon's occupation of Prussia as the moment in which Germans came together under the banner of nationalism. But Smith suggests an earlier quickening, as advances in transportation and cartography, along with the shared trauma of the Thirty Years' War, gave rise to a uniquely German national identity. While perceptions of Germanness would change to meet shifting politics and outlooks, Smith argues, certain features would persist, including notions of violence, exclusion, and primacy. Powerful chapters on the losses of WWI and the "death spaces" of WWII underscore different dimensions of sacrifice, another salient expression of German nationalism. And if today's German identity seems to privilege internationalism and compassion (and perhaps soccer), uglier impulses remain. Fresh ideas, lots of maps, and vivid prose. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

This coherent survey of Germany from 1500 to 2000 moves away from seeing the nation's saga as a transhistorical concept and instead skillfully centers on what historians have long titled the "German Question" when exploring different forms of the German nation. Structured in sections that look at the country before, during, and after nationalism, the book retraces efforts to "[see] Germany for the first time" and takes readers on a journey through shifting understandings of what makes a nation before discussing the post-Napoleonic era. Two world wars, the rise of Nazism, and the Holocaust then define "the nationalistic age." The book concludes with the age "after nationalism" as Smith (Vanderbilt Univ.) wonders whether Germans "still live in the nationalist age." This last section centers mostly on West Germany, and Smith's overall narrative favors well-known voices. Regardless, exceptional maps, countless anecdotes, and nods to historiographical discussions make this a thoughtful examination of Germany throughout the ages, especially because of the author's ability to remain accessible to a broader audience. Summing Up: Essential. General readers through faculty.--M. Kalb, Bridgewater CollegeMartin KalbBridgewater College Martin Kalb Choice Reviews 58:10 June 2021 Copyright 2021 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Rather than focusing on politics, diplomacy, and nationalism as a lens through which to understand the origins of the German nation, Smith (history, Vanderbilt Univ.) considers the role of maps in defining German land and identity between 1500 and 2000. Many of these maps do not describe a rigidly defined border to Germany; Smith reminds readers that prior to unification (1871), many inhabitants identified themselves by their region or principality, not by ethnic nationality. After the devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618–48), some states, such as Prussia and Austria, became increasingly militarized. In the 19th century, Germany was better known for its Romantic writers than for its armed forces. But after 1918, Smith asserts, Germany struggled to justify the devastating losses of World War I, which opened the door to a new type of racialized, militant nationalism that made the Holocaust possible. VERDICT Smith rejects the notion that German history is the story of militant nationalism marching toward genocide, and instead focuses on cartographers intellectuals who, prior to 1918, often described the landscape and ethnography of Germany in pacifistic terms. This new perspective on German history should be welcomed by all libraries.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Vanderbilt University history professor Smith (The Butcher's Tale) traces shifting concepts of the German nation across five centuries in this dense and erudite account. Disputing the prevailing notion that WWI- and WWII-era nationalists invented the idea of the German nation, Smith details how maps drawn before and after the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) helped to concretize an initially vague, slowly emerging conception of "German lands." Massive deforestation in the 18th and 19th centuries contributed to the decline of local and regional loyalties, Smith writes, and German nationalism, which "was from the beginning tied in complex ways to anti-Jewish sentiment," emerged with greater clarity and force during the early-19th-century Napoleonic Wars. Ultimately, the belief that "allegiances to the nation should supersede other loyalties" flourished only in the 75 years between German unification under Otto von Bismarck and the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. Unfortunately, the book's somewhat underdeveloped portrait of the post-nationalist era (1945–present) contains little discussion of how visions of a "European community" and plans for Holocaust reparations gained support in West Germany. Smith's lucid prose and insightful character sketches keep the deluge of names, dates, and border realignments from becoming too disorienting. Readers with a deep interest in the evolution of modern Europe will relish this thorough revisionist history. (Mar.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"The first major history of Germany in a generation, a work that presents a five-hundred-year narrative that challenges our traditional perceptions of Germany's conflicted past. An epic in the tradition of Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China and Jill Lepore's These Truths, Helmut Walser Smith's sterling work promises to redefine our perception of German history. For nearly a century, conventional historians have depicted Germany as a rabidly nationalist land, born in a sea of aggression, its nineteenth-century ascent accompanied by militarism and brought to a murderous apex in the Third Reich. Not so, asserts Smith, who, beginning in 1500, reveals early and even surprisingly pacific conceptions of the nation, and allows us to see the Nazis' extreme form of nationalism not as the dark culmination point of German history, but rather as an essential episode in Germany's centuries-long history of continually conceiving the nation in radically different ways. Whether chronicling the Thirty Years War, the German Enlightenment of Goethe and Schiller, the Weimar Republic, the Holocaust, or the era of Angela Merkel, Smith has created a new standard for the twenty-first-century."--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

For nearly a century, historians have depicted Germany as a rabidly nationalist land, born in a sea of aggression. Not so, says Helmut Walser Smith, who, in this groundbreaking 500-year history—the first comprehensive volume to go well beyond World War II—challenges traditional perceptions of Germany’s conflicted past, revealing a nation far more thematically complicated than twentieth-century historians have imagined.Smith’s dramatic narrative begins with the earliest glimmers of a nation in the 1500s, when visionary mapmakers and adventuresome travelers struggled to delineate and define this embryonic nation. Contrary to widespread perception, the people who first described Germany were pacific in temperament, and the pernicious ideology of German nationalism would only enter into the nation’s history centuries later. Tracing the significant tension between the idea of the nation and the ideology of its nationalism, Smith shows a nation constantly reinventing itself and explains how radical nationalism ultimately turned Germany into a genocidal nation.Smith’s aim, then, is nothing less than to redefine our understanding of Germany: Is it essentially a bellicose nation that murdered over six million people? Or a pacific, twenty-first-century model of tolerant democracy? And was it inevitable that the land that produced Goethe and Schiller, Heinrich Heine and Käthe Kollwitz, would also carry out genocide on an unprecedented scale?Combining poignant prose with an historian’s rigor, Smith recreates the national euphoria that accompanied the beginning of World War I, followed by the existential despair caused by Germany’s shattering defeat. This psychic devastation would simultaneously produce both the modernist glories of the Bauhaus and the meteoric rise of the Nazi party.Nowhere is Smith’s mastery on greater display than in his chapter on the Holocaust, which looks at the killing not only through the tragedies of Western Europe but, significantly, also through the lens of the rural hamlets and ghettos of Poland and Eastern Europe, where more than 80% of all the Jews murdered originated. He thus broadens the extent of culpability well beyond the high echelons of Hitler’s circle all the way to the local level. Throughout its pages, Germany also examines the indispensable yet overlooked role played by German women throughout the nation’s history, highlighting great artists and revolutionaries, and the horrific, rarely acknowledged violence that war wrought on women.Germany: A Nation in Its Time

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The first major history of Germany in a generation, a work that presents a five-hundred-year narrative that challenges our traditional perceptions of Germany’s conflicted past.