Degrees of Order, Measures of Freedom: Modern German History and the Challenge of Postmodern Historiography

Degrees of Order, Measures of Freedom: Modern German History and the Challenge of Postmodern Historiography

Tuesday, February 13, 2024
5:00pm
In-Person at Eaton Humanities Building, Room 1BN50
and streaming on Zoom.

Please join us for this joint event, hosted by the Program in Jewish Studies, the Louis P. Singer Endowed Chair in Jewish History, and the Pacific Office of the German Historical Institute Washington in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation. At CU Boulder, the visit is co-sponsored by the Center for Humanities & the Arts and the departments of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures, History and Sociology, and the International Affairs Program.

Although “progressive” narratives of modernity have come under attack for decades, the fundamental understanding of German history has largely remained in the framework of progress and aberration, catastrophe and eventual redemption. Somewhat paradoxical, even postcolonial approaches have recently reinforced a modified Sonderweg narrative, in their insistence on Germany’s colonial past as precursor of the Holocaust. What would a different understanding of this history look like? Against the backdrop of the complexities and multiple crises of our own times, the German trajectory since the Holy Roman Empire might better be conceived as a persistent struggle between regimes of order and measures of freedom. Indeed, the quest to reconcile order and freedom may be seen as a leitmotif of German history, from the liberal 1848ers’ rallying cry for “Freiheit und Ordnung” to the idea of “Ordoliberalismus” on which the Federal Republic was built. The retreat from progressivist narratives seems all the more vindicated by the ecological crisis and its imperative of writing German history in the Anthropocene.

Paul Nolte is one of Germany’s leading contemporary historians. He holds a chair in modern history with a special emphasis on contemporary history and international relations at the famed Friedrich Meinecke Institute of the Freie Universität Berlin. His research areas include social, intellectual, and political history of the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, especially post-1945 Germany and the United States; transatlantic history of democracy; public intellectuals and social, economic, and political concepts and mentalities; urban history and metropolitan cultures; religion and civil society in Western societies and public history and cultures of memory. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Staatsbildung als Gesellschaftsreform. Politische Reformen in Preußen und den süddeutschen Staaten 1800-1820 (1990); Generation Reform. Jenseits der blockierten Republik (2004); Was ist Demokratie? Geschichte und Gegenwart (2012); and Hans-Ulrich Wehler. Historiker und Zeitgenosse (2015), an intellectual biography of the late co-founder of the “Bielefeld School,” which profoundly impacted the academic practices of history in West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s (Wehler was also Nolte’s doctoral adviser). His co-edited volumes encompass Wege der Gesellschaftsgeschichte (2006) (with Jürgen Osterhammel and Dieter Langewiesche) and Stadtgeschichte als Zeitgeschichte (2019) (with Hanno Hochmuth). Prof. Nolte is also the managing editor of Geschichte und Gesellschaft, the leading German research journal in social and societal history. He served as a fellow or guest professor at the Oxford Univeristy, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Among his many transatlantic undertakings is the chairpersonship of the academic advisory committee of the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, which brings many American PhD candidates to Germany.

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