skip to content

GE2: German History and Thought since 1750

This paper is available for the academic year 2021-22. Updated details of topics available will be posted by 30 June 2021, in advance of the Faculty paper choices survey.

This paper surveys the history and thought of Germany since 1750. It is divided into two sections. Topics in the history section include the Holy Roman Empire and enlightened monarchy in the eighteenth century, the 1848 revolutions, Bismarck, the Weimar Republic and National Socialism, and the history of West and East Germany 1949-1990. The thought section includes short texts by Kant, Novalis, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Weber, Heidegger, Adorno, and Habermas.

We aim to appeal both to those who may have some background in German history and to those who have never had the opportunity to study these subjects before. Much of the reading is in English; and while the short texts in the thought section are studied in German you will be helped in interpreting them by secondary reading in English.

In subsequent years, you can build on the work you do for this paper in several ways:

  • The paper provides great scope for exploring themes that can provide the basis for a Year Abroad Project.
  • Students who take this paper often go on to take Paper Ge 12 ‘History and Identity in Germany, 1750 to the Present’, Paper Ge 13 ‘Aspects of German-speaking Europe since 1945’ or papers that may be ‘borrowed’ from the Historical Tripos (‘European History since 1890’, ‘History of political thought from c. 1700 - c. 1890’). They also often choose to focus on the History and Thought elements in Papers Ge8, Ge9 and Ge10.


Section A: History

Students will receive short reading lists on specific topics from their supervisor. The best preparation for the course is to read one or more of the general books listed below.

1. The Enlightenment, Enlightened Absolutism, and its Aftermath

2. Nationalism and Liberalism 1806-1848

3. The 1848 Revolution

4. German Unification and the German Empire 1871-1918

5. The Weimar Republic

6. The Third Reich

7. Reconstruction and Renewal in Eastern Germany 1945-1971

8. Reconstruction and Renewal in Western Germany 1945-1974

9. The GDR under Honecker 1971-1989

10. The FRG under Schmidt and Kohl 1974-1990


Section B: Thought

1. The German Philosophical Revolution: Kant

Kant, Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? (Vandenhoeck-Reihe 1258)

2. Re-enchanting the World: Novalis and Early Romanticism

Novalis, Die Christenheit oder Europa (Reclam 8030)

3. German Idealism: Hegel

Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, IV.3. ‘Die neue Zeit’ (Reclam 4881), pp 553-605

4. Historical Materialism: Marx

Marx, Thesen über Feuerbach (Dietz paperback); Marx/Engels, Die deutsche Ideologie, 1. Teil, ‘Feuerbach’ (Die Frühschriften, Kröner ed. 341-417)

5. Pessimism: Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Part II, ‘Von der Nichtigkeit und dem Leiden des Lebens’. (In H de Berg and D Large (eds), Modern German Thought from Kant to Habermas: An Annotated German-Language Reader, 2012)

6. After the Death of God: Nietzsche

Nietzsche, ‘Der Antichrist’, in Kritische Studienausgabe Bd. 6, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari (dtv/de Gruyter)

7. The Crisis of Reason: Max Weber

Max Weber, Wissenschaft als Beruf (Reclam UB 9388)

8. The Question of Being: Heidegger

Heidegger. Sein und Zeit, ‘Das Thema der Analytik des Daseins’. (In H de Berg and D Large (eds), Modern German Thought from Kant to Habermas: An Annotated German-Language Reader, 2012)

9. The New Duties of Philosophy: Adorno and the Early Frankfurt School

Adorno, ‘Was bedeutet: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit?’, in Theodor Adorno, Eingriffe, Neun kritische Modelle (Suhrkamp, 1996), also in Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften Bd.10 (Suhrkamp, 2003)

10 . Cosmopolitanism and Rationality: Habermas

Habermas, ‘Geschichtsbewußtsein und posttraditionale Identität. Die Westorientierung der Bundesrepublik’, in Kleine politische Schriften VI (Suhrkamp, 1987), pp.159-79, also in Habermas, Die Moderne – ein unvollendetes Projekt (Reclam, Leipzig, 1992)

Preparatory reading: 


M Fulbrook, A Concise History of Germany (3rd edn 2009)

W W Hagen, German History in Modern Times: Four Lives of the Nation (2012)

V Hoesle, A Short History of German Philosophy (2018)

A Bowie, Introduction to German Philosophy: From Kant to Habermas (2003)

Students might also like to consult the websites listed under Learning Resources, below.

Teaching and learning: 


Lecture courses throughout the year on both history and thought will help you put the reading that you do for your fortnightly supervision essays into perspective. All lectures are accompanied by extensive handouts.


Learning Resources:

The Moodle site for Ge.2 can be found here.

The following online resources are both extremely useful




In the examination you will have to answer three questions, at least one from each section. One question will be set on each topic or text. This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay: in place of the examination you submit two essays of 4,000 words each, one in January and one at the start of the Easter Term. You may write both Long Essays on History or on Thought, or one on each.

NB. Arrangements for 2020-21 to be confirmed.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Joachim Whaley