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GE2: German History and Thought since 1750

This paper is available for the academic year 2019-20.

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 West and East Germany 1949-1990. The thought section includes short texts by writers such as Kant, Novalis, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, 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 done 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 would be to read one or more of the general books listed below.

a. The Enlightenment and Enlightened Absolutism

b. Nationalism, Liberalism and the 1848 Revolution

c. The Unification of Germany 1871 and Imperial Politics 1871-1918

d. The Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

e. The German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic 1949-89


Section B: Thought

a. The Enlightenment and its Critics

Lessing, Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts (Reclam 8968)

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

Novalis, Die Christenheit oder Europa (Reclam 8030)

b. Idealism and Materialism

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

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


c) The Crisis of Modernity

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

Max Weber, Wissenschaft als Beruf (Reclam UB 9388)

d) The Frankfurt School: Critical Perspectives after 1945

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

Jürgen 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 (Cambridge, 2004)

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

H. Schulze, Germany. A New History (Cambridge, Mass., 1998)

V Lange, The Classical Age of German Literature 1740-1815 (London, 1982)

H Schnädelbach, Philosophy in Germany 1831-1933 (Cambridge, 1984)

A Bowie, German Philosophy. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010)

H de Berg and D Large (eds), Modern German Thought from Kant to Habermas: An Annotated German-Language Reader (Rochester, 2012)

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.


In the examination you will have to answer three questions, at least one from each section.

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay: in place of the examination you submit two essay of 4,000 words each, one in January and one at the start of the Easter Term.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Joachim Whaley