This book aims to offer undergraduate students and other interested learners an introduction to the history of the first modern united Germany, which lasted from 1871 to 1945 and left a mixed and still controversial legacy of industrial and technological achievement and utter devastation. The book evolved out of the lecture notes that I developed for my course on Germany from 1871 to 1945 at the start of my teaching career at Bowdoin College in 1993. As a nervous young professor, I prepared a refined manuscript for every single lecture. Toward the end of the semester, however, I forgot my lecture notes on my breakfast table – between the coffee cup and the honey pot. I noticed this too late to run home and fetch the notes, and therefore I spoke freely in class, following a rough outline on the board. After class, a student tapped me on the shoulders and said: “Hey professor, that was the best class you ever gave. Maybe you should forget your lecture notes more often.” I did indeed leave my lecture notes out of the classroom from then on, but I had all those detailed notes for most of the semester. When I taught the course again in my present position at Colby College a year later I printed out my completed set of lecture notes and distributed them to the students. In 1996, when I taught the class for the third time, I put the entire text onto my personal home page on the Colby website. I soon found out that this freely accessible website was widely used outside of Colby. I have received hundreds of emails from all over the world commenting on this website. A South Korean student studying for a dreaded exam asked me some desperate questions about the text. An American filmmaker interested in the Weimar Republic thanked me for providing important context for her project on a Weimar artist. A Romanian student writing a paper on the causation of World War I debated with me about war guilt. A Scottish media team distributed the contents of my website to teachers as an example of how to use the web for teaching purposes, and professors in many countries have assigned parts on my online German history textbook to their classes. The website also attracted some more disturbing comments, as when some North American Holocaust deniers tried to convince me that I was on insecure ground when talking about this subject. But overall, the website drew countless expressions of appreciation, particularly in the days before Wikipedia.
To be converted into a textbook, the online text needed massive expansion and revision. I hope that the readability and clarity have not suffered. As an experienced teacher, I am aware of the frustration students undergo with most textbooks. Student evaluations often comment on the textbook being dry and boring, but whenever I try to do without one students criticize the lack of a textbook. I have tried to focus . . .