The Thirty Years' War and German Memory in the Nineteenth Century

The Thirty Years' War and German Memory in the Nineteenth Century

The Thirty Years' War and German Memory in the Nineteenth Century

The Thirty Years' War and German Memory in the Nineteenth Century

Synopsis

The nineteenth century witnessed the birth of German nationalism and the unification of Germany as a powerful nation-state. In this era the reading public's obsession with the most destructive and divisive war in its history-the Thirty Years' War-resurrected old animosities and sparked a violent, century-long debate over the origins and aftermath of the war. The core of this bitter argument was a clash between Protestant and Catholic historians over the cultural criteria determining authentic German identity and the territorial and political form of the future German nation. This groundbreaking study of modern Germany's morbid fascination with the war explores the ideological uses of history writing, commemoration, and collective remembrance to show how the passionate argument over the "meaning" of the Thirty Years' War shaped Germans' conception of their nation. The first book in the extensive literature on German history writing to examine how modern German historians reinterpreted a specific event to define national identity and legitimate political and ideological agendas, The Thirty Years' War and German Memory in the Nineteenth Century is a bold intellectual history of the confluence of history writing, religion, culture, and politics in nineteenth-century Germany.

Excerpt

The Thirty Years' War! What a fateful epoch for Germany, an epoch of the
most fanatical and savage conflict, a bloody time of religious war, whose
flame was lit in Bohemia in 1618 to rage through Germany with devas
tation and fire for a quarter of a century. Misery without parallel spread
from the Baltic to the Danube. We see ancient and rich provinces afflicted
by the fury of rebellion, the bonds of government torn asunder, only to be
restored with blood and iron—a time filled with shame and horror!

This advertisement appeared on the end sheet of Luise Mühlbach's Die Opfer des religiösen Fanatismus: Historicher Roman aus dem dreißigjährigen Krieg (The Victims of Religious Fanaticism: a Historical Novel of the Thirty Years' War) (1871–72). the publisher, Sigmund Bensinger, was clearly not promising light reading for Mühlbach's devoted fans throughout German-speaking Central Europe. Bensinger knew what his audience wanted. Mühlbach's novel was part of a tremendous flood of histories, plays, novels, poems, and "rediscovered" memoirs and documents dealing with the Thirty Years' War that appeared in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. in an era that saw the birth of German nationalism and the unification of Germany as a powerful nation-state, the reading public's obsession with the most destructive and divisive war in German history is a remarkable example of the interplay between collective memory, history, and national identity. This interplay is the distinguishing characteristic of nationalist thinking as it evolved in the nineteenth century. But what is remarkable about the German case is that a story of defeat and humiliation should exert such influence on an emerging national consciousness. This should draw the histori-

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