The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century

The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century

The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century

The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century

Synopsis

Highly praised when published in Germany, The Quest for the Lost Nation is a brilliant chronicle of Germany's and Japan's struggles to reclaim a defeated national past. Sebastian Conrad compares the ways German and Japanese scholars revised national history after World War II in the shadows of fascism, surrender, and American occupation. Defeat in 1945 marked the death of the national past in both countries, yet, as Conrad proves, historians did not abandon national perspectives during reconstruction. Quite the opposite--the nation remained hidden at the center of texts as scholars tried to make sense of the past and searched for fragments of the nation they had lost. By situating both countries in the Cold War, Conrad shows that the focus on the nation can be understood only within a transnational context.

Excerpt

“There can be no doubt,” German historian Hermann Heimpel declared in 1959, “that the era of a historical perspective based purely on the nation-state has come to an end. Historical studies must take a leap into the planetary future, even when examining the past.” the epoch in which the nation and the nation-state were the self-evident and privileged points of departure for an understanding of the past finally—and irreversibly—appeared to be over. Heimpel was not alone in his judgment. It seemed as if the end of the Third Reich, military defeat, and the division of Germany had made “the nation” obsolete as a category of historical analysis. the consensus within the profession was that the nation-state perspective in historiography, in Germany and beyond, had “become baseless … since the explosion of the first atomic bomb.” West German historians instead pleaded for subsuming the national past within the larger contexts of the history of Europe and the Occident.

In postwar Japan, the programmatic statements of historians had a remarkably similar thrust. Here, too, the paradigm of national history was widely seen as anachronistic, belonging to a militarist past now overthrown. After Japan’s surrender in August of 1945 the idea of the nation had “lost its virginity,” as Maruyama Masao observed. This applied to both public debate and academic discourse. As Takeuchi Yoshimi wrote in 1951, during the postwar years “the problem of the nation [minzoku] … was consciously avoided as an academic subject…. Even the existence of the nation as such was viewed as an evil imposed by fate.” in response . . .

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