International Politics and German History: The Past Informs the Present

International Politics and German History: The Past Informs the Present

International Politics and German History: The Past Informs the Present

International Politics and German History: The Past Informs the Present


Questions of international politics, as they relate to German history, are explored in this authoritative and controversial volume. Of the seven essays that constitute the book, four--those by Schroeder, Lauren, Rupieper, and Abenheim--center on diplomatic history and international politics, while the other three--by Barclay, Chickering, and Post--illuminate related political and cultural transformations. The Afterword by the two editors, Wetzel and Hamerow, deals with the works and philosophy of Gordon Craig, the preeminent historian of Germany to whom the book is dedicated. Craig's achievement has been to bring knowledge and interpretation into narrative history and to show that history is a self-sufficient and self-contained discipline, important for its own sake. These essays are bold and provocative; they can rightly claim originality, new insights, hitherto unrecognized aspects, new techniques of analysis for the subjects they cover; and for these reasons, as much as for any other, they deserve the attention of all those who care about German or international history.


David Wetzel and Diethelm Prowe

Historians have been writing diplomatic history for a long time, indeed ever since they penetrated the archives of state. Leopold von Ranke spent the most productive days of his life poring over the state papers of the republic of Venice. Albert Sorel wrote a masterpiece, Europe and the French Revolution (1875), which showed even in its title that the two events were linked. C. K. Webster reached the same supreme level in his study of The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh (1925). These historians and others like them set out to write history out of the foreign office archives. But they had a more important task. They claimed to be able to write about contemporary events with the same detachment as if they were treating more remote periods. the claim may have been justified, but it would be foolish to pretend that the sudden interest in contemporary events was detached or "scientific." It was forced on them by the First World War and particularly over preoccupation with the question of "war guilt." Had Bismarckian peace endured, it is doubtful whether the twentieth century would have shown as much concern with diplomatic history.

The years between the settlement of 1919 and Hitler's victory in 1933 were the great days of the "pure" diplomatic historian. People wanted to understand the contemporary world; historians assured them that they could do so if all diplomatic secrets were revealed. the result proved disappointing. For the most part the documents confirmed what the historians had in mind before they started to write: the Germans demonstrated that they had not caused the war; Soviet historians continued to blame capitalist imperialism; and the cynical were convinced that all statesmen had lurched from one blunder to another.

Thus began the great doubts about diplomatic history. It was not merely that historians had missed some revelation, or were being denied some material. They were asking the wrong questions. They had to turn from the . . .

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