Imperial Germany, 1871-1914: Economy, Society, Culture, and Politics

Imperial Germany, 1871-1914: Economy, Society, Culture, and Politics

Imperial Germany, 1871-1914: Economy, Society, Culture, and Politics

Imperial Germany, 1871-1914: Economy, Society, Culture, and Politics

Excerpt

The German Empire, which was founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 and collapsed at the end of World War I, has been the focus of unusually intensive research during the past three decades. In good measure, this development has been due to the controversy which the Hamburg University historian Fritz Fischer unleashed during the early 1960 s concerning the origins of that war. His hypotheses shifted attention away from the history of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich back toward the pre-1914 period, while raising the question of continuity and discontinuity in modern German history "from Bismarck to Hitler."( ) However, although referring to Fischer has become a standard way of introducing recent historical writing on the Kaiserreich, his work is no more than a partial explanation for the rich scholarly harvest which forms the basis of this attempt to present a comprehensive history of German society between the founding of the Second Empire and the outbreak of the First World War. Our understanding of this period has also been expanded by debates whose scope went far beyond Fischer's original concerns. Above all, the historiography of this period benefited enormously from the pluralization of perspectives and methods which the discipline of history experienced internationally. If political history continued to be at the center of academic teaching and research during the first two postwar decades, since then economic, social, and cultural history have expanded in many directions. Indeed, what characterizes historical writing around the world today is its methodological and thematic diversity. There may still be "fashions," but their influence is no longer comparable with the hegemonic position which political and diplomatic history once enjoyed.

These developments have also provided us with a more colorful and sophisticated understanding of modern German history. Today historians are researching topics about which virtually nothing was known only a few decades ago. Anyone with the courage to write a history of the period 1871-

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