Academic journal article The Historian

An Appeal for a Historiographical Renaissance: Lost Lives and the Thirty Years War

Academic journal article The Historian

An Appeal for a Historiographical Renaissance: Lost Lives and the Thirty Years War

Article excerpt

IN THE EARLY 1920s, Germans debated the question of French colonial troops in occupied German territories and their impact upon the German population. In this discussion, the "Black Threat" provoked images of the brutalization of war and the threat of a "return to the era of the Thirty Years War." (1) As this vision suggests, until the advent of the Second World War, the Thirty Years War remained the European nightmare of destruction and war, shaping and guiding much of the historical reflection characterizing European thought for roughly three hundred years. As the 400th anniversary of the advent of this conflict nears, it is reasonable to expect that scholars will begin to reassess its significance. A review of existing scholarship allows the protean character of the Thirty Years War to emerge with greater clarity. Just like the French Revolution and the First World War, the Thirty Years War proved to be a watershed event, casting shadows upon the history that preceded it as well as that which emerged over the subsequent three hundred years. Also, just like the French Revolution and the First World War, the Thirty Years War has succumbed to historiographical generalization and fragmentation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as historians have dealt with it in increasing detail and depth.

As the central focus of this article, the Thirty Years War presents historians of the twenty-first century with a unique opportunity to review both the changing historical consciousness of European society, as well as its representative historians. Upon closer inspection, the article also demonstrates the need to revisit the research and accompanying published materials circulating in and shortly after the seventeenth century. Contrary to the accepted practice of critiquing the biases and shortcomings of previous inquiries, this article attempts to demonstrate that future research into the Thirty Years War should revisit the growing list of lost works of history and accompanying documentation. Broadening our traditional ideas of artifacts and archival materials, these increasingly rare--in every sense of the term--resources deserve our attention. Consequently, this article will also attempt to elevate these lost artifacts and archival resources, despite their discernible political and religious leanings, into the ranks of historical memoirs and primary source documentation. Within the context of our knowledge of the Thirty Years War, it is to the authors of these lost and largely forgotten resources that this appeal for a historiographical renaissance of lost lives is directed.

Often interpreted as the last major war attributed to the impact of the Protestant Reformation and the Wars of Religion, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was fought largely in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire, territories that today would include Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, and the Netherlands, and although not fought on their territories, also influenced the histories of England, France, Sweden, and Spain. Religion and politics could hardly have found a more volatile mixture. Rejecting Habsburg efforts to further the Counter Reformation, Czech Protestants in Prague opened the first phase of the war in 1618 by attempting to elect a German Protestant as king of Bohemia. In doing so they threatened the Catholic Habsburgs with a Protestant majority among the electors responsible for choosing the next emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Although defeated at the Battle of White Mountain on 8 November 1620, the Habsburg ruler, Ferdinand II, secured his election as Bohemia's king as well as the Holy Roman Empire's next emperor. Ferdinand's campaign against the Protestant cause in Germany sought to reverse political and religious concessions that had been made years earlier. Culminating in the Edict of Restitution of 6 March 1629, Ferdinand forced the return of many formerly Catholic properties. Ferdinand's absolutist aspirations may have been consistent with contemporary ideas coupling the religion of the ruling prince with the religion of the realm, but for Catholic France and Protestant Sweden, these acts enhanced Habsburg authority and threatened Europe's overall balance of power. …

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