History 280 -- The German Problem in the Nineteenth Century

California State University, Sacramento
Departments of History 
College of Arts and Letters

Spring 2002


History 280: The German Problem in the 19th Century

George S. Craft                                                                                        Spring 2002

Tahoe 3088: 278-6400; gcraft@csus.edu

Office Hours: W 2:00-3:30 pm; R 9:00–10:30 am; R 5:15-5:45 pm

Course Description/Statement of Problem: The “German Problem” perplexes many students of German history.  Germany has been the “bad boy” of European history in the 20th century: witness its role in the origins of World War I, its acceptance of Nazi rule beginning in 1933, its plunging of Europe into another world war six years later, and its implementation of the “Final Solution.”  The defining characteristics of the German nation in the 20th century have been technological efficiency, militarism and fascism.  Many observers thought this true even before World War I.

             And yet any student of the 19th century will encounter another Germany.  Before 1848 Germany was known as a nation of “impractical” dreamers, philosophers, poets and musicians; Germany was a chaos of political jurisdictions, and most observers thought that Germans had no gift for politics.  When Germans moved toward reform and unification at mid-century, liberal and democratic forces seemed strong: Germany came reasonably close to receiving a “modern” constitution in the Revolution of 1848, and the liberal movement in Prussia seemed capable of causing the king’s abdication in 1862.  Even after 1871 “anti-Establishment” forces (liberals, Catholics, socialists) were still strong.

             How did the “old” Germany become the “new” Germany?  How did this humane and civilized country acquire its modern face?   When did the change occur?  How do we as historians account for it?  Is the difference more apparent than real?  Was it due to deep-seated forces such as industrialization and demographic growth?  What role was played by the Prussian conquest of Germany at mid-century?  Did liberal values ever have a chance in Germany?  How much responsibility must be borne by the hero-leader, Otto von Bismarck? Does the main fault lie with the “epigoni” who followed Bismarck at the helm of Germany?  After the defeat of the Weimar experiment, has the catastrophic defeat of 1939-45 finally put the nation back on the track of democratic and humanitarian values?

             In this seminar we will look at several chronologically arranged topics in 19th century German history beginning with the Napoleonic experience and ending with the collapse of the Second Reich in 1918.

             The seminar’s main objectives are as follows:

             -- You will acquire a basic familiarity with the main data and trends in 19th century German history. (I am assuming that most students have little knowledge of German history.)

            -- You will develop a working familiarity with the scholarly bibliography of 19th century German history.

            -- You will develop your critical speaking and writing skills through participation in seminar discussions and writing two critical thought papers.

            -- You will deepen your familiarity with the main characteristics of German history and culture in this period, with a focus on background to German history in the 20th century.

 Required Reading

 All the following required core books are available in the CSUS Bookstore:

 Texts:   James J. Sheehan, German History 1770-1866.  Oxford, 1989.  Long, detailed; focuses primarily on social and cultural history.                             Wonderful.

Gordon A. Craig, Germany, 1866-1945.  Oxford, 1978.  Outstanding, pithy and focused discussion of primarily the politics of Germany in this key period.  We will read only the parts covering the period up to 1918.  (Craig was one of my mentors in graduate school; his long articles in the New York Review of Books  are classic.)

Both texts are part of the Oxford History of Modern Europe series.  They have extensive bibliographies.  They are available on two-hour reserve in the Reserve Book Room of the University Library.

 E.T.A. Hoffmann, Tales of Hoffmann. (“Mlle. De Scudery,” “The Entail,” and “The Sandman.”)  Celebrated off-beat stories and novellas of the early 19th century; very “Romantic.”

        Theodor Fontane, Effi Briest.  Truly superior novel about a woman’s infidelity, its causes and consequences.  Subtly critical of the Prussian social system and of women’s position in 19th century society.

        Thomas Mann, Death in Venice.  Along with Goethe, Germany’s most famous writer.  Dramatizes the predicament of the artist in modern society.  (Be glad that I didn’t assign The Magic Mountain!)

These literary works are available in several editions and are available in libraries.  You are not required to purchase a particular edition.

 Seminar Requirements

 Student participation in the seminar will have two components.  You will participate extensively in seminar presentations and discussions; and you will write two critical thought papers analyzing aspects of the history of Germany in this period.

1) Seminar Meetings

             Students will have both individual and team presentations in class.  In the first class meeting students will form teams of two for class presentations.  Team members should establish convenient means of contact, e.g., in person on or off campus, by email, telephone.  You should thoroughly coordinate your work before coming to class.

             Every seminar meeting will be divided into two sections separated by a 15-minute break.  In the first section we will first have a summary presentation of  material covered in the previous class meeting; then presentation and discussion of core materials from the two texts and from the literary works.  In the second section we will have two or three book presentations by the student teams.

 A typical class will adhere roughly to the following schedule:


Seminar Business                                 15 minutes

Summary presentation                          20 minutes

Core Materials                                     45 minutes

 Break                                                 15 minutes

Book Presentations                              60+ minutes (depending on number of books)

             Students will need to sign up for participation in class in the following areas.  Submit the sign-up sheet to me as soon as possible.  I would like to have a meeting with all students in my office in the first week of class.

             a) Summaries of material covered in previous class session.  This is an individual assignment.  Presentations should indicate the basic material covered, differing interpretations, specific reference to books and how they relate to the period covered, and personal reflections.

             b) Core presentations by teams.  Each student team should present core materials two times.  They include the core readings from the two texts and the three literary works.  The teams should divide up the presentation; comment on one another’s presentation; express differences of opinion if appropriate.

             In the text presentations, summarize the material covered in the assignment; choose one or two interesting subjects for elaboration; relate the material to other subjects covered in the seminar; finish with personal observations.

             In the literary presentations, summarize the works read; elaborate on some interesting aspect of the work (theme, style, characters, society, etc.); comment on the significance of the work for an understanding of German history.  It is advisable to consult one or two critical works available in the University Library.

             c) Book Reports by individuals.  Each student must present three book reports, no more than two in either half of the course.  Choose them from the bibliography distributed in the first day of class.  The entire book presentation must take no more than 30 minutes.  You should follow the following format: 

            Basics – author, full title, publication place and date.

            Author – brief description of author’s career and publications.

            Content Summary and Thesis – reasonably brief description of the content of the book, what it emphasizes; briefly stress the main thesis of the author, i.e., what you think the author is trying to prove, the insight it gives us into German history in this period.

            Reviewers’ Reactions – brief indication of how the book was received by the community of historians.  Scholarly reviews may be found by consulting several indexes available in the University Library.  Journals in the library that may contain reviews include:

             American Historical Review                                    English Historical Review

            The Historian                                                              Historical Journal

            History                                                                         Journal of Modern History

            Revue d’histoire modern et contemporaine              Revue historique

            Journal of Central European Affairs                         Times Literary Supplement

  New York Times Book Review                                   New York Review of Books

            Past and Present

 Consult a Social Science librarian for easy ways to access scholarly reviews.

            Personal Reflections --  Your own thoughts on the quality of the book, its significance for an understanding of German history, its importance for you, etc.

              The book presentations should be typed single-spaced and about 750-1000 words.  Make enough copies for distribution to every member of the class at the beginning of your presentation.  I will arrange for copying in the History Office the day of the presentation or the day before.

             Through this process you should acquire an intimate familiarity with four monographs on German history and a passing familiarity (with printed materials) of another thirty or so. 

            d) General.  I would like everybody to be actively involved in this course. Even when you don’t have an assignment, I would like you to participate in the discussion: question the presenters, bring out what you see as important points that have been neglected, sharpen the class’ understanding of the book’s thesis, relate the material being discussed to other material covered in the course.

             Of course, the golden mean applies – not too much (monopolize the discussion), not too little (quiet or silent).  Be succinct, pithy, focused; if you bring in outside materials, make sure it is enlightening and relevant.  Don’t try to take over the class; don’t hide behind the other students.

             As always, courtesy and sensitivity are important.  Respect the opinions of your fellow students and the work they have put into the seminar.

 2) Thought Essays

             You will have two thought essays of 1500-2000 words, one due about April 4 and the other in Final Exam Week.  The questions will be phrased broadly to include major themes and to encourage you to incorporate and synthesize much of the material covered in that part of the course.  The first will have something to do with Bismarck’s legacy, and the second with the sense of crisis in Germany before World War I.  If you would prefer another (broad) issue, please see me well before the due date. 

             The essays should be well-written (I hope you know what I mean) and should directly address the issues raised by the question.  For form and style follow Kate Turabian, Manual for Theses and Dissertations.

             We will discuss these assignments at some later date.

 Grades and Attendance

             Grading will follow the usual graduate practice: A for superior performance; B for adequate performance; and C for unsatisfactory performance.  If you receive lower than a B- in the course, you should question whether you belong in the graduate program.

            Since participation is of such great importance, regular attendance is required.  This class operates on the basis of student participation.  If you have an unexplained absence for a book presentation, you will receive an F in the assignment.  Students who miss more than one seminar meeting without an excuse can expect their grade to be lowered.  Up to one full grade point may be lost for inadequate attendance.

            Your grade will be calculated as follows:

             50%            two thought papers

            25%            book presentations

            25%            core presentations and general participation

             It looks as if the seminar grade will be based about 60% on written work (essays and book summaries) and 40% on oral participation.

             I will give you a written evaluation of your in-class performance about halfway through the semester.  As mentioned, your final grade may be lowered by unsatisfactory attendance.

 Final Word: My intention is that this course be informative, stimulating and entertaining.  For this to happen, I need you to adopt a positive attitude, “throw yourself” into the work, and enliven the classroom discussion. 

                                                                                                            GC: 1/24/02


History 280: Daily Schedule of Core Readings

 Jan 31              Introduction and Organization                                         --

 Part I

 Feb 7               Impact of Napoleonic Wars on Germany                                  Sheehan 251-388 

Feb 14             Arts and Ideas Until the Age of Unification                                Sh 524-587; 793-852

                                                                                                                        Hoffmann, Tales

 Feb 21             Restoration Politics: Reaction and Vormärz                              Sh 389-450; 588-653

 Feb 28             Revolutions of 1848 in Germany                                              Sh 656-729

 Mar 7               Society and Politics 1848-1871                                               Sh 730-792; 853-899

 Mar 14             Bismarck’s Wars 1864-1871                                                   Sh 899-911

                                                                                                                         Craig 1-37 

Mar 21             Bismarck’s Germany 1862-1890                                               Cr 38-100; 140-179

 Part II

 Apr 4               Bismarck, continued.  Socialism in Germany                               Craig, passim.

 Apr 11             Society, Women and Religion, 1871-1914                                 Cr 69-78; 180-213

                                                                                                                           Fontane, Effi Briest

 Apr 18             Wilhelmine Politics 1890-1914                                                   Cr 251-301

 Apr 25             Politics, continued.  Culture, universities, ideas                             Cr 180-213 passim

                                    In Wilhelmine Germany

 May 2              Germany’s Military (Army and Navy) and the                              Cr 3023-328

                                    Approach of War

 May 9              Germany in World War I.  The End of the Reich                          Cr 339-395

 May 16            The German Artist.  The German Question                                   Cr 213-223

Mann, Death in Venice



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