In a blog post earlier this month, “From Cultural History to the History of Knowledge”, Johan Östling and David Larsson Heidenblad examine the attraction and potential utility of the history of knowledge as an historiographical approach. Particularly helpful is their attempt to tease out its relationship to cultural history.
Global history preferred a scale that reflected its cosmopolitan self-yearnings. It also implicitly created what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in Strangers in Their Own Land (2016) called ‘empathy walls’ between globe-trotting liberals and locally rooted provincials. Going global often meant losing contact with – to borrow another of her bons mots – ‘deep stories’ of resentment about loss of and threat to local attachments. The older patriotic narratives had tethered people to a sense of bounded unity. The new, cosmopolitan, global narratives crossed those boundaries. But they dissolved the heartlanders’ ties to a sense of place in the world. In a political climate dominated by railing against Leviathan government, big banks, mega-treaties with inscrutable acronyms such as TPP, and distant Eurocrats, the pretentious drive to replace deep stories of near-mourning with global stories of distant connection was bound to face its limits. In the scramble to make Others part of our stories, we inadvertently created a new swath of strangers at home….
I did my own part in the global pivot. For several years, I oversaw Princeton’s internationalisation drive, creating global knowledge supply chains. It never occurred to me, or to others, to ask: what would happen to those less sexy, diminutive, scales of civic engagement? We didn’t worry much. They were the remits of provincialism, quietly escorted from the stage upon which we were supposed to be educating the new homo globus.
This is an older critique, and I agree there has been much improvement. Still, negative examples abound, making this short piece as worthwhile as ever.
One of the new research focuses at the GHI since our director, Simone Lässig, began her tenure last October is the history of knowledge.1 The study of knowledge in its societal context (as opposed to thought experiments about truth in the discipline of philosophy) has some tradition in sociology and anthropology, but it is still a relatively new focus in English-language historiography, at least in my experience here in the U.S.2
I have had to withdraw from an interesting handbook project because of excessive overlap with two other chapters. My topic was on the matrix of gender, war, and nation in European wars in the 1850s through the 1870s. Given the limited historiography, I chose a thematic approach, but that produces the undesired overlap. What is needed instead, I’m told, is a gendered history of these specific wars. Leaving aside the insufficient historiography, to say nothing of the challenges inherent in collaborations of this kind, where project requirements and individual research have to somehow come together and adapt to changing parameters, the impasse I’ve reached seems to have deeper epistemological roots. Read more
I recently noticed that the English translation of Der Schlieffenplan: Analysen und Dokumente, edited by Hans Ehlert, Michael Epkenhans, and Gerhard P. Groß, is now available from the University Press of Kentucky under the title The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I. Interestingly, Terence Zuber, who sparked much of the debate on German war planning prior to the Great War, declined to allow his chapter from the German original to be included in this English translation.1 It wasn’t his best piece anyway, far more peevish than usual, and there is plenty of his work on the supposedly nonexistent Schlieffen Plan already available in English. Be that as it may, if Zuber’s thesis about Schlieffen’s war planning has been conclusively disproven, the assumptions underlying his work have received less attention.2 That matters because his work on Schlieffen continues to be widely read and discussed, having made a big splash when it first came out. Moreover, he continues to write and publish books on German military history.
At a recent lecture on the Great War, Roger Chickering said, “I’m not a military historian.”1 The phrase stuck in my mind because he said it two more times during the course of the lecture and discussion. I’m sure he was trying to avoid letting the discussion get sidetracked by narrower debates about military operations, which was fair enough in the context of his talk about a series of common structural elements in Germany’s, France’s, and Great Britain’s wars. Nonetheless, his words bothered me. Read more
Last week I read Jörg Muth, Command Culture.1 The book’s main subject is about training U.S. officers for war, and it draws on the German officer corps in the interwar period for its useful comparisons. I can’t offer a review, because my own expertise lies more with the Imperial German officer corps. Nonetheless, the book deserves some comment. Read more
In a recent German History forum, Paul Lerner offers an interesting aside: “I used the medical Sonderweg as more or less a straw man in my 2003 book on German psychiatry, but I found that even as I refuted it, the need to explain the unique path of German medicine kept arising.”1 These words speak to me, because I used Groener’s biography to refute the rather untenable interpretation of a “feudalized” bourgeoisie in the Kaiserreich, even in the officer corps, but taking down that straw man hasn’t offered a satisfying answer about the meaning of Groener’s middle-class cultural orientations for our understanding of the Imperial German officer corps. Read more
When writing my dissertation, I was forced to confront Terence Zuber’s claims that Wilhelm Groener and others had “invented” the Schlieffen Plan, and I wrote a section on the issue. The debate has continued since that time, with new evidence and articles emerging, but I have not seen any significant reason to alter my basic conclusions. Thus, I feel the section I wrote still has value for anyone trying to understand this debate. I mention that here and make the dissertation freely available because some of the most important scholarship is locked behind the pay walls of professional history journals. That is fine for those of us with access to well-stocked university libraries, but not everyone is so fortunate. Zuber himself has been canny about this limitation of modern scholarship, which so often engages other scholars but does not reach out to the general public. He has rehearsed his arguments in an affordable book for the mass market called The Real German War Plan (The History Press, 2011). While this will not earn him points in academia, it serves the useful function of engaging the public, which more of us should do. Read more