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German Historians at the Back of the Pack: Hiring Patterns in Modern European History, 1945–2010

  • Catherine Epstein (a1)

Some years ago, I realized that I was the first historian of Germany hired in a tenure-track position at Amherst College. I got my job in 2000. Steeped in German history, I was surprised that a premier liberal arts college chose to hire a historian of Germany only at the very end of the twentieth century. My generation of historians of Germany often think—and other historians of Europe share our perception—that German history is a strong (if not the strongest) field in modern European history. Whether measured anecdotally by the number of job openings, the number of historians hired, the stream of published books, or the share of German history articles in academic journals, it always seems that German historians and German history are at the forefront. In fact, though, historians of Germany have always made up the smallest cohort of historians of the major European history fields (that also include British, Russian, and French history). According to the latest figures available from the American Historical Association (AHA), in 2010 there were 990 historians of Britain, 668 historians of Russia, 605 historians of France, and 592 historians of Germany in the United States.

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1 For the purposes of this article, the modern period begins in 1750 for Britain and in 1789 for the continental countries. British history includes Britain, Ireland, and the British Empire. Modern Russian history includes the Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. Modern French history includes the French Empire. Modern German history includes German-speaking central Europe, including Habsburg history.

2 The AHA table includes all historians of a national history, not just historians of the modern era. The category of Germany in the AHA table covers historians who have self-identified as historians of Germany, but not those who have self-identified only as historians of Austria, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or central Europe. If German history is viewed more capaciously (as it is in this article), the AHA numbers may well be low.

3 In compiling this database, I included only advertisements for tenure-track positions in history departments in the United States. In addition, to get a more accurate count of the true number of jobs filled (as opposed to listings), I deleted a job advertisement if a virtually identical position was advertised by the same institution within the next four years. Given that advertised jobs are sometimes canceled or otherwise go unfilled, this was intended to avoid counting the same job twice. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate job postings listed between October 1969 and November 1971. During that period, the AHA published a separate Professional Register Bulletin; see The Professional Register,” AHA Newsletter 8, no.1 (1969): 16. This publication is not listed in any catalog of serials. It also does not appear to be in the papers of the American Historical Association housed in the Library of Congress.

4 Krieger Leonard, “European History in America,” in History, ed. Higham John (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 243.

5 Palmer R. R., “A Century of French History in America,” French Historical Studies 14 (1985): 163.

6 Byrnes Robert F., A History of Russian and East European Studies in the United States: Selected Essays (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 21.

7 Stern Fritz, “German History in America, 1884–1984,” Central European History 19, no. 2 (1986): 135.

8 Krieger, “European History,” 266.

9 Ibid., 263–4.

10 For differing views on the origins of the Western Civilization course, see Allardyce Gilbert, “The Rise and Fall of the Western Civilization Course,” American Historical Review 87, no. 3 (1982): 695725; and Segal Daniel A., “‘Western Civ’ and the Staging of History in American Higher Education,” American Historical Review 105, no. 3 (2000): 770805.

11 Haskins Charles H., “European History and American Scholarship,” American Historical Review 28, no. 2 (1923): 218–20.

12 Pinkney David H., “American Historians on the European Past,” American Historical Review 86, no. 1 (1981): 2.

13 Higby Chester P., “The Present Status of Modern European History in the United States,” Journal of Modern History 1, no. 1 (1929): 58.

14 Stern, “German History,” 150.

15 McNeill William H., “A Birthday Note,” Journal of Modern History 51, no. 1 (1979): 13.

16 Higby, “The Present Status,” 8.

17 McNeill, “A Birthday Note,” 3.

18 Krieger, “European History,” 269.

19 Ibid., 269.

20 McClelland Charles E., “German Intellectual History,” Central European History 19, no. 2 (1986): 171.

21 Freeland Richard M., “The World Transformed: A Golden Age for American Universities, 1945–1970,” in A History of Higher Education, ed. Goodchild Lester F. and Wechsler Harold S., 2nd ed. (Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 1997), 590–93; and Geiger Roger L., “Demography and Curriculum: The Humanities in American Higher Education from the 1950s through the 1980s,” in The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II, ed. Hollinger David A. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 5657.

22 Trow Martin A., “American Higher Education: Past, Present, and Future,” in A History of Higher Education, ed. and , 572.

23 Gleason Abbott, “Russian and Soviet Studies in the United States,” in The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History, vol. 32, ed. Wieczynski Joseph L. (Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1983), 47; Katz Barry M., Foreign Intelligence: Research and Analysis in the Office of Strategic Services 1942–1945 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 910; Stern, “German History,” 157; and Winks Robin W., Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939–1961 (New York: Morrow, 1987), 85.

24 Katz, Foreign Intelligence, 94, 166, 190–91.

25 Report of the Harvard Committee, General Education in a Free Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945), 213–16.

26 Ibid., 213–16.

27 Bender Thomas, “Politics, Intellect, and the American University, 1945–1995,” Daedalus 126, no. 1 (1997): 5.

28 Ibid., 4–5; Downs Laura Lee and Gerson Stéphane, “Introduction,” in Why France? American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination, ed. Downs Laura Lee and Gerson Stéphane (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 9; Geiger, “Demography,” 57.

29 Allardyce, “The Rise and Fall,” 695.

30 Wellemeyer J. F.Jr., “Survey of United States Historians, 1952, and a Forecast,” American Historical Review 61, no. 2 (1956): 340, 344.

31 Perkins Dexter and Snell John L., The Education of Historians in the United States (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), 31.

32 Pinkney, “American Historians,” 3.

33 Woods Randall Bennett, “Fulbright Internationalism,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 491 (1987): 28.

34 Wellemeyer, “Survey,” 343–4.

35 Haynes Douglas M., “White Lies: The British Past in Post-War America,” The History Teacher 31, no. 1 (1997): 9697.

36 Cannadine David, “British History: Past, Present—And Future?,” Past & Present 116 (1987): 174.

37 Michael Wolff's phrase, quoted in Vernon James, “Historians and the Victorian Studies Question: Response,” Victorian Studies 47, no. 2 (2005): 273.

38 McNeill William H., “What's Happening to European History in the United States?,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 123, no. 6 (1979): 341.

39 Pinkney, “American Historians,” 6.

40 Clark J. C. D., “The Strange Death of British History? Reflections on Anglo-American Scholarship,” The Historical Journal 40, no. 3 (1997): 791.

41 Katz, Foreign Intelligence, 139.

42 Ibid., 160.

43 Byrnes, A History, 122.

44 Ibid., 121.

45 Ibid., 130, 213.

46 Emmons Terence, “Russia Then and Now in the Pages of the American Historical Review and Elsewhere: A Few Centennial Notes,” American Historical Review 100, no. 4 (1995): 1142.

47 Engerman David C., Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America's Soviet Experts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 7.

48 In 1925, American medievalists founded the Medieval Academy of America and the journal Speculum. McNeill, “A Birthday Note,” 1.

49 Engerman, Know Your Enemy, 38.

50 Ibid., 38–39.

51 Ibid., 3.

52 Bonnell Victoria E. and Breslauer George W., “Soviet and Post-Soviet Area Studies,” in The Politics of Knowledge: Area Studies and the Disciplines, ed. Szanton David (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004), 223–4.

53 Gleason, “Russian and Soviet Studies,” 51.

54 Engerman, Know Your Enemy, 7.

55 See ibid., 156–64.

56 Emmons, “Russia Then and Now,” 1144–5.

57 Ibid., 1146.

58 See Engerman, Know Your Enemy, 286–308.

59 Emmons, “Russia Then and Now,” 1147.

60 McNeill, “What's Happening?,” 341.

61 Barkin Kenneth D., “German Émigré Historians in America: The Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies,” in An Interrupted Past: German-Speaking Refugee Historians in the United States after 1933, ed. Lehmann Hartmut and Sheehan James J. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 153–4.

62 Berghahn Volker, “Deutschlandbilder 1945–1965. Angloamerikanische Historiker und moderne deutsche Geschichte,” in Deutsche Geschichtswissenschaft nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (1945–1965), ed. Schulin Ernst (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1989), 251.

63 On the older generation of refugee historians, see Epstein Catherine, A Past Renewed: A Catalog of German-Speaking Refugee Historians in the United States after 1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); and Lehmann and Sheehan, eds., An Interrupted Past.

64 McNeill, “What's Happening?,” 342.

65 Popkin Jeremy D., “The American Historian of France and the ‘Other,’” in Objectivity and Its Other, ed. Natter Wolfgang, Schatzki Theodore R., and Jones John PaulIII (New York: Guilford Press, 1995), 98.

66 See Philipp Stelzel, “Rethinking Modern German History: Critical Social History as a Transatlantic Enterprise, 1945–1989” (Ph.D. diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010).

67 Krieger, “European History,” 303.

68 This was in contrast to German historians in Germany, who long viewed German exceptionalism in a positive light.

69 Stern, “German History,” 160.

70 Steven Aschheim and Jeffrey Herf have argued that the intellectual preoccupations of Stern and Mosse (as well as Peter Gay and Walter Laqueur) paved the way for historians of Germany to look at the Holocaust as the defining moment in German history. See Aschheim Steven E., Beyond the Border: The German-Jewish Legacy Abroad (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 49; and Herf Jeffrey, “How the Culture Wars Matter: Liberal Historiography, German History, and the Jewish Catastrophe,” in Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and the Crisis of the Humanities, ed. Bérubé Michael and Nelson Cary (New York: Routledge, 1995), 152.

71 Smith Helmut Walser, “The Vanishing Point of German History: An Essay on Perspective,” History & Memory 17, nos. 1/2 (2005): 283.

72 See the description of a class with the refugee historian Hans Rosenberg in Hilberg Raul, The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996): 5859.

73 Aschheim, Beyond the Border, 60.

74 Novick Peter, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 103–23.

75 Berghahn Volker and Maier Charles S., “Modern Europe in American Historical Writing,” in Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past, ed. Molho Anthony and Wood Gordon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 394.

76 See the website of the American Council of Learned Societies, (accessed August 4, 2011).

77 Berenson Edward and Green Nancy L., “The Society for French Historical Studies: The Early Years,” French Historical Studies 28, no. 4 (2005): 581.

78 In 2012, CGCEH changed its name to the Central European History Society (CEHS). For a short history of the CGCEH, see the CEHS website, (accessed September 14, 2012).

79 Sylvain Quatravaux, Embassy of France, to author, July 25, 2011.

80 “NACBS Report on the State and Future of British Studies in North America (1999),” posted at (accessed September 20, 2012); and the “External Funding” section of the website of the North American Conference on British Studies, (accessed September 20, 2012).

81 AHA Newsletter 1, no. 1 (1962).

82 The remaining seventy-six jobs were a smattering of openings in southern history (Italy, Spain), Balkan history, or combinations of countries (France/Germany, Britain/Russia, and so on).

83 Jobs for Historians and the Role of the AHA: Two Comments Delivered at the Annual Meeting,” AHA Newsletter 10, no. 2 (1972): 20.

84 Ibid., 19.

85 Geiger, “Demography,” 65.

86 , Survey of the Historical Profession: Academia 1981–82 Summary Report (Washington, D.C.: AHA, 1984), 5.

87 McNeill William H., “Modern European History,” in Kammen Michael, ed., The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980): 97.

88 Vernon James, “The Local, the Imperial, and the Global: Repositioning Twentieth-Century Britain and the Brief Life of its Social Democracy,” Twentieth Century British History 21, no. 3 (2010): 406.

89 Novick Peter, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 440.

90 “NACBS Report.”

91 Berenson Edward, “France, a Political Romance,” in Why France?, ed. and , 138.

92 Chapman Herrick, “Choosing History, Discovering France,” in Why France?, ed. and , 156.

93 Hunt Lynn, “Fantasy Meets Reality: A Midwesterner Goes to Paris,” in Why France?, ed. and , 63.

94 Gordon Bertram M., “The Decline of a Cultural Icon: France in American Perspective,” French Historical Studies 22, no. 4 (1999): 625.

95 Smith Leonard V., “Writing at the Margins,” in Why France?, ed. and , 180.

96 Pinkney David H., “The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France,” French Historical Studies 1, no. 1 (1958): 1125; and Pinkney David H., “The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France Reconsidered,” French Historical Studies 9 (1975): 170–81.

97 Palmer, “A Century of French History,” 171–72.

98 Kuisel Richard F., “American Historians in Search of France: Perceptions and Misperceptions,” French Historical Studies 19, no. 2 (1995): 312–14.

99 Popkin, “The American Historian,” 103.

100 Pinkney David H., “Time to Bury the Pinkney Thesis?,” French Historical Studies 17, no. 1 (1991): 219–23.

101 Sewell William H.Jr., Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 23.

102 Popkin, “The American Historian,” 104.

103 Kselman Thomas, “Catholic Connections, Jewish Relations, French Religion,” in Why France?, ed. and , 116.

104 Sewell, Jr., Logics, 40.

105 Ibid., 51.

106 On historians of Russia not following the “linguistic turn,” see Emmons, “Russia Then and Now,” 1148.

107 Herf, “How the Cultural Wars Matter,” 155.

108 Cannadine, “British History,” 184.

109 Hunt Lynn, “French History in the Last Twenty Years: The Rise and Fall of the Annales Paradigm,” Journal of Contemporary History 21, no. 2 (1986): 220.

110 Schaeper Thomas J., “French History as Written on Both Sides of the Atlantic: A Comparative Analysis,” French Historical Studies 17, no. 1 (1991): 236.

111 Ibid., 236.

112 Smith Michael S., “French History in the College Curriculum: Survey Results,” French Historical Studies 17, no. 1 (1991): 226, 230.

113 Jarausch Konrad H., “German Social History: American Style,” Journal of Social History 19, no. 2 (1985): 354.

114 Ibid., 350.

115 McClelland, “German Intellectual History,” 164–5.

116 Jarausch, “German Social History,” 354.

117 Novick, The Holocaust, 209.

118 Haynes Stephen R., “Holocaust Education at American Colleges and Universities: A Report on the Current Situation,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 12, no. 2 (1998): 288.

119 Littell Marcia Sachs, “Breaking the Silence: A History of Holocaust Education in America,” in Remembrance, Repentance, Reconciliation: The 25th Anniversary Volume of the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, ed. Tobler Douglas F. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998), 197.

120 Ibid., 197–8.

121 By 1980, estimates of the number of Holocaust courses ranged from “over 700” to “approximately 140.” S. Haynes, “Holocaust Education,” 283, 287–8.

122 Engel David, Historians of the Jews and the Holocaust (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 34.

123 Fallace Thomas D., “The Origins of Holocaust Education in American Public Schools,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20, no. 1 (2006): 84.

124 Haynes, “Holocaust Education,” 302.

125 Ibid., 302.

126 Ibid., 284.

127 Engel, Historians, 23.

128 Ibid., 32.

129 Since 1981, twenty-three job ads in modern European history asked for expertise in the Holocaust. Of these, fourteen were in German history, one in Jewish history, two in German-Jewish history, and six made no reference to a national history.

130 On the popularity of Holocaust courses, see Engel, Historians, 19; and Haynes, “Holocaust Education,” 286, 299.

131 Engel, Historians, 239 note 92.

132 See H. W. Smith, “The Vanishing Point,” 269–95.

133 Ibid., 288.

134 See Stone Dan, “Beyond the ‘Auschwitz Syndrome’: Holocaust Historiography after the Cold War,” Patterns of Prejudice 44, no. 5 (2010): 454–68.

135 Robert B. Townsend, “Job Market Sagged Further in 2009–10,” Perspectives on History (January 2011), at (accessed August 15, 2011).

136 Kevin M. Sweeney to David Ratner, March 16, 1999, personal collection of author.

137 “NACBS Report.”

138 Ibid.

139 Ibid.

140 Ibid.

141 Ibid.

142 Pedersen Susan, “Money, Space, and Time: Reflections on Graduate Education,” part of “Roundtable: Twentieth-Century British History in North America,” Twentieth Century British History 21, no. 3 (2010): 387.

143 Bonnell and Breslauer, “Soviet and Post-Soviet Area Studies,” 231.

144 Ibid., 227.

145 Engerman, Know Your Enemy, 335.

146 Emmons, “Russia Then and Now,” 1145–6.

147 From the Editors, Ten Years after the ‘Remarkable Decade,’” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, no. 4 (2011): 770. See the full issue for an overview of recent historiographical developments in Russian/Soviet history. For a similar overview published in 2001, see Kritika 2, no. 2 (2001).

148 Engerman, Know Your Enemy, 335.

149 Ibid., 333, 431 note 1.

150 Stone, “Beyond the ‘Auschwitz Syndrome,’” 466–7.

151 Goldstein Jan, “The Future of French History in the United States: Unapocalyptic Thoughts for the New Millennium,” French Historical Studies 24, no. 1 (2001): 5.

152 See Gordon, “The Decline of a Cultural Icon,” 625–51.

153 Ibid., 625–6.

154 Evans Richard J., Cosmopolitan Islanders: British Historians and the European Continent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 1617. For a debate about this work, see these essays in Contemporary European History 20, no. 3 (2011): Peter Baldwin, “Smug Britannia: The Dominance of (the) English in Current History Writing and Its Pathologies,” 351–66; Richard J. Evans, “Response to Baldwin,” 367–76; and Peter Baldwin, “Response to Evans, 377–80.

155 On the alleged success of the attack on Eurocentrism, see Gräser Marcus, “World History in a Nation-State: The Transnational Disposition in Historical Writing in the United States,” Journal of American History 95, no. 4 (2009): 1043.

156 Because the AHA did not begin job advertisements until 1962 and many institutions did not advertise with it, the documented number of available positions in the 2000s exceeded that of the 1960s (see Table 3).

157 Townsend Robert B., “Decline of the West or the Rise of the Rest? Data from 2010 Shows Rebalancing of Field Coverage in Departments,” Perspectives on History 49, no. 6 (2011) at (accessed September 19, 2012).

158 Ibid.

159 Ibid.

160 Ibid.

161 Ibid.

162 Ibid.

163 Pedersen, “Money,” 384–5.

164 Goldstein, “The Future of French History,” 3.

165 Pedersen, “Money,” 389.

166 Spiegel Gabrielle M., “The Case for History and the Humanities,” Perspectives on History 46, no. 1 (2008): 34.

I wish to thank Robert B. Townsend for providing me with AHA information on the numbers of historians of Europe. My article would not have been possible without his generous help. For their valuable comments, I also want to thank Volker R. Berghahn, Peter C. Caldwell, Roger Chickering, Daniel Gordon, Konrad Jarausch, Hilary Moss, and Jonathan Sperber. Finally, I am grateful for the useful suggestions made by the participants in the Five College History Seminar and the 2011–12 Copeland Colloquium at Amherst College.

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