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The Past in Weimar History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2006

Corpus Christi College, Oxford, OX1 4JF.


This article examines Weimar Germany's public controversy about the Republic's place in German history. In a period that was seen by many contemporaries as a time deprived of historical context, all political parties tried to legitimise their actions and aims through the construction of very different historical traditions. Based on a wide range of primary sources, the article seeks to analyse this ‘battle over the past’ within the broader context of Weimar's political culture and the Republic's struggle for survival.

Cet essai examine les controverses publiques qui prennent place dans l'Allemagne de Weimar autour de la place de la République dans l'histoire allemande. Alors que de nombreux contemporains stigmatisaient la première république allemande comme un régime privé d'histoire, tous les partis politiques ont pourtant cherché à légitimer leur action et leurs objectifs au travers de la construction de traditions historiques contrastées. Fondée sur le dépouillement d'un large éventail de sources primaires, cette recherche analyse cette bataille sur le passé, en l'inscrivant dans des perspectives plus larges, notamment celle de la culture politique de Weimar et celle de la lutte de la République pour sa survie.

Dieser Aufsatz untersucht den öffentlichen Meinungsstreit über die historische Selbstverortung der Weimarer Republik während der Jahre 1918 bis 1933. In der von vielen Zeitgenossen als ‘geschichtslos’ stigmatisierten ersten deutschen Republik, versuchten alle politischen Parteien, ihre politischen Aktionen und Ziele durch die Instrumentalisierung höchst unterschiedlicher historischer Traditionen zu legitimieren. Gestützt durch umfangreiches Quellenmaterial wird hier der Versuch unternommen, den Kampf um die historische Deutungsmacht im Kontext der politischen Kulturgeschichte Weimars und des Überlebenskampfes der Republik zu analysieren.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2006

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I should like to thank Jane Caplan, Martin Conway, Alexander Sedlmaier and an anonymous reader for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Furthermore, I should like to thank those who contributed to a stimulating discussion at the 2004 CEH Board meeting in Oxford where this paper was first delivered. Finally, I should like to thank the British Academy for providing me with generous funding that enabled me to write this paper.
Robert Gerwarth is British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in modern European history at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He received his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in 2003 and has recently published his first book, The Bismarck Myth: Weimar Germany and the Legacy of the Iron Chancellor (2005).