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Biography Between Structure and Agency: Central European Lives in International Historiography

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Volume 9

Studies in German History

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Biography Between Structure and Agency

Central European Lives in International Historiography

Edited by Volker R. Berghahn and Simone Lässig

288 pages, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-518-7 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (September 2008)

eISBN 978-0-85745-049-4 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


While bookstore shelves around the world have never ceased to display best-selling “life-and-letters” biographies in prominent positions, the genre became less popular among academic historians during the Cold War decades. Their main concern then was with political and socioeconomic structures, institutions, and organizations, or—more recently—with the daily lives of ordinary people and small communities. The contributors to this volume—all well known senior historians—offer self-critical reflections on problems they encountered when writing biographies themselves. Some of them also deal with topics specific to Central Europe, such as the challenges of writing about the lives of both victims and perpetrators. Although the volume concentrates on European historiography, its strong methodological and conceptual focus will be of great interest to non-European historians wrestling with the old “structure-versus-agency” question in their own work.

Contributors: Volker R. Berghahn, Hartmut Berghoff, Hilary Earl, Jan Eckel, Willem Frijhoff, Ian Kershaw, Simone Lässig, Karl Heinrich Pohl, John C. G. Röhl, Angelika Schaser, Joachim Radkau, Cornelia Rauh-Kühne, Mark Roseman, Christoph Strupp and Michael Wildt.

Volker Berghahn is the Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia University where he moved in 1998 from Brown University, after a longer spell of teaching at the University of Warwick in England. The author of more than a dozen books, he has long been interested in the challenges of modern biography. In 1993, he published a study of the industrialist Otto A. Friedrich and his role in the reconstruction of West German industry after 1945. His America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe uses Shepard Stone—renowned journalist, Ford Foundation officer in charge of its European and international programs, and the first director of the Berlin Aspen Institute—as a window to the trans-Atlantic world of American and European intellectuals and scholars, many of whom were associated with the Congress for Cultural Freedom during the Cold War.

Simone Lässig has been Director of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig, Germany and Professor of Modern History at the University of Braunschweig since October 2006. From 2002 to 2006 she was a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. She has published mainly on modern German and Jewish history. Her last book focused on the question of how nineteenth century German Jews entered the bourgeoisie. She is currently preparing a biographical study on a German-American banking family.

Subject: General History General Cultural Studies
Area: Central/Eastern Europe



Chapter 1. Introduction: Biography in Modern History—Modern Historiography in Biography
Simone Lässig

Chapter 2. Biography and the Historian: Opportunities and Constraints
Ian Kershaw

Chapter 3. Dreams and Nightmares: Writing the Biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II
John C.G. Röhl

Chapter 4. Gustav Stresemann: A German Bürger?
Karl Heinrich Pohl

Chapter 5. Women’s Biographies—Men’s History?
Angelika Schaser

Chapter 6. Historiography, Biography, and Experience: The Case of Hans Rothfels
Jan Eckel

Chapter 7. A Historian’s Life in Biographical Perspective: Johan Huizinga
Christoph Strupp

Chapter 8. The Heroic Ecstasy of Drunken Elephants: The Substrate of Nature in Max Weber—A Missing Link between his Life and Work
Joachim Radkau

Chapter 9. Generational Experience and Genocide: A Biographical Approach to Nazi Perpetrators
Michael Wildt

Chapter 10. Criminal Biographies and Biographies of Criminals: Understanding the History of War Crimes Trials and
Perpetrator “Routes to Crime” Using Biographical Method
Hilary Earl

Chapter 11. From Himmler’s Circle of Friends to the Lions Club: The Career of a Provincial Nazi Leader
Hartmut Berghoff and Cornelia Rauh-Kühne

Chapter 12. Contexts and Contradictions: Writing the Biography of a Holocaust Survivor
Mark Roseman

Chapter 13. The Improbable Biography: Uncommon Sources, a Moving Identity, a Plural Story?
Willem Frijhoff

Chapter 14. Structuralism and Biography: Some Concluding Thoughts on the Uncertainties of a Historiographical Genre
Volker R. Berghahn

Notes on Contributors

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