Germanness in the 20th century: Identity, Politics, and Violence in Germany from the First World War to Re-Unification

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Martina Kessel


This course is available on the MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Notions of collective identity are deeply intertwined with the phenomenon of how politics are understood and acted out. The class will discuss which notions of Germanness were constructed over the course of the twentieth century. It will ask how they impacted politics and society in key moments of German history, and how they were influenced in turn by political developments. We will pursue two major lines of inquiry. On the one hand, we will analyse how contemporaries framed their imagined identity of ‘being German’ by deciding who might belong or not belong to German society, in political, legal, confessional, or cultural terms. On the other hand, we will trace how such projections were used to justify various forms of exclusion or violence. The course will start by analysing issues of race, class, gender, and confession before the First World War, as important categories of boundary work. The class will then debate how notions of Germanness served to legitimize violence and non-democratic politics during the First World War and the Weimar Republic. The third section will focus on National Socialism, exploring the construction of imagined identities on the one hand through popular culture and various practices of implementing a ‘people’s community’ and on the other hand through warfare and genocide. Finally, we will discuss the competition between the two German states between 1949 and 1990 in terms of politics and collective identity.


110-minute live session. Some weeks may include break-out sessions on Zoom or other forms of individual and/or group work.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

Alon Confino, A World without Jews. The Nazi imagination from persecution to genocide, New Haven, Conn. et al.: Yale University Press, 2014.

Chin, Rita et al. (Hg.), After the Nazi racial state: Difference and democracy in Germany and Europe, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2009, 80-101.

Fulbrook, Mary, German National Identity after the Holocaust, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Fulbrook, Mary / Andrew I. Port (eds.), Becoming East German. Socialist Structures and Sensibilities after Hitler, New York: Berghahn, 2013. 

Gillerman, Sharon, Germans into Jews: Remaking the Jewish social body in the Weimar Republic, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009.

Grossmann, Atina, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Horne, John, Alan Kramer, German Atrocities 1914. A History of Denial, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Schulte-Sasse, Linda, Entertaining the Third Reich: Illusions of Wholeness in Nazi Cinema, Durham, London: Duke University Press, 1996.

Mazon, Patricia, Reinhild Steingröver (eds.), Not so plain as Black and White: Afro-German culture and history, 1890 – 2000, Rochester, NY: Univ. of Rochester Press, 2005. 

O'Donnell, Krista et al. (eds.), The Heimat abroad: The boundaries of Germanness, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan Press, 2005.

Palmowski, Jan, Inventing a socialist nation: Heimat and the politics of everyday life in the GDR, 1945 – 1990, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009.

Slobodian, Quinn (ed.), Comrades of Color. East Germany in the Cold War World, New York 2015.


Essay (35%, 3500 words) and presentation (15%) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the ST.
Class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

3500-word historiographical essay due in Lent Term (35%); 3500-word state-of-the-field essay due in Summer Term (35%).

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills