Degrees of Order, Measures of Freedom: Modern German History and the Challenge of Postmodern Historiography

Feb 13, 2024  | 5 - 6:30 pm MT

Gerda Henkel Lecture Tour at University of Colorado, Boulder; Eaton Humanities, 1NB50, 1610 Pleasant Street, Boulder and Zoom | Speaker: Paul Nolte (Freie Universität Berlin)

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Although “progressive” narratives of modernity have come under attack for decades, the fundamental understanding of German history has largely remained in the framework of progress and aberration, catastrophe and eventual redemption. Somewhat paradoxical, even postcolonial approaches have recently reinforced a modified Sonderweg narrative, in their insistence on Germany’s colonial past as precursor of the Holocaust. What would a different understanding of this history look like? Against the backdrop of the complexities and multiple crises of our own times, the German trajectory since the Holy Roman Empire might better be conceived as a persistent struggle between regimes of order and measures of freedom. Indeed, the quest to reconcile order and freedom may be seen as a leitmotif of German history, from the liberal 1848ers’ rallying cry for “Freiheit und Ordnung” to the idea of “Ordoliberalismus” on which the Federal Republic was built. The retreat from progressivist narratives seems all the more vindicated by the ecological crisis and its imperative of writing German history in the Anthropocene.

This lecture is part of the Gerda Henkel Lecture Series, organized by the Pacific Office of the German Historical Institute Washington in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation. The program brings German historians to the West Coast to present their research and engage in dialogue with their colleagues in the US and Canada.

About the speaker

Paul Nolte is one of Germany's leading contemporary historians. He holds a Chair at the famed Friedrich Meinecke Institute of the Freie Universität Berlin and directs the Berlin Program, which brings many American PhD candidates to Germany.

Lecture tour dates


January 24 |  4 - 5:30 pm | European History Workshop at Stanford University, Lane History Corner (Building 200), Room 307. Co-hosted by Stanford Humanities Center’s Workshop in Education & Humanities

University of Colorado Boulder

February 13 | 5pm - 6:30 pm |University of Colorado, Boulder; Eaton Humanities, 1NB50, 1610 Pleasant Street, Boulder

University of California, Los Angeles

February 23 | 4pm - 5:30pm 

University of California, Berkeley

March 5 | 5pm-6:30pm | University of California, Berkeley, 223 Philosophy Hall

University of Nevada, Reno

March 7 | 5pm - 6:30pm | University of Nevada, Reno, Schulich Lecture Hall, SLH2