Competing Modernities: The United States and Germany, 1890 to Present

Jun 20, 2008

Book presentation at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

Participants: Michael Geyer (University of Chicago), Simone Lässig (Georg Eckert Institute, Braunschweig), Christof Mauch (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich), Christiane Naumann (Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt/ Pantheon), Paul Nolte (Freie Universität Berlin), Kiran Patel (European University Institute, Florence), Peter Theiner (Robert Bosch Foundation).

The German Historical Museum in Berlin was the site of a well-attended public presentation of the GHI’s latest publication, Wettlauf um die Moderne: Die USA und Deutschland 1890 bis heute, edited by Christof Mauch and Kiran Klaus Patel (Munich: Pantheon, 2008). The museum was a fitting venue for the concluding workshop for one of the GHI's recent signature projects. As Peter Theiner pointed out in his introductory remarks, the project not only took up the daunting task of mapping two national paths through the twentieth century, but also pioneered new ways of scholarly cooperation and presentation. Twenty-eight scholars from both sides of the Atlantic were assembled in 14 pairs to systematically analyze a wide range of issues, including "Empire", "Environment", "Religion", "Immigration", "Law", "Markets", "Discipline", "Gender", "Masses"; "Entertainment", "Welfare State"; "Knowledge"; and "Media". They presented their subjects in a writing style that Theiner described as "refreshingly un-academic".

While all authors asked to what extent the German and American paths diverged or converged over the twentieth century, the various essays offer different conclusions. Regarding religion and the environment, one can discern differing paths. But if one analyzes patterns of consumption and media influence, Germany and the United States have more in common than is often believed. Thus Wettlauf um die Moderne (Competing Modernities) challenges readers to dispense with old stereotypes and universalizing notions. Comparing two societies that were locked in armed struggle twice before embracing each other, the essays hope to provide a better understanding of the modern world that took shape over the twentieth century.

Philipp Gassert