Konkurrenz und Konvergenz: Die USA und Deutschland im Wettlauf um die Moderne

Oct 30, 2008

Symposium at the Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte Hamburg | Convener: Christoph Strupp (FZH Hamburg)

Participants: Dieter Gosewinkel (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung), Simone Lässig (Georg-Eckert-Institut für internationale Schulbuchforschung, Braunschweig), Christof Mauch (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München), Christoph Strupp (FZH), Dorothee Wierling (FZH).

The Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg (FZH) was the site of the second public presentation of Wettlauf um die Moderne: Die USA und Deutschland 1890 bis heute, edited by former GHI-director Christof Mauch and Kiran Klaus Patel (Munich: Pantheon, 2008). The first attempt to systematically compare the history of Germany and the United States in the long twentieth century, this book contains 13 thematic essays, written by academic teams from both sides of the Atlantic. Moderated by FZH-deputy director Dorothee Wierling, the well-attended event in Hamburg focused on constitutional law, religion, knowledge, and the environment. The participants summarized key arguments of their chapters and presented a complex panorama of German and American history after 1890 that was characterized by differences and independent developments as well as various forms of transfer and direct relations.

Dieter Gosewinkel pointed out that the way many Americans idolize the more than two-hundred-year old constitution of the United States has no counterpart in Germany, where political systems throughout the twentieth century changed and the current constitution of the Federal Republic has been adjusted to new social and political developments countless times. Equally foreign to the secularized majority of today's Germans is the prominent place of church and religion in the daily lives of many Americans and in politics and public debates in the United States, as Simone Lässig explained. At the same time, however, church and state are much more strictly separated than in Germany - differences that are the result of historical developments dating back to the early modern period.

In science and higher education and the German and American perception of nature - the topics Christoph Strupp and Christof Mauch covered - significant differences can be observed as well: the orientation of research towards national welfare in Germany and the sceptical attitude of a majority of Germans towards scientific progress after 1945 differ considerably from the American orientation of science towards national security in the 1950s. The easy availability of land on the seemingly endless North American continent had profound consequences for the American attitude towards nature and the environment. However, in science and nature both countries paid close attention to developments on the other side of the Atlantic and reciprocal influences and transfers of ideas were important factors throughout the twentieth century.

All four participants agreed that against the background of the long-time structural developments they focused on in their essays, recent events appear to be reduced in their importance. This is true for the end of the Cold War, September 11, 2001, or the historic 2008 U.S. presidential election, which was less than a week away when the book presentation took place. The lively discussion with the audience further illustrated how fruitful it is to approach the complex history of Germany and the United States from a variety of thematic perspectives.

Christoph Strupp (Hamburg)