Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize, 2015

The 2015 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize was awarded to Sarah Panzer (William and Mary). The award ceremony took place at the 24th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the German Historical Institute on November 13, 2015. The selection committee was composed of: Timothy Brown (chair, Northeastern University), James Melton (Emory University), and Lora Wildenthal (Rice University).

  • Sarah Panzer (William and Mary): "The Prussians of the East: Samurai, Bushido, and Japanese Honor in the German Imagination, 1905-1945" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 2015)

    Prize citation: Sarah Panzer's dissertation, "The Prussians of the East: Samurai, Bushido, and Japanese Honor in the German Imagination, 1905-1945," opens a fascinating new window on German-Japanese relations from the late-Wilhelmine period to the end of the Second World War. The study treats a key topic in 19th and 20th century history: visions of how to modernize while retaining tradition. The theme is of enduring importance, but is particularly pertinent for our understanding of fascisms. Panzer examines with detailed documentation the many contexts in which Germans expressed interest and admiration for Japanese, and Japanese expressed the same for Germans, as two cultures and economies that grappled with the problem of modernization and tradition. Examining how Japanese culture—specifically the warrior culture of Bushido and the associated martial and spiritual traditions of Jiu-jitsu and Zen Buddhism—were received and recontextualized in the Weimar Republic, Panzer locates the basis of the eventual alliance between German and Japanese fascisms in a mutual commitment to a particular version of warrior virtue. In the process of transculturation, Japanese traditions were imputed with meanings that resonated with key preoccupations of the German Right. Zen Buddhism, for example, was stripped of its universalist implications, reinterpreted as a philosophy of death appropriate to warriorly cults of heroic defeat and suicide. Panzer's examination of this process of transculturation challenges facile notions of Orientalism. Far from seeing Japanese culture as an alien "other," she shows how Germans not only stressed its kinship with their own culture but even saw it as a model to be emulated. In the decades that followed the First World War, Germans would above all highlight cultural affinities rooted in common ideals of masculine heroism and a shared warrior ideal. Panzer's archival work and her grasp of detail and nuance are truly impressive. The writing is engaging, the analysis lucid. "The Prussians of the East" makes a significant contribution to the scholarship that will interest not only historians of modern Germany, but of fascism, imperialism, and transcultural exchange. It is an outstanding accomplishment.