Historians Reconsidered: Treitschke and the Prussian Legend

James Joll introduces the career of an extraordinary German historian and patriot.

“My way of looking at German history is not my property alone; it has come to be held by a minority of thinking people, and in a hundred years it will undoubtedly be the view of the nation.” 

This was Treitschke’s assessment of his work in 1879, a few months after the publication of the first volume of his German History in the Nineteenth Century. It is, indeed, a just estimate of his importance for Treitschke belongs to that group of nineteenth century historians, which includes Macaulay in England and Michelet in France, whose view of history mirrored the political beliefs of their contemporaries and moulded those of the next few generations. Just as, thirty years earlier, young Frenchmen were learning republican ideals from Michelet at the College de France and the foundations of the Third Republic were being laid, so, in the years after 1870, young Germans were learning from Treitschke the merits of the all-powerful State and the beauties of Prussian militarism, and thus contributing to the origins of two world wars.

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