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Time and Again: Patterns of Repetition in the Political Language of 20th-Century Germany
Throughout the 20th-century and to this day, notions of ‘process’ (Prozessbegriffe) such as modernization or globalization, rationalization or digitization, have been prominent and popular forms of conceptualizing temporal change. Since they were largely unknown in the 19th century, they point to a particular, deep seated structure of 20th century’s historical self-reflection and political language. Especially in Germany, thinking history – in one way or another – as a social, natural or technological ‘process’ has played a persistent role in various attempts to mediate historical experiences and expectations for the future. Coming to terms with two wars and five distinct political systems required – time and again – a complete reconceptualization of the relationship between past, present and future. While each of these efforts supposedly faced an entirely new intellectual challenge, it can be shown that they all continued and reinforced this specific 20th century notion of ‘history as process’. The paper will demonstrate how the very semantics of German historical self-understanding and political language were informed and shaped by these recurring cycles of self-preservation and self-invention. Uncovering this evolving semantic structure can help us to answer the urgent question if and to what extent the language of populism, self-empowerment and neo-conservatism in today’s Germany amounts to a break from this 20th century tradition.
Christian Geulen is professor of Modern History at the University of Koblenz, Germany and the Gerda Henkel Visiting Professor it the German Department at Stanford. University. He studied History and Sociology in Münster, Bielefeld and at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA. PhD 2002 at Bielefeld University. He was a Fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington DC, at the Kulturwissenschaftliche Institut in Essen and the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Research (FRIAS). Research interests: History of political ideas and ideologies (esp. nationalism, racism, colonialism), history of science, German social and cultural history, historical semantics and historical theory. Publications include: Aus einem deutschen Leben. Lesarten eines biographischen Interviews, Tübingen: diskord 2000 (ed. K. Tschuggnall); Vom Sinn der Feindschaft, Berlin: Akademie 2003 (ed. with A. v. Heiden / B. Liebsch); Wahlverwandte: Rassendiskurs und Nationalismus im späten 19. Jahrhundert, Hamburg: Hamburger Edition 2004; Geschichte des Rassismus, München: Beck 2007; Grundbegriffe des 20. Jahrhunderts, München: Beck (forthcoming).