Hans-Ulrich Wehler

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Hans Ulrich Wehler (2014)

Hans-Ulrich Wehler (born September 11, 1931 in Freudenberg near Siegen , † July 5, 2014 in Bielefeld ) was one of the most influential German historians of the second half of the 20th century. He was instrumental in aligning German historical studies with social history and modernization theory . His five-volume German history of society is one of the standard works of German historiography for the period from the middle of the 18th century to 1990.


Wehler grew up in a Calvinist family in Gummersbach at the time of National Socialism . Throughout his life he was known to Jürgen Habermas , two years his senior , with whom he met in the Hitler Youth and attended the same high school where Wehler graduated from high school in 1952 . He studied history, sociology and economics at the Universities of Cologne , Bonn and, with a Fulbright scholarship, at Ohio University in Athens , Ohio . In 1960 he was at Theodor Schieder with work social democracy and the nation state (1840-1914) PhD and was then Schieder assistant at the History Department in Cologne, where he later by Erich Angermann taken (1927-1992) American Anglo-at the Department of the History Department has been.

In 1958 Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Renate Pflitsch married. The marriage has three sons. The management consultant Gerhard Kienbaum was a cousin of Wehler.

University professor

His first habilitation thesis Rise of American Imperialism 1865–1900 from 1964 was rejected by the faculty of the University of Cologne as "insufficient historical achievement". His second work, Bismarck und der Imperialismus (1967), also met with strong resistance from the habilitation committee. After a colloquium on Clausewitz and the development from absolute to total war , the habilitation was finally accepted in 1968 in a close vote by the faculty. The whole case has been reconstructed in detail on the basis of the sources and reports. Wehler remained in Cologne as a private lecturer until 1970, before becoming professor of American history at the Free University of Berlin in 1970 . From 1971 until his retirement in 1996 he was Professor of General History with special emphasis on the history of the 19th and 20th centuries at Bielefeld University . He has also taught as visiting professor at Harvard , Princeton , Stanford , Yale and Bern . Wehler's academic students include: a. Hanna Schissler , Rudolf Boch , Manfred Hettling , Paul Nolte , Olaf Blaschke , Christian Geulen , Svenja Goltermann , Till van Rahden , Christina von Hodenberg , Sven Oliver Müller and Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann .

Work and scientific activity

At the Reform University of Bielefeld, Wehler was one of the founders of the so-called Bielefelder Schule , which saw itself as a representative of historical social science with its universal methodological claim for historical studies. The aim was to open up the historiography, which has so far mainly been the history of events, to the social sciences ( sociology , economics ) but also to psychoanalysis . The journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft was substantially co-founded by Wehler in 1975 as a publication and discussion organ. In the following decades, up to his retirement, he remained the defining force of the magazine.

In the first years in Bielefeld, Wehler was strongly oriented towards theory and structural history. This was accompanied by his postulate that political history must understand itself as a sub-discipline of the new historical social science and open up towards the questions it posed; this rejection of classical political history led to controversies with historians such as Andreas Hillgruber and Klaus Hildebrand . Even Thomas Nipperdey belonged to Wehler's sharpest critics. At Wehler, structures and processes seemed more important than the decisions of people. This approach was highly controversial in much of history. In the 1980s, this perspective on history prevailed as a paradigm , whereupon younger historians, for example from the field of everyday history and new cultural history , began to attack Wehler and his school as "Bielefeld Orthodoxy". In theoretical terms, Wehler relied primarily on the work of Max Weber . In doing so, he did not adopt its results, but primarily the type of question and basic concepts. Wehler also assumed that modernity is based on a process of rationalization, bureaucratization and individualization that needs to be localized in history.

The concept was reflected in numerous smaller and larger works. The book Das Deutsche Kaiserreich 1871–1918 from 1973 attracted considerable attention in the professional world . In this, Wehler consistently implemented his structural- historical approach for the first time. In addition to highlighting socio-economic processes, the Sonderweg thesis played a significant role. Although it has meanwhile been disproved in important details, it has triggered an international research boom on the German Empire and has had a lasting impact on historical awareness in Germany.

After numerous works, for example on American imperialism , but also on theoretical issues, the first volume of his German history of society was published in 1987 . This project, again following on from Max Weber, investigates German history since around 1700. With the publication of the fifth volume in 2008, which covers the period from 1949 to 1990, Wehler was able to bring the series to a close. The volumes try to deliver a kind of histoire totale and follow a uniform scheme. An overview of demographics and population development is followed by an analysis of the economy, the structures of social inequality, the structures and developments of political rule and culture. This magnum opus is now considered a standard work; however, some aspects also met with severe criticism. This applies, for example, to Wehler's attempt to explain the success of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler with the help of the charisma concept based on Max Weber . Konrad Jarausch criticized the lack of penetration into the history of the GDR , which Wehler tried to grasp with Max Weber's type of rule of " sultanism "; for Jarausch “a conceptual expression of helplessness in relation to the GDR phenomenon”. Even Michael Stolleis criticized on the basis of this term "the almost screaming abuse of the GDR" at Wehler.

Contributions to public debates

In addition to his specialist work, Wehler also repeatedly participated in historical-political debates in the general public. This included his intervention in the historians ' dispute in 1986 , which was sparked by Ernst Nolte's theses . Alongside Jürgen Habermas, Wehler was one of the leading critics of the theses represented by Nolte and his supporters. In 1989 Wehler heated up the dispute again. In 1996 he took a position in the debate on Daniel Goldhagen's theses and criticized his position on German anti-Semitism.

In 1998, in his university town, he took part in the debate about the Bielefeld City Art Gallery and demanded that the name Richard Kaselowsky be removed . The reason given was that the namesake was a member of the NSDAP and was a sponsor of the " Friends of the Reichsführer SS ".

In 2002, Wehler's theses against Turkey's accession to the EU attracted considerable attention. In the same year, in his speech at the opening of the newly designed Wehrmacht exhibition , he emphasized that one of the exhibition's goals must be to question the processes of society as a whole in Germany, which was ruled by the National Socialists. This is the only way to understand the Wehrmacht and their actions.

In 2003 Wehler criticized the school policy of the NRW state government ( Steinbrück cabinet ). Among other things, he turned against the economization of school operations through minimum numbers in courses, the obligation to only one social science in the upper secondary school and its possible replacement by a supplementary course, which he described as dubious. Wehler saw the foundations of German politics in danger here.

In the 2000s, Wehler repeatedly spoke out in debates about immigration and criticized what he saw as the wrong immigration and integration policy and the unwillingness of Turkish and Muslim immigrants to integrate: “The Federal Republic has no problem with foreigners, it has a problem with the Turks. In principle, this Muslim diaspora cannot be integrated. [...] One should not voluntarily bring explosives into the country. "In 2007, Wehler positioned himself in connection with the dispute over the planned DITIB central mosque in Cologne in the sense that" finally an open-hearted discussion about the position of German Muslims should be conducted " , since DİTİB tends to "curl up in its own subculture and refuse any assimilation."

In a review for The time Wehler 2010 criticized based on genetic aspects of argument of the book Germany abolishes itself by Thilo Sarrazin . He said, however, that the analysis, which can be derived solely from the socio-political findings of the book, hit the bull's eye and defended the work as a whole against a “misguided discussion” in which Wehler saw a massive “attack on freedom of expression” .

The controversial statement by Federal President Christian Wulff on the 20th anniversary of German reunification on October 3, 2010, that Islam belongs to Germany, was criticized by Wehler in the Tagesspiegel : “Islam has always been an opponent of this Europe over the centuries. Islam has not become a part of culture or social life in Germany, regardless of whether you look at the law, politics or constitutional thinking. "


In 1997 Wehler received the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany. He has been awarded several honorary doctorates. In 1999, Wehler was made an honorary foreign member of the American Historical Association (AHA), the largest historical association in the United States. The reason given was that no “living historian in the Federal Republic of Germany in the post-war period” had done more “for the reorientation and revitalization of modern German history”. Wehler was the eighth German historian after Leopold von Ranke (1885), Theodor Mommsen (1900), Friedrich Meinecke (1947), Franz Schnabel (1952), Gerhard Ritter (1959), Fritz Fischer (1984) and Karl Bosl (1990), who received this award.

In 2003 Wehler was awarded the State Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia ; In 2004 Bielefeld University appointed him an honorary senator; In the same year he was “one of the few humanities scholars to receive the Helmholtz Medal from the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences .” In 2006, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences made Wehler an honorary member. In 2014 he was awarded the Lessing Prize for Criticism .


  • Social Democracy and the Nation State. The German social democracy and the nationality issues in Germany from Karl Marx to the outbreak of the First World War (= Marburger Ostforschungen. 18, ISSN  0542-6537 ). Holzner, Würzburg 1962, (At the same time: Cologne, University, Dissertation, 1960; 2nd, completely revised edition as: Social Democracy and National State. Nationality Issues in Germany 1840–1914. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1971).
  • Bismarck and Imperialism. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne et al. 1969, (several editions).
  • Hot spots in the German Empire 1871–1918. Studies on German social and constitutional history. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1970, (2nd, revised and expanded edition. Ibid 1979, ISBN 3-525-36172-6 ).
  • The German Empire 1871–1918 (= German history. Vol. 9 = Small Vandenhoeck series. 1380). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1973, ISBN 3-525-33340-4 (several editions; in Swedish: Det tyska kejsarriket. 1871-1918. Tiden, Stockholm 1991, ISBN 91-550-3767-4 ; in Chinese language and script : 德意志 帝国. 青海 人民出版社, 西宁 2009, ISBN 978-7-225-03315-0 ).
  • The rise of American imperialism. Studies on the development of the Imperium Americanum 1865–1900 (= critical studies on historical science . Volume 10). Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1974, ISBN 3-525-35961-6 (2nd, bibliographically supplemented edition. Ibid 1987, ISBN 3-525-35736-2 ).
  • Modernization theory and history (= Kleine Vandenhoeck series. 1407). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-525-33373-0 (in Japanese language and writing: 近代 化 理論 と 歴 史学. 未来 社, 東京 1977; in Italian: Teoria della modernizzazione e storia (= Uomini e tempi. 19). Vita e pensiero, Milan 1991, ISBN 88-343-4868-0 ).
  • Historical social science and historiography. Studies on the tasks and traditions of German history. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1980, ISBN 3-525-36176-9 .
  • Disposal of the German past? A polemical essay on the “Historikerstreit” (= Beck's series. 360). Beck, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-406-33027-4 .
  • German social history. 5 volumes, Beck, Munich, 1987–2008, ISBN 3-406-32490-8 (several editions);
  • as editor: European nobility. 1750–1950 (= history and society . Special issue 13). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1990, ISBN 3-525-36412-1 .
  • as editor: Crossroads in German history. From the Reformation to the turn of the year 1517–1989 , Beck, Munich, 1995, ISBN 3-406-39223-7 .
  • The challenge of cultural history (= Beck'sche series. 1276). Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-42076-1 .
  • Nationalism. History, forms, consequences (= Beck'sche series. 2169, CH Beck Wissen ). Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-44769-4 (in Serbian language and Cyrillic script: Националиэам Историја - Форме - Последице.. Светови, Нови Сад 2002, ISBN 86-7047-410-7 ; in Croatian: Nacionalizam. Povijest, oblici, posljedice. Jesenski i Turk, Zagreb 2005, ISBN 953-222-193-X ).
  • Historical thinking at the end of the 20th century. 1945–2000 (= Essen lectures on cultural studies. Vol. 11). Wallstein, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-89244-430-7 (2nd edition, ibid. 2002; in Serbian: Istorijsko mišljenje na kraju XX veka. 1945-2000. CID, Podgorica 2010, ISBN 978-86-495-0361- 8 ).
  • Conflicts at the Beginning of the 21st Century. Essays (= Beck series. 1551). Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-49480-3 (in Chinese language and writing: 21 世纪 初 的 冲突. 灕江 出版社, 桂林市 2015, ISBN 978-7-5407-7591-9 ).
  • "A lively fighting situation". A conversation with Manfred Hettling and Cornelius Torp (= Beck'sche Reihe. 1705). Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-54146-1 .
  • Notes on German history (= Beck'sche Reihe. 1743). Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-54770-6 .
  • National Socialism. Movement, leadership, crime. 1919-1945. Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58486-2 .
  • Land without lower classes? New essays on German history (= Beck'sche series. 1827). Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-58588-3 .
  • The new redistribution. Social inequality in Germany. Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-64386-6 .
  • The Germans and Capitalism. Essays on history (= CH Beck Paperback. 6137). Beck, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-406-65945-4 .


Web links




  1. Historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler dead. In: NOZ .de , July 6, 2014.
  2. Entry on Wehler . In: whoswho.de .
  3. "A Lively Combat Situation". A conversation with Manfred Hettling and Cornelius Torp. Munich 2006, p. 14.
  4. ^ Andreas Zielcke : Nazi allegations against Habermas - defamation against better knowledge. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , October 27, 2006.
  5. ^ Golden anniversary of Hans-Ulrich Wehler's doctorate at the University of Cologne (2010).
  6. ^ Paul Nolte: Hans-Ulrich Wehler. Historian and contemporary. Munich 2015, p. 167.
  7. See Hans-Ulrich Wehler: "I learned clubs". In: Weltwoche , September 17, 2008 (interview).
  8. a b Sven Felix Kellerhoff : The historian as a pioneer of modernity . In: Die Welt , July 7, 2014, accessed October 3, 2016.
  9. Philipp Stelzel: Rethinking modern German history: Critical social history as a transatlantic enterprise, 1945-1989. sn, Chapel Hill NC 2010, (Chapel Hill NC, University of North Carolina, dissertation, 2010; digitized ).
  10. On Wehler's by no means unproblematic relationship to psychoanalysis, cf. on the other hand Martin Klüners: The unconscious in the individual and in society. On the applicability of psychoanalytic categories in the science of history. In: Psyche 70 (7) (2016), pp. 644-673.
  11. ^ In addition, Andreas Hillgruber: Political history in a modern view. In: Historical magazine . 216 (3), 1973, pp. 529-552; Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Modern Political History or “Grand Cabinet Politics”? . In: History and Society . 1975, 1 (2/3), pp. 344-369; Klaus Hildebrand: History or “Social History”? The Need for a Political Historiography of International Relations. In: Historical magazine . 223 (2), 1976, pp. 328-357. For the standpoints and the classification of this debate about a “modern political history”: Eckart Conze: “Modern political history”. Aporias of controversy. In: Guido Müller (Ed.): Germany and the West. International Relations in the 20th Century. Festschrift for Klaus Schwabe on his 65th birthday. Stuttgart 1998, pp. 19-30; Michael Gal: International Political History. Old and new ways. In: ders .: International Political History. Concept - Basics - Aspects. Norderstedt 2019, ISBN 978-3-7528-2338-7 , pp. 59–115.
  12. Thomas Nipperdey : Wehler's "Empire". A critical discussion. In: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 1 (1975), pp. 539-560; Horst Möller : On the historiographical work of Thomas Nipperdey. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 40 (1992), pp. 469–482, here pp. 478 and 482. ( online as a PDF file , accessed on May 6, 2016).
  13. ^ Critical to the social and societal history of the 1970s / 80s, for example: Hans Medick : "Missionare im Rowerboot"? Ethnological modes of knowledge as a challenge to social history. In: Jürgen Kocka : Social history and cultural anthropology (= history and society . Vol. 10, No. 3). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1984, pp. 295-319, JSTOR 40185426 .
  14. See for example Hans-Ulrich Wehler: What is social history. In: Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Learn from history? Essays. Beck, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-406-33001-0 , pp. 115-129.
  15. On the knowledge-guiding interests, theories used and the structure of the work cf. v. a .: Introduction. In: Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German history of society. Volume 1. 1987, pp. 6-34.
  16. ^ Richard J. Evans , Change of Course. With the fourth volume, Hans-Ulrich Wehler's history of society in the Nazi era arrives. In: Frankfurter Rundschau , October 8, 2003. Ludolf Herbst : hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de Wehler, National Socialism and Social History. Review of: Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte, Vol. 4: From the beginning of the First World War to the founding of the two German states 1914–1949. Munich 2003. In: H-Soz-u-Kult , October 23, 2003.
  17. ^ Konrad H. Jarausch: Review of: Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte. Vol. 5: From the founding of the two German states to their unification in 1949–1990. Munich 2008. In: H-Soz-u-Kult , September 29, 2008.
  18. Debate contribution to Volume 5 of Wehler's history of society: Michael Stolleis : Model Federal Republic - footnote GDR (= Beck'sche series 1915 = Frankfurter-Allgemeine-Lesesaal ). In: Patrick Bahners, Alexander Cammann (eds.): Federal Republic and GDR. The debate about Hans-Ulrich Wehler's “German history of society”. Beck, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-58582-1 , p. 73 .
  19. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Goldhagen Debate: Like a thorn in the flesh. In: The time . May 24, 1996, accessed March 18, 2014 .
  20. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The Turkish problem. The West needs Turkey - for example as a front-line state against Iraq. But the Muslim country is never allowed to enter the EU. In: Die Zeit , No. 38, 2002; Hans-Ulrich Wehler (in conversation with Christian Geyer): "We are not the Samaritans for the Turks". Plea against an Islamic country joining the EU. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , November 5, 2002; Hans-Ulrich Wehler: The gap between cultures. In: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger , December 21, 2002. See the taz interview “Muslims are not integrable” from September 10, 2002 and the interview with Wehler on the MDR program Radio Figaro from February 19, 2004. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Accession to Turkey will destroy the European Union. In: Ders .: Notes on German history. Munich 2007, p. 160ff. See also Hanno Helbling : The Historian and the Reasons. Hans-Ulrich Wehler's "Turkish Problem". In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , October 15, 2002.
  21. Wehrmacht and National Socialism. ( Memento of March 18, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Lecture by Bielefeld historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler at the opening of the exhibition “Crimes of the Wehrmacht. Dimensions of the War of Extermination 1941–1944 ”on January 27, 2002 in the Ravensberger Spinnerei Bielefeld on the website of Bielefeld University.
  22. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Youth without a history. North Rhine-Westphalia's bad school policy. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , March 3, 2003. Reprinted and commented by Rolf Brütting: The teachers and their plans. Reaction of the individual and action of the association. In: Saskia Handro , Bernd Schönemann (Hrsg.): History-didactic curriculum research. Methods - Analyzes - Perspectives (= contemporary history, understanding of time. Vol. 12). Lit, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-7847-3 , pp. 251-263.
  23. Interview “Muslims cannot be integrated”. In: die taz , September 10, 2002.
  24. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Turkish problems without end. In: Deutschlandradio Kultur , August 26, 2007.
  25. Hans-Ulrich Wehler A book hits the mark. In: Die Zeit , October 7, 2010, p. 55.
  26. See Christian Wulff # Positioning on Muslims in Germany .
  27. Hans-Ulrich Wehler: "Defend with teeth and claws". In: Der Tagesspiegel , October 8, 2010.
  28. Bielefeld historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler has been appointed an honorary external member of the American Historians Association. Bielefeld University press release, No. 5/2000, January 19, 2000, accessed on October 3, 2016.
  29. ^ Andreas Daum : German Historiography in Transatlantic Perspective: Interview with Hans-Ulrich Wehler. In: Bulletin of the GHI (Washington DC). No. 26, spring 2000, ISSN  1048-9134 .
  30. Bielefelder Universitätszeitung 217/2004 ( Memento from January 31, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), p. 7 ( PDF , 1.65 MB).
  31. Hans-Ulrich Wehler becomes an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Press release from Bielefeld University, No. 71/2006, May 3, 2006, accessed on October 3, 2016.
  32. Historian Wehler receives Lessing Prize. In: Neue Westfälische Online. May 6, 2014, accessed March 29, 2015.