Imanuel Geiss

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Imanuel Geiss (actually Imanuel Geiß ; born February 9, 1931 in Frankfurt am Main ; † February 20, 2012 in Bremen ) was a German historian .


Imanuel Geiss came from a Frankfurt working class family affected by the global economic crisis . The unemployed father had to raise the five children, the youngest of whom, Imanuel, was born in 1931, after the mother had meningitis, for the most part alone. During the Second World War , the mother was killed in 1941 in Aktion T4 , the systematic murder of the disabled, the father had died in 1940, whereby Imanuel and two of his siblings came to a liberal Frankfurt orphanage, the "good pupils also go to high school and then even to study ”used to.

After graduating from high school in 1951 at the Carl-Schurz-Gymnasium , he was able to attend the foreign and interpreting institute in Germersheim , which he graduated as a certified translator in English and French and as a certified interpreter in English. During his studies in Germersheim he came into contact with Gustav Heinemann and his All-German People's Party (GVP) and worked in Heinemann's office during the 1953 federal election campaign. After the failure of the GVP, Geiss joined the SPD in 1955 . After graduating as a qualified interpreter, he studied English, history and politics at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich from 1955, financed by his translation work - among others with Franz Schnabel . During an archive research assignment for the American historian Stefan T. Possony , for which he traveled to the military archive in Potsdam and the German Central Archive in Merseburg , he met Fritz Fischer in Potsdam in the winter of 1956/57 , where he was at the history seminar of the University of Hamburg 1959 on the theme "the Polish border strip 1914-1918" doctorate .

He then researched archives for two articles in the historical magazine and for Fischer's book Griff nach der Weltmacht , which was the main trigger for the Fischer controversy . With a grant from the German Research Foundation , he obtained his habilitation in 1968 on the history of Pan-Africanism .

Since obtaining his doctorate, Geiss taught in Hamburg, first as a university lecturer, and since 1971 as a scientific adviser. In 1970 he became a member of the founding senate for the University of Bremen . In 1973 he was appointed to the chair of modern history there, which he held until his retirement in 1996. As a visiting professor or lecturer, he taught at the universities of Tel Aviv (1969), Danzig (1980/81) and Brisbane (1983), and after a Fulbright professorship at Dickinson College (1985/86) also in Shanghai (1990) at the Humboldt University Berlin (1990–1992), in Rostock (1992/93) and Hong Kong (1996). Since his retirement he lived and worked in Bremen. He died after a long and serious illness at the age of 81.

Geiss published numerous works on German , European and world history . He published important editions of files and was co-editor of a school book for the secondary level II ("Epochs and Structures" in the Moritz Diesterweg publishing house ).


Imanuel Geiss' main focus was the First World War , Africa ( Pan-Africanism ), racism , revolutions , the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, the history of historical science and world history. In the years before his death, he also published on music history , the problem of nationalism and the history of the climate . Methodically, his work is characterized, among other things, by the fact that he avoids the one-sided orientation towards event or structural history and tries to synthesize both: “Without knowledge of the data and facts, history remains speculation. Without contextualising the data and facts, history remains abstract. "

In his research on World War I, Geiss particularly focused on the outbreak of war in 1914. Like Fritz Fischer, he too saw the German Reich as being primarily responsible for the outbreak of war. On this question, he took a differentiated point of view, which he also incorporated into the two-volume source edition July Crisis and Outbreak of War 1914 , published in 1963/64 . The Swiss reviewer Joseph Boesch-Jung summarized the findings emerging in the edition in such a way that the Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold Berchtold's will to go to war was "the German attitude decisive", that Austria's ambassador Ladislaus von Szögyény-Marich , who was previously said to have misleading reports was, "the Viennese government informed correctly and factually about the attitude and opinion of the German Reich government", and that the German Reich government has a "knowledge", even shared responsibility, for the contents of the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia . Hence Boesch-Jung concludes:

"The will for a local war, for a war against Serbia, was not only, not even primarily in Vienna, but above all in Berlin."

Due to the selection and translation of around 1,200 “most important pieces from the Austrian, German, Russian, French and British editions of files on the July crisis, supplemented by some pieces from the Political Archive of the Foreign Office and passages from memoirs and the like. Ä. ”, as well as individual Belgian documents, is a standard work on the prehistory of the First World War that is still widely used today (see also Chronology of the July Crisis 1914 ). After a selective use in Christopher Clark's Die Schlafwandler (2012), Gerd Krumeich took over what he believed to be the most important documents from the Geiss collection, which had been out of print for many years, in the appendix to his overview work July 1914. Eine Bilanz (2014). Krumeich comments:

“Geiss' collection is still admirable in its completeness. [...] The main problem with this considerable and irreplaceable source collection is the close, all too close adoption of Fritz Fischer's point of view regarding German responsibilities. The entire work is focused on this question [...]. This partiality in the bad sense comes to the fore again and again in unnecessarily instructive footnotes [.] "

Numerous publications by Geiss on the subject followed this two-volume collection of sources.

In the writing of world history, Geiss tied in with the American trend of "world history", which had been initiated by authors such as William Hardy McNeill since the 1960s . The main features are the turning away from Eurocentric or western-oriented views of history and the turning away from concentrating on the history of the last 500 years. So it is about crossing the spatial and temporal boundaries of historiography, because real causal chains, according to Geiss, do not adhere to conventional ethnocentric worldviews:

"An approximate knowledge of the ancient Near East remains indispensable for any more differentiated understanding of world history: many phenomena of our existence today go back, directly or indirectly, to it [...]."

- Imanuel Geiss : History at a Glance, 2006

This results in the view of " Eurasia " as a space with diverse interdependencies that have influenced all Eurasian societies for millennia, and since 1500 the whole world. Geiss' publications on global history are on the one hand reference works, on the other hand he suggests a "more practical subdivision of epochs ":

“Prehistory (= history without writing) from the beginnings of mankind to the first advanced civilizations (approx. 3100 BC), with foothills in the regions only later reached by civilization;
Dominance of the Old East with the Eurasian dimension expanded and additional subdivisions - Eurasian Ancient Orient (approx. 3100 – approx. 500 BC); Eurasian Antiquity (approx. 500 BC - approx. 500 AD); Eurasian Middle Ages (approx. 500 – approx. 1500);
Global modern times as the dominance of the New West (since 1492/98), with three turning points from the now dominant European history - from the expansion of Europe overseas to the eve of the French Revolution (1492 / 98–1789); from the French Revolution to the eve of the First World War (1789–1914); since the First World War (1914) to the present. "

- Imanuel Geiss : History at a Glance, 2006

In an essay on massacres , Imanuel Geiss and Uwe Backes , Eckhard Jesse and Rainer Zitelmann took the position of a “historicization of National Socialism”, which combined the Holocaust with other “massacres in world history” such as the “Stalinist massacres” and “post-colonial massacres in the Third World "," terrorism "of the RAF , IRA and" Jewish terrorist groups "(Stern, Irgun ) would like to compare under the aspects of the totalitarianism theory in order to determine similarities and differences:" Compared to the totalitarian mass crimes of the extreme right ( National Socialism ) and the extreme left, as well as in the third world since the Indian massacres of 1947, misdeeds are virtually disappearing in the western world . "

In the historians' dispute, Geiss intervened against Jürgen Habermas and defended Ernst Nolte in particular in his demand for comparison as a scientific method for researching Auschwitz. He complained that historians like Wolfgang J. Mommsen were not prepared to continue this dispute properly and accused them of “totalitarian” behavior. He saw himself insulted by his critics as a “ renegade ” who had changed political camp. In return, following Klaus Epstein , he called the group of historical social science around Hans-Ulrich Wehler the “New Orthodoxy”, which is sometimes more illiberal than the old orthodoxy among German historians before and during the Fischer controversy.

Geiss was an opponent of EU membership for Russia and Turkey :

“The admission of Muslim Turkey (and Orthodox Russia) would expand Europe to Kamchatka and the Euphrates, making it ungovernable - as the surest means of destroying it from within. Europe would only define itself geographically or economically, would even reduce the geographical definition to absurdity, consume the previous economic success. [...] The constructive alternative to the non-integration of Orthodox Russia and Muslim Turkey [...] would be a close relationship of privileged partnerships in all conceivable fields that benefit peace. "


According to the chronological order of first appearance:

  • The Polish border strip 1914–1918. A contribution to German war policy in the First World War. Dissertation (University of Hamburg 1959). Moll / Winter, Hamburg / Lübeck 1960. (Polish as Tzw. Polski pas graniczny 1914–1918 . Warsaw 1964)
  • July crisis and outbreak of war 1914. A collection of documents . Edited and introduced by Imanuel Geiss. 2 volumes. Publishing house for literature and contemporary history, Hanover 1963/1964 (2nd edition Bonn-Bad Godesberg 1976).
  • as publisher: July 1914. The European crisis and the outbreak of the First World War. 3. Edition. dtv, Munich 1988 (first time 1965; English as July 1914: the outbreak of the First World War. Selected documents. Batsford, London 1967).
  • Unions in Africa. Publishing house for literature and current affairs, Hanover 1965.
  • Pan-Africanism. On the history of decolonization. Habilitation. EVA, Frankfurt am Main 1968. (English as: The Pan-African movement. Methuen, London 1974, ISBN 0-416-16710-1 and as: The Pan-African movement. A history of Pan-Africanism in America, Europe and Africa. Africana Publ., New York 1974, ISBN 0-8419-0161-9 )
  • The African Americans. EVA, Frankfurt am Main 1969.
  • with Volker Ullrich (ed.): Fifteen million insulted Germans or where does the CDU come from? Contributions to the continuity of the bourgeois parties. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1972, ISBN 3-499-11414-3 .
  • Studies in history and historiography. 2nd Edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1974 (first 1972).
  • Tocqueville and the Age of Revolution. Munich 1972, ISBN 3-485-03204-2 .
  • What will happen to the Federal Republic? The Germans between socialism and revolution. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1973, ISBN 3-455-09098-2 .
  • with Rainer Tamchina (Ed.): Views of a future historical science. 2 volumes. Hanser, Munich 1980 (first 1974).
  • German foreign policy, 1871-1914. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1976.
  • with Joachim Radkau (Hrsg.): Imperialism in the 20th century memorial for George WF Hallgarten . Beck, Munich 1976.
  • The German Reich and the First World War . Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-446-12495-0 .
  • The German Empire and the prehistory of the First World War. Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1978, ISBN 3-446-12494-2 .
  • as Ed .: The Berlin Congress 1878. Protocols and materials. (= Publications of the Federal Archives. 27). Boldt, Boppard am Rhein 1978, ISBN 3-7646-1729-2 . (German sources).
  • History at hand. 6 volumes (dates, people, scenes, terms, states, epochs), 3rd edition. Gütersloh 2002, ISBN 3-577-14610-9 (first time Reinbek near Hamburg 1979).
  • War and empire in the twentieth century. Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen 1983, ISBN 0-08-030387-0 .
  • History at a glance. Data, facts and connections in world history. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-499-62087-1 (revised new edition, original 1986).
  • History of racism. 4th edition. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp 1993, ISBN 3-518-11530-8 (first 1988).
  • The Habermas controversy. A German dispute. Siedler, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-88680-328-7 .
  • The long way to catastrophe. The prehistory of the First World War. 1815-1914. Piper, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-492-10943-8 .
  • Massacre in world history. An attempt beyond the limits of humanity. In: Eckhard Jesse, Uwe Backes, Rainer Zitelmann: The shadows of the past. Impulses for the historicization of National Socialism. 2nd Edition. Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-548-33161-0 , pp. 110-135. (first 1990)
  • The German Question 1806–1990. Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim 1992, ISBN 3-411-10151-2 . (English as The question of German unification: 1806–1990. ) Routledge, London / New York, NY 1997, ISBN 0-415-15049-3 .
  • The hysterics quarrel. An unpolemical essay. (= Publication Series Extremism & Democracy . Volume 1). Bouvier, Bonn a. a. 1992, ISBN 3-416-02370-6 .
  • Europe: Diversity and Unity, an Historical Declaration. Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim 1993, ISBN 3-411-10261-6 .
  • The war in Yugoslavia. with the collaboration of Gabriele Intemann. Diesterweg, Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-425-07354-0 .
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union. with Klaus Verfuss and Hartmann Wunderer with the assistance of Gabriele Intemann. Diesterweg, Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 3-425-07355-9 .
  • Future as history. Historical-political analyzes and prognoses on the fall of Soviet communism, 1980–1991. Steiner, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-515-07223-3 .
  • Story in the oratorio. From creation to the apocalypse. A historical handout for choir work. Talpa, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-933689-02-3 .
  • Germany before 1914. In: Jean-Paul Cahn , Bernard Poloni , Gérard Schneilin (eds.): Le Reich allemand du départ de Bismarck à la Première Guerre mondiale (1890–1914) . Nantes 2003, ISBN 2-84274-242-7 , pp. 212-224.
  • Nation and nationalisms. Attempts at a World Problem, 1962–2006. Edition Lumière, Bremen 2007, ISBN 978-3-934686-43-4 .
  • War - a never-ending story. Peter Lang Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / Bern 2014, ISBN 978-3-631-62623-8 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Historian Imanuel Geiss has died. (No longer available online.) In: February 20, 2012, archived from the original on November 29, 2014 ; Retrieved November 17, 2014 .
  2. Imanuel Geiss: Interview with Imanuel Geiss on the topic: "New beginning and development of German history in the 1950s and 60s" . In: Questions that were not asked! or was there a second generation vow of silence? H-Soz-u-Kult, Interview from February 19, 1999. Also in: Rüdiger Hohls, Konrad H. Jarausch (Ed.): Missed questions. German historians in the shadow of National Socialism. Stuttgart / Munich 2000. From this also further information about Geiss' curriculum vitae.
  3. Imanuel Geiss. In: International Biographical Archive. No. 4, dated January 15, 1996.
  4. Sven Felix Kellerhoff : History, always at hand. The Bremen historian Imanuel Geiss has died. In: February 21, 2012, accessed November 17, 2014 .
  5. a b Imanuel Geiss: History at a Glance. Data, facts and connections in world history . Reinbek near Hamburg 2006, p. 2.
  6. Joseph Boesch-Jung: [Review] Imanuel Geiss, July crisis and outbreak of war 1914. A collection of documents. Volume I. In: Swiss Journal for History. 14, 1964, pp. 158-162, here pp. 161 f.
  7. Joseph Boesch-Jung: [Review] Imanuel Geiss, July crisis and outbreak of war 1914. A collection of documents. Volume II. In: Swiss History Journal. 15, 1965, pp. 136-138, here p. 137.
  8. Imanuel Geiss (arr.): July crisis and outbreak of war 1914 . Volume 1, 2nd edition, Bonn-Bad Godesberg 1976, p. 12.
  9. Gerd Krumeich: July 1914. A balance sheet . Paderborn 2014, p. 204.
  10. Gerd Krumeich: July 1914. A balance sheet . Paderborn 2014, p. 205.
  11. Geiss means with the "Eurasian system" or "the tri-continent Eurasia" - based on William H. McNeill, but deviating from the conventional usage of the term - "Europe + Asia + North Africa", a mixture of the conventional Eurasia and Africa- Eurasia ("Eurafrasia"). Cf. Imanuel Geiss: History at a Glance. Data, facts and connections in world history . Reinbek near Hamburg 2006, p. 31.
  12. Imanuel Geiss: History at a Glance. Data, facts and connections in world history . Reinbek near Hamburg 2006, p. 19f. Round brackets and paragraphs as in the original.
  13. Imanuel Geiss: Massacre in world history. An attempt beyond the limits of humanity. In: Eckhard Jesse, Uwe Backes, Rainer Zitelmann: The shadows of the past. Impulses for the historicization of National Socialism. 2nd Edition. Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main / Berlin 1992, pp. 110-135.
  14. Imanuel Geiss: The Habermas Controversy. A German dispute. Siedler, Berlin 1988, as well as this: The hysterics dispute. An unpolemical essay. Bouvier, Bonn a. a. 1992.
  15. Geiss was also referred to as an “ex-linker”: Wolfgang Wippermann: Demonization through comparison. GDR and Third Reich . Rotbuch Verlag, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-86789-060-1 , p. 49.
  16. Imanuel Geiss: Europe's identity. In: Universitas. 59, 2004, pp. 1045-1052, here 1051.
  17. It is a roughly 400-page short version of the 1,300-page collection of documents in the July crisis and outbreak of war in 1914 .