Rudolf Vierhaus

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Rudolf Vierhaus (born October 29, 1922 in Wanne-Eickel ; † November 13, 2011 in Berlin ) was a German historian who researched the early modern period . From 1964 he taught as a professor at the newly founded Ruhr University Bochum . From 1971 he was director at the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen . He was best known for his research into the Enlightenment .


The son of a mining craftsman was the first of his family to attend secondary school and graduated from high school in 1941. In the same year he was drafted into military service. As a lieutenant, he was seriously wounded in combat with American troops on the Moselle in autumn 1944. Vierhaus came the following year in Marburg in captivity . He spent the next few years in military hospitals and hospitals. It was not until 1949 that his health was more or less restored.

From 1949 he studied history, German and philosophy at the University of Münster . His academic teachers were Kurt von Raumer , Herbert Grundmann and Joachim Ritter . Vierhaus was also influenced by Werner Conze and his working group for social history. In 1955 Vierhaus received his doctorate from Raumer on the subject of tendrils and the social world . His habilitation took place in 1961 on Germany in the Age of Enlightenment - Studies on German Social History in the Age of Enlightenment . The account was not published. Her most important lines of thought were published in 1965 and 1985 in essays, which in turn were published in 1987 in the anthology Germany in the 18th Century - Political Constitution, Social Structure, Spiritual Movements . From 1961 Vierhaus was a private lecturer in Münster. Several substitute professorships followed.

While he was representing the chair of Franz Schnabel in Munich, he received appointments to Frankfurt am Main and Bochum. In 1964, Vierhaus was the first historian to be appointed full professor at the newly founded Ruhr University in Bochum . In 1966/67 he taught as visiting professor at St Antony's College , Oxford . He declined an appointment to the University of Münster.

Since 1968, Vierhaus was a part-time co-director of the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen and, from 1971, alongside Josef Fleckenstein, director of the institute. There he initiated benchmarking impulses for the institute and historical studies in Germany, which were reflected in his policy of inviting foreign scientists and in the staffing of positions at the institute. As director at the Max Planck Institute for History, Vierhaus also significantly supported the establishment of a Mission Historique Française en Allemagne in Göttingen (1977–2009). Vierhaus held honorary professorships at the Ruhr University in Bochum and at the University of Göttingen . In 1990 Vierhaus retired. After his retirement he campaigned for the integration of East German history. From 1990 to 1997 he was the founding chairman of the German-Czech and German-Slovak historians' commissions .

Grave in the Nikolassee cemetery

Vierhaus died in November 2011 at the age of 89 in Berlin. His grave is in the Nikolassee cemetery .


Vierhaus' research areas were modern history, especially the comparative social, constitutional, intellectual, scientific, educational and cultural history since the early modern period. In his early years he was particularly concerned with the history of the 19th, and at times also with the German and European developments of the early 20th century. In 1960 the edition of the diary of Baroness Spitzemberg appeared in the series of German historical sources of the 19th and 20th centuries . In the 1970s he increasingly focused on the history of the 17th and 18th centuries. In doing so, the relevant overall representations were created, Germany in the age of absolutism (1978) and the states and estates (1984) within the framework of the Propylaea history of Germany . His studies on the German and European Enlightenment were decisive. Vierhaus advocates a new cultural history, which he understands as an extension of social history. As a methodological foundation he recommends the reconstruction of historical lifeworlds, which he describes in his essay The Reconstruction of Historical Lifeworlds. Investigates problems of modern cultural historiography . His main works also include the collection of essays on Germany in the 18th century. Political constitution. Social fabric. Spiritual movements (Göttingen 1987) as well as his collected contributions on the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, which were published on the occasion of his 80th birthday under the title Past as History (Göttingen, 2003). Vierhaus was the editor of the German Biographical Encyclopedia from its fourth volume. After his retirement, his main research interests were in particular the history of education, the history of religion, in particular the social history of the churches, piety and religious behavior as well as the history of science.

As an academic teacher, Vierhaus supervised works from the late Middle Ages to post-war history. This resulted in fundamental studies on the concept of freedom in the 18th century ( Jürgen Schlumbohm ), on the understanding of humanity and humanity of the late Enlightenment ( Hans Erich Bödeker ), on the emergence of the concept of absolutism ( Reinhard Blänkner ) or on the "ideology of the German way" in the historiography of the interwar period ( Bernd Faulenbach ). Another student of Vierhaus is Horst Dippel .

Vierhaus has been awarded numerous scientific honors and memberships for his research. Vierhaus became a full member in 1964 and a corresponding member in 2006 of the Historical Commission for Westphalia . He was a member of the Historical Commission for Lower Saxony and Bremen and since 1985 a full member of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen . Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker honored Vierhaus on May 23, 1986 in Bonn with the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany . Also in 1986 Vierhaus received the Prix Alexander von Humboldt pour la coopération scientifique franco-allemande. In 1988 he received the Cross of Merit of the Lower Saxony Order of Merit (1st class). The Hebrew University of Jerusalem made him an "Honorary Fellow" in 1990. In 1991, the Pontifical University of Comillas awarded Vierhaus the “Primer socio de Honor”. In 1992 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Eötvös Loránd University . The President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel awarded him the First Class Medal of Merit of the Czech Republic in Prague in 1998 . Also in 1998 he was honored with the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany . Festschriften were dedicated to him on his 60th, 70th and 80th birthday. The Ruhr University Bochum honored Vierhaus in 2012 with a symposium "History as an experienced and interpreted past".

Fonts (selection)


  • Ranke and the social world. Diss. Phil. Münster 1957 (= New Münster Contributions to Historical Research , Vol. 1), Münster 1957.
  • Germany in the 18th century. Political constitution, social structure, spiritual movements. Selected essays . Göttingen 1987, ISBN 3-525-36216-1 .
  • Germany in the age of absolutism (1648–1763). 2nd Edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1984, ISBN 3-525-33504-0 .
  • States and Estates. From the Westphalian to the Hubertusburg Peace 1648 to 1763 (= Propylaea History of Germany. Volume 5). Berlin 1984, ISBN 3-549-05815-2 .



  • Patrick Bahners : In the service of justice. On the death of the historian Rudolf Vierhaus. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , November 18, 2011, No. 269, p. 35.
  • Hans Erich Bödeker: Laudation to Rudolf Vierhaus. In: List of publications by Rudolf Vierhaus. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1992, ISBN 3-525-36230-7 , pp. 9-16.
  • Thinking horizons and scope for action. Historical studies for Rudolf Vierhaus on his 70th birthday. Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 1992, ISBN 3-89244-047-6 .
  • Étienne François : Rudolf Vierhaus in honor. In: Wolfenbüttel library information. Year 27/28, 2002/2003, pp. 49–50 (laudation at the colloquium "Epochenschwelle 1800?" On Rudolf Vierhaus' 80th birthday. PDF file, 246 kB ).
  • Interview with Rudolf Vierhaus. In: Rüdiger Hohls, Konrad Jarausch (ed.): Missed questions. German historians in the shadow of National Socialism. Stuttgart / Munich 2000, pp. 75–88 ( online version at H-Soz-u-Kult ).
  • Hans-Christof Kraus : Nekrolog Rudolf Vierhaus 1922–2011. In: Historical magazine . Volume 294 (2012), pp. 577-584.
  • Hartmut Lehmann , Otto Gerhard Oexle (Ed.): Memorabilia. Paths to the past. Rudolf Vierhaus on his 75th birthday. Vienna u. a. 1992, ISBN 3-205-98824-8 .
  • Hartmut Lehmann (ed.): The responsibility of the historian. Rudolf Vierhaus on his 80th birthday. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-525-36276-5 .
  • Hartmut Lehmann: Obituary for Rudolf Vierhaus October 29, 1922 - November 13, 2011 In: Yearbook of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 2013, pp. 184–188.
  • Jürgen Schlumbohm: Enlightenment never comes to an end. A sense for big questions and connections: On the death of the historian Rudolf Vierhaus. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , November 18, 2011, p. 14.

Web links


  1. a b c d e List of publications by Rudolf Vierhaus. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1992, ISBN 3-525-36230-7 , p. 10.