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Prussia and the Unification of Germany, 1815-1918

Tutor: Jasper Heinzen

Module type: Special Subject

Module Code: HIS00080H

‘If Prussia’s power is ever broken, Germany will probably not escape Poland’s fate’, the paramount diplomat of his age, Otto von Bismarck, once warned. Without Prussia, the political unification of Germany would not have occurred in the first place. In only fifty years this dynamic warrior state rose to a position of power from which the Hohenzollerns settled by force the age-old question of who should rule the German nation. During the so-called Wars of Unification (1863-71), Austria was pushed out of Germany, Berlin became the premier capital in the Kaiserreich, ethnic minorities found themselves exposed to a new militant nationalism, and Catholics had to come to terms with Protestant hegemony.

This module explores how the process of unification transformed both Prussia and German society at large in the nineteenth century. We will examine what it took for a multi-ethnic monarchy to become the leader of a parliamentary nation-state by looking at cultural, political, and social catalysts of change. In so doing, the Special Subject draws on historians’ interpretations but also various primary sources such as newspapers, memoirs, and official correspondence to elucidate a key debate in history, namely whether Prussian raison d’état subverted the course of German nation-building and, if so, to what extent the politics of nationalism laid the foundations for the evils of Nazism.

Seminars will cover the following areas:

    • Prussian raison d’état    
    • The relationship between Prussian and German nationalism
    • Centre and periphery in the Prussian state              
    • The dominant role of Protestantism           
    • Relations with the Catholic church             
    • The (non-)integration of Jews      
    • The experiences of ethnic minorities (Poles, Danes, Masurians, and others)    
    • Authoritarianism and liberalism  
    • Prussian militarism         
    • The public sphere between freedom of expression and censorship
    • The economic unification of Germany    
    • Mass culture 
    • Modernity and globalisation      
    • Social conflicts
    • German nationalism and European international relations
    • Invented traditions in the making of German nationhood   
    • (Dis-)continuities in modern German history 1815-1933


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.