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Prussia & the unification of Germany, 1815-1918 - Semester 1 - HIS00200H

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jasper Heinzen
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

‘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.

Related modules

Students taking this module must also take the second part in Semester 2.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to in depth study of a specific historical topic using primary and secondary material;
  • To enable students to explore the topic through discussion and writing; and
  • To enable students to evaluate and analyse primary sources.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Grasp key themes, issues and debates relevant to the topic being studied;
  • Have acquired knowledge and understanding about that topic;
  • Be able to comment on and analyse original sources;
  • Be able to relate the primary and secondary material to one another; and
  • Have acquired skills and confidence in close reading and discussion of texts and debates.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1 and a 3-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW). Students prepare for and participate in eight three-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Prussian raison d’état
  2. Prussian and German nationalism
  3. Centres and peripheries
  4. Protestants
  5. Catholics
  6. Minorities
  7. Authoritarianism and liberalism
  8. Militarism


Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries & Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will be given the opportunity to produce text commentaries in seminar, including a written commentary.

For the summative assessment students build a portfolio of two parts, to be submitted together:
a) Two text commentaries of 500-750 words; and
b) One 1,500-word essay which reflects on the significance of the chosen texts in light of scholarship and sources from across the module.
The commentaries comprise 50% and the essay 50% of the overall mark for this module. Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Text Commentaries & Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative work will be live marked in seminar and supplemented by the tutor giving oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For summative assessment tasks, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (Cambridge/Mass: Belknap, 2006).
  • Philip G. Dwyer (ed.), Modern Prussian History, 1830-1947 (Harlow: Longman, 2001).
  • Philip G. Dwyer (ed.), The Rise of Prussia , 1700-1830 (Harlow: Longman, 2000).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.