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Medieval studies as a state-supporting power: basic problems of German medieval studies in the German Empire until the Republic of Weimar

Medieval studies as a state-supporting power: basic problems of German medieval studies in the German Empire until the Republic of Weimar


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Medieval studies as a state-supporting power: basic problems of German medieval studies in the German Empire until the Republic of Weimar

By Dieter Berg

Revista de Historia Jerónimo Zurita, Vol.82 (2007)

Introduction: The spread assumption of an actual crisis of humanities in Germany is principally also valid for the field of medieval studies. The current broad and common interest in problems of medieval history and its dealing in a popular way are not able to evoke a significant change.

It is necessary to give a critical and comparative description of German medieval studies especially according to research done in Western Europe and the USA. Just a comparative perspective – having insight to the historical development of these studies – can be helpful when dealing the question why research of German medievalists only have minor impact on foreign researchers since many years. Unfortunately, innovative processes – e.g. in case of the development of new methodological concepts – have been implemented by German researchers far too seldom. Nearly exclusively well-known became their internationally recognised works in the fields of text-criticism and editing primary sources.

The following paper is meant as a contribution to the mentioned critical description of German medieval studies, by referring to the history of historiography. Mainly I want to concentrate on two different aspects. After an introductory comment about the most important institutions in medieval studies I will try to outline the most influential publications of leading German medievalists since the middle of the 19th century and to mention current images of the Middle Ages.

At the same time it is necessary to consider methodological disputes, in this case between the main protagonists Heinrich Sybel (1817- 1895) and Karl Lamprecht (1856-1915). Additionally, these different images of the Middle Ages have to be related to contemporary political and social developments as well as to the impact of certain images of the Middle Ages during the German Empire («Kaiserreich») and the Weimar Republic. In this connexion especially the longevity of certain images with its political implications for several decades – even until today – has to be estimated. The German medieval studies and its concepts of the Middle Ages have to be recognized in their political and social dimension as a «political science».


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