“Am Anfang war Napoleon” – In the beginning was Napoleon. That was the way that Thomas Nipperdey began his famous 1980s history of nineteenth-century Germany. It was a deliberate provocation to the societal historians of Bielefeld. Hans-Ulrich Wehler would responded: “Am Anfang war keine Revolution” – “In the beginning there was no revolution”.
It seems odd, in retrospect, that these positions should have been seen as stark alternatives. That Nipperdey is right as far as the nineteenth-century is concerned, seems hard to deny. But why this should be incompatible with Wehler’s broader claim about German history, is not obvious. Anyway, much to ponder as the War in Germany course concentrated last week on the shock of Napoleonic warfare and the dramatic tensions it unleashed in Prussian politics between 1806 and 1813. The radical choices facing the Prussian military reformers under Napoleonic rule, make this for me one of the most fascinating periods in modern German history.
If, like me, you enjoy history painting, as we head into the nineteenth century we are in for a treat.
Lectures to download.