Fourth and lastly, unexpected trajectories and unanticipated crises remind us that Germans’ hopes and fears for the fate of the new German nation did not diminish between 1871 and 1890. This discovery makes us more mindful that the history of Bismarckian Germany should be read as a book whose ending, because it was unknown, fostered a deep sense of unease among contemporaries. Even though much of this anxiety first became apparent or was radicalized in the Wilhelmine period, when fin de siècle Germans looked back on the previous quarter-century they were right to be astounded by how much the face of German society had changed – and how rapidly. The new urgency of addressing a national electorate in the age of universal male suffrage, the increased tempo of work, travel, and communication, the accelerating pace of artistic experimentation, the sudden appearance of threats on the international horizon: all this contributed to a new sense – one of the hallmarks of modernity – that life was changing at an ever-faster pace and that the future was becoming less predictable with each passing day.
A final point not too obvious to mention is that historical scholarship on Bismarckian Germany has moved in exciting new directions over the past thirty-five years. Compared to historical interpretations that held sway in the early 1970s, more recent scholarly accounts emphasize the diversity, dynamism, and paradoxes of German development under Bismarck, without losing sight, however, of what did not change between 1871 and 1890. This historiographical context is cited in many of the prefatory remarks attached to documents and images in the following seven chapters. Those remarks, like this introduction, encourage readers to draw their own conclusions from the contending interpretations of German history. In doing so, readers may find that these sources confirm the importance of the Bismarckian era as a transitional epoch – when Germans were exploring how best to reconcile tradition and change – and as a period worth studying in its own right.
Further Reading: Historical Surveys, Interpretive Overviews, Biographies
Lynn Abrams, Bismarck and the German Empire, 1871-1918, 2nd rev. ed., London and New York, 2006 (orig. 1995).
Volker R. Berghahn, Imperial Germany, 1871-1914: Economic, Society, Culture and Politics, 2nd ed., Oxford and New York, 2005 (orig. 1994); German ed. as Das Kaiserreich 1871-1914. Industriegesellschaft, bürgerliche Kultur und autoritärer Staat (Gebhardt Handbuch der deutschen Geschichte, Bd. 16), 10th ed., Stuttgart, 2003.