If citing all these portents of a calamitous future seems like reading history backwards, then we should attune ourselves to the views of contemporary Germans who did not know how the story would end. The documents and images included in this volume help us do exactly that. In examining these sources, we discover that those Germans who found themselves on the right side of class, confessional, and gender boundaries tended to view life in the 1870s and 1880s as stable and predictable. Their pronouncements on the mood of the times are often self-satisfied, and we see them striking complacent poses in the official iconography of the day. For other Germans, though, life was brutal, rigidly controlled, and patently unfair. They, too, took the pulse of the times – in their diaries, autobiographies, letters, party manifestos, and parliamentary speeches, for example. Their quest for something better can also be seen in the images presented here. How do we differentiate one group from another, and how do we find a place for Germans who do not fit neatly into either group? We could perhaps find answers to these questions by considering Max Weber’s three hierarchies of status, wealth, and power. But comparing the stories told by quantitative and non-quantitative documents in this volume illustrates how difficult it is to match up Germans’ objective place within these three hierarchies with their subjective reactions to movement up or down the ladder. The sources in this volume have therefore been grouped in a different way.
Both the documents and images have been divided into seven chapters: Demographic and Economic Development; Society; Culture; Religion, Education, and Social Welfare; Politics I: Forging an Empire; Military and International Relations; and Politics II: Parties and Political Mobilization. Each of these chapters, in turn, is broken down into several component sections that take up individual subjects in greater detail. And within these sections, reference is frequently made to individual documents (D) and images (IM), with a link usually being provided so that readers can jump directly to these primary sources.
The organization of these materials into chapters and sections should not prevent the reader from approaching this body of textual and visual sources as a single narrative, the story of Germany’s development from 1866-1890, and from drawing larger conclusions. There are, in fact, several overarching themes that run through this volume like threads through a fabric. Four themes are identified and explained below. The reader is encouraged to consider them at various points in this volume – and, of course, to identify new ones.