Review of Making Prussians, Raising Germans: A Cultural History of Prussian State-Building after Civil War, 1866-1935, by Jasper Heinzen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), in German History 35 (3), September 2018, pp. 454-6.
Jasper Heinzen’s first monograph aims to reframe historical interpretations of ‘1866 and all that’, focusing in particular on the ramifications of civil war within Germany, rather than privileging external conflicts with Italy and Austria. This concentration on what he terms the ‘German war’ (p. 4) allows Heinzen to explore in great depth what it might mean for an annexed state such as Hanover, the subject of this detailed case study, to be subsumed against its will by a victorious and largely unsympathetic Prussia. What consequences did enduring tensions between Prussian imperial and provincial particularist ambitions have for the eventual stability of the Kaiserreich, the Weimar Republic, or even National Socialism?
Heinzen makes use of a versatile and wide-ranging selection of sources, from the lovingly-sewn patriotic banners of local Kriegervereine to the potentially seditious correspondence of female philanthropic organisations, whilst also interweaving microhistorical in-depth analysis with macrohistorical insights facilitated by transnational comparisons with other states which had recently undergone civil wars – namely the USA, Switzerland and Italy – in a form of histoire croisée which is intended to supersede older historiographical narratives of Prussian exceptionalism. However, perhaps the image which stands most tellingly for the ambitions of the monograph as a whole is that which Heinzen uses to illustrate both the ambiguities of memorialisation and the limits of acceptable mourning for the lost Hanoverian state – the Provincial War Memorial in the city of Hanover, which portrayed Germania flanked by spirits of victory, poised atop a plinth featuring the mourning figure of defeated ‘Hanovera’ (pp. 96-7).
Heinzen’s decision to focus on the Kingdom and subsequently the Prussian Province of Hanover was motivated not only by Hanover’s status as the largest state to be annexed by Prussia, but by the extremely diverse political and confessional allegiances of its population. Moreover, since Guelphist resistance to Prussian rule and the vagaries of memory politics in the new province were complemented by the geographical threat which a hostile Hanover could pose to Prussian territorial integrity, its cultural (as well as factual) conquest was deemed by Prussian state-builders to be of particular importance.
Following an extensive theoretical and historical introduction, six chapters deal with various aspects of Hanoverian assimilation and its limits – spiced throughout with soupçons of transnational comparison with the three aforementioned countries. Thus, Heinzen explores the contested nature of Hanoverian militarism in a newly Prussian context, including the dilemmas faced by officers and veterans’ associations who were now forced to offer allegiance to the sovereign of a formerly hostile power; the ritual and architectural commemorations and memorialisations of the newly ‘shattered’ Hanoverian past, and the role of print culture, periodicals and public libraries in facilitating propagandisation, censorship, and permissible dissent – using the so-called Welfenfonds clandestinely as a form of slush fund, Bismarck’s Literarisches Büro cannily regulated the flow of cheap information, subsidies, and trained journalists to newspapers in the provinces.
Further chapters investigate the tensions between region and nation, as embodied in battles over textbooks and the content of school syllabuses, and the role of Hanoverian nursing organisations in retaining and maintaining a legitimist counter-culture whilst simultaneously becoming ever more attuned to Hohenzollern imperial ends. The final chapter traces the roots of attempted Guelph coups in the wake of German defeat in 1918 (and counterpart coups in other states) all the way back to tropes which had become entrenched following previous experiences of German civil war half a century earlier, mingled with a new, quasi-Wilsonian politics of separatism. Heinzen concludes by suggesting that Germany’s trajectory followed less a Sonderweg than a middle path between the courses followed by America, Italy and Switzerland respectively – at least, until the advent of National Socialist excesses.
All in all, Heinzen’s monograph can be placed very much in the same tradition of ground- breaking works on nineteenth-century German regionalism and state-building as Abigail Green’s Fatherlands and Alon Confino’s The Nation as a Local Metaphor – yet with a transnational twist. Although one occasionally feels that the comparative passages could have been better integrated into the flow of the narrative – perhaps an indication of the book’s original genesis as a less explicitly transnational thesis – and despite the densely-packed opacity of its prose, this is a study that will repay close rereading. Making Prussians, Raising Germans therefore represents a valuable and thought- provoking addition to the existing historiography on Teutonic state-building during this period, and Heinzen’s genuinely comparative approach will also broaden the book’s appeal well beyond the confines of German history.