BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Culture and Society in Germany 1871-1918

Unit code GERM30721
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by German Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit seeks to gain a better understanding of Imperial Germany by examining the response of German artists and thinkers to their rapidly changing social and political environment. It looks at ways in which the new Empire sought to legitimise its existence through culture – monuments, buildings, paintings – and asks how successful this was. It then concentrates on a variety of critics and reformers, who pioneered new approaches in music, art and architecture. The course unit reveals an increasingly pluralistic society, in which people were already wrestling with some of the modern world’s most enduring problems.



Available on which programme(s)?

Programmes with German Studies




  • To develop knowledge and understanding of German history, particularly of the imperial era (1871-1918)
  • To analyse and comment on a range of visual sources, including paintings, monuments and buildings
  • To undertake a critical and sophisticated review of the historiography, and to develop an individual perspective

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course unit, students will have developed:

  • knowledge and understanding of German history (see below)
  • a range of intellectual skills (see below)
  • a range of practical skills (see below)
  • a range of transferable skills (see below)
  • a range of employability skills (see below)





Week 1

The Proclamation of the German Empire

Week 2

Imperial Culture

Week 3

Monument mania

Week 4

Monument mania (cont.)

Week 5

The Gründerzeit and the Age of Historism

Week 6

Reading Week 

Week 7

Cultural critics and cultural pessimism

Week 8


Week 9

The Secessions

 Week 10


 Week 11

The Werkbund

                           Week 12                       Lebensreform


Teaching and learning methods

The three weekly classes are all intended to function as interactive seminars, rather than as lectures or tutorials. All classes will be available as podcasts.

Additional materials are available on Blackboard.


Students will have access to two office hours per week

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of the semester, you will have an advanced knowledge and understanding of:

  • the official culture of Imperial Germany; its buildings, monuments, festivals and art
  • a variety of cultural and social reform movements in Imperial Germany
  • historical methods, particularly with regard to cultural history

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Engage in independent reflection and enquiry
  • Engage in the discussion and critical evaluation of cultural products from Germany’s imperial era
  • Analyse secondary sources and provide a synthesis of the most relevant findings
  • Use empirical evidence to support synthetic conclusions and interpretations

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Use library, electronic and online resources
  • Apply skills of analysis and synthesis to practical issues and problems
  • Work in a group to produce a web-based wiki resource

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Presentation – present information, ideas and arguments, orally and in writing, with due regard to the target audience
  • Literacy – the capacity both to make written presentations using appropriate language for a target audience and to collect and integrate evidence to formulate and test a hypothesis
  • Time Management – ability to schedule tasks in order of importance and work to deadlines
  • Improving own learning – ability to improve one's own learning through planning, monitoring, critical reflection, evaluate and adapt strategies for one's learning

Employability skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: ¿ manage time and work to deadlines ¿ participate constructively in group work ¿ assess the relevance and importance of the ideas of others ¿ present information, ideas and arguments, orally and in writing, with due regard to the target audience ¿ demonstrate powers of analysis

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit

Examination (2 questions from a choice of 8)

Group wiki

2 hours


2,000-4,000 words







Assessment task



2 hours


Feedback methods

Feedback for this course unit consists of:

  • Comments made during class discussion regarding the relevance and coherence of student responses/participation in discussion
  • Verbal feedback on Wikis throughout the semester
  • Advice on revision and exam preparation given in Week 11
  • Post-exam feedback if required

Recommended reading


Set Text

Jefferies, Matthew   Imperial Culture in Germany 1871-1918 (Basingstoke, 2003) 901.43/J13 (also available in High Demand)


Recommended Reading


Allen, Ann Taylor, Satire and Society in Wilhelmine Germany: Kladderadatsch and Simplicissimus 1890-1914 (Lexington: U.P. of Kentucky, 1984) online access available

Bartmann, Dominik, Anton von Werner: zur Kunst und Kunstpolitik im Deutschen Kaiserreich (Berlin: Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1985) 750.92,WE495 1 (high demand)

Buddensieg, Tilmann, Industriekultur: Peter Behrens and the AEG, 1907-1914 (Cambridge, Mass. & London: MIT, 1984) 720.92, BE395/6

Burns, Rob (ed.), German Cultural Studies. An Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 1995) - especially chapter one by R. Lenman, J. Osborne and E. Sagarra   901.43/B32

Campbell, Joan, The German Werkbund: the Politics of Reform in the Applied Arts (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1978) 745/C8

Chapple, Gerald & Schulte, Hans, eds., The Turn of the Century: German Literature and Art, 1890-1915 (Bonn: Bouvier, 1981) 830.9/M88

Duncan, Alastair,   Art Nouveau (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994) 745/D214

Eksteins, Modris, Rites of Spring: The First World War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Bantam, 1989) 940.93/E33

Forster-Hahn, Francoise (ed.), Imagining Modern German Culture, 1889-1910 (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1997) 709.43/F87

Hamann, Richard & Hermand, Jost, Deutsche Kunst und Kultur von der Gr¿nderzeit bis zum Expressionismus (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1977) vols. 1-5 (Gr¿nderzeit; Naturalismus; Impressionismus; Stilkunst um 1900; Expressionismus) 709.43/H31 etc.

Hepp, Corona, Avantgarde. Moderne Kunst, Kulturkritik und Reformbewegungen nach der Jahrhundertwende  (Munich: dtv, 1987)    709.43/H56

Heskett, John, Design in Germany, 1870-1918 (London: Trefoil, 1986) 745/H15

Jefferies, Matthew, Politics and Culture in Wilhelmine Germany: The Case of Industrial Architecture (Oxford: Berg, 1995) 725.4/J48

Jefferies, Matthew, Contesting the German Empire (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008) 943.08/J2

Kerbs, D. & Reulecke, J.  (eds.), Handbuch der deutschen Reformbewegungen, 1880-1933  (Wuppertal: Hammer, 1998)  309.43/K58

Kolinsky, Eva & van der Will, Wilfried (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern German Culture (Cambridge: CUP, 1998)    901.43/K72

Koshar, Rudy, From Monuments to Traces: Artifacts of German Memory 1870-1990 (Berkeley & London: U. of California Press, 2000)

Lenman, Robin, Artists and Society in Germany 1850-1914 (Manchester: M.U.P., 1997) 750.943 L12

Lenman, Robin, Die Kunst, die Macht und das Geld: zur Kulturgeschichte des kaiserlichen Deutschland (Frankfurt, 1994) 901.43 L14

Makela, Maria, The Munich Secession. Art and Artists in turn-of-the-century Munich (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1990) 709.4336/M1

Paret, Peter, The Berlin Secession. Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany (Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard U.P., 1980) 709.43/P4

Paret, Peter, Art as History: Episodes in the Culture and Politics of Nineteenth-Century Germany (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1988) 709.43/P16

Schorske, Carl, Fin-de-Siecle Vi

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 189

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Matthew Jefferies Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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