Philipp Nielsen

BSc, London School of Economics and Political Science. PhD, Yale University. Specializes in the intellectual, cultural, and political history of modern Europe, with particular emphasis on German and Jewish history. Research addresses the history of democracy and its relation to emotions, constitutional law, and architecture. His book manuscript, “From Promised Land to Broken Promise: Jews, the Right, and the State in Germany between 1871 and 1935,” traces the involvement of German Jews in nonliberal political projects from the founding of the German Empire to the Nuremberg Laws. Most recently, he published articles on the notions of responsibility and compromise in conservative interwar politics in Germany and on debates about adequately "democratic architecture" in the 1950s and 1960s in West Germany. SLC, 2016–

Undergraduate Courses 2019-2020

History

Postwar: Europe on the Move

Open , Lecture—Spring

When World War II ended, Europe was a continent of displaced peoples. It was a continent on the move: returning POWs, emigrating Displaced Persons, refugees, and arriving occupation soldiers. The postwar period is sometimes dubbed a history of the unwinding of populations, the return or resettlement following the logic of nation states. Yet the assumption that, once that was done and the Cold War started, populations stayed put until 1989 is misleading. Successive attempted revolutions in the East begot more political refugees. Decolonization and industrialization resulted in the immigration and recruitment of non-native European populations, as well as the return of European colonial settlers. In addition, Europeans moved to the cities, turning the continent from one in which almost half the population lived in the countryside in 1950 into a predominantly urbanized one within the span of 30 years. Political crisis abroad, Europeanization, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and globalization led to still more mobility. The so-called migration crisis of 2015 is thus but one of a series of migratory events—and by far not the largest. This lecture introduces students to the history of Europe, both Eastern and Western, since 1945. The movements of peoples and borders will provide students with insight into political, cultural, and social developments of the continent following the defeat of the Third Reich. In order to avoid an undue Euro-centrism and remain critical of the language that we use to talk and think about migration, the lectures will be twinned with a number of group conferences that are conducted jointly with Partibhan Muniandy and his class on Lexicons of (Forced-)migrations.

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History and Memory on Screen: The Third Reich in Film, From The Great Dictator to Inglorious Basterds

Open , Seminar—Spring

Movies shape the way we see the world. They also shape the way we think about history. The miniseries Holocaust of 1978 did more to sensitize not only the American but also the German public toward the mass murder of European Jews—and also popularized the term—than most books written about the Holocaust until then. Schindler’s List, 15 years later, once more confronted audiences with the very personal histories of Jewish victims during the Holocaust while, at the same time, introducing the figure of the “good German.” While films about the Third Reich and the Holocaust continue to be reliable box office hits, both as blockbusters and as art house movies— Alone in Berlin, Operation Valkyrie, The Fall, and Inglorious Basterds are just a few examples from the 2000s—attempts to visualize the Third Reich from outside already began during its existence. This course seeks to investigate the changing representations of the Third Reich. The films literally put changing views about its history on screen and shape the public’s idea about the Third Reich. Over the course of the semester, we will analyze the range of genres and approaches to the topic in their historical and national context. Most of the movies will be from the United States and Germany, with forays into Eastern European and Israeli representations of the Third Reich. This is not a film-studies course but, rather, one that explores the legacy and memory of the Third Reich through film. The movie screenings will be accompanied by weekly readings. By the end of the semester, students will have familiarized themselves with the different and historically contingent ways in which the Third Reich was—and is—viewed. Students will be introduced to using films as historical sources and to the influence of movies on public history, as well as to the legacy of the Third Reich in postwar politics. Having taken the fall 2019 lecture, The Third Reich, is helpful but not mandatory.

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The Third Reich: Its History and Its Images

Open , Lecture—Fall

Ever since the defeat of the Third Reich, the term “Nazi” has served as a term to mark political enemies—though in the 1980s the term also acquired a more ironic edge, think of Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi.” The accusation, as well as the ascription of the moniker today, is as much grounded in historical reality as in mythmaking. But today, when real neo-Nazis are marching in the streets—for example, Charlottesville—and the “Death of Democracy” is debated, it has become paramount to understand the actual history of the Third Reich: the policies, culture, and appeal, as much as the deeds and destruction of National Socialism. This lecture begins with the crisis of Weimar democracy and ends with the aftermath of World War II and the attempts to (re)establish a democratic order in Europe. Students will be introduced to the policies of the Third Reich, both from the angle of National Socialists and from that of their victims. This history is a story of exclusion and inclusion; it is also a history of images. From the very beginning, the Third Reich used film to present itself in more or less subtle forms of propaganda. But films also played an important role in defining the Third Reich from the outside. Thus, in addition to the lectures, one weekly film screening will be held at which we will watch movies from the era produced by the Third Reich or its opponents. We will discuss these films in the context of the lectures during our group conferences.

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Democracy and Emotions in Postwar Germany

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

The passion of the people has been treated as both the foundation of democracy and its greatest threat. Groups of people, not least women, were denied the vote because of their supposedly too emotional nature. More recently, in light of decreasing voter turnout and frustration with the political process, politicians, pundits, and the press have made contradicting appeals to the hearts—but also the minds—of citizens across democratic societies. This seminar explores the ambivalent connection of emotions and democracy in the case of post-1945 Germany. While the focus lies on the Federal Republic, the claim of the German Democratic Republic to be a different kind of democracy is taken seriously. Both East and West tried to formulate new rules for political feelings following the rise and defeat of the Third Reich. For both states, the connection of bodies, spaces, and practices in the attempt to establish democratic sentiments will be examined. The course combines a chronological account, with a typology of different feelings and practices. The role of architecture—for example, for the connection between governing and governed—will be discussed, as will be the role of guilt and its different expressions in establishing democratic communities in East and West. By the end of the semester, students will have gained familiarity with the political history of postwar Germany and with the history of emotions.

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Previous Courses

"We Refugees": A History of Displacement in Modern Europe

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring
In 1922, in response to a wave of refugees from civil war Russia, the League of Nations created a passport for stateless people: The Nansen Passport. It was one of several measures to deal with the massive displacement occasioned by the results of World War I and the revolutions and redrawing of boundaries that followed. Migration, for economic or political reason, was not new to 20th-century Europe. Yet the (re)emergence of strict border regimes, the rise of international law but also of fascism and communism, and the sheer numbers of people on the move within Europe as a result of two world wars fundamentally changed the conditions, as well as the experience, of displacement. This course investigates the events that forced (or motivated) Europeans to move in the 20th century. It traces the development of law, language and institutions dealing with migration that arose in response to it. Yet, it also gives voice to the individual experience of refugees, be it the German-Jewish intellectual Hannah Arendt who wrote “We Refugees” in her New York exile in 1942 or a Ukrainian forced laborer stranded in Germany following World War II. The course will primarily focus on mid-century Europe, when the structures emerged that regulate today’s refugee-related politics. We will consider the history of terms such as stateless people, refugees, displaced persons, and asylum seekers and the way in which these terms influenced both politics and experience. Toward the end of the semester, we will discuss current events in Europe in light of this history.
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Pluralism and Its Discontents: Lessons From German History

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall
If Angela Merkel is hailed today by The New York Times as the last leader of the liberal world, this amounts, at the very least, to an ironic turn of events. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Germany had a contentious relationship with liberalism—and, by extension, democracy. The very meaning of liberalism and democracy were disputed. Even more so than the history of the Third Reich, the periods preceding and following Nazism are illuminating for politics today. German politicians, constitutional theorists, journalists, and citizens discussed what “government by the people” actually meant; what place, if any, the opposition had in a constitutional structure; and how elections, parliament, and government related to each other. With an eye on current debates, this course will provide a rigorous history of German democratic theory and practice from the late 19th century until today. We will read primary sources such as constitutional theory, political speeches, and autobiographical accounts of parliamentarians, as well as secondary literature on the development of parties, voting behavior, and political propaganda, among others. Prior knowledge of German history is helpful but not necessary; however, in preparation for the course, it is highly recommended to familiarize yourself with the basic outlines of German modern history. Select survey literature on modern German history will be on reserve at the library.
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First-Year Studies: The Urban Century: How Cities Shaped and Were Shaped by Modern European History

Open , FYS—Year

In the middle of the 20th century, only 16 percent of Europeans lived in cities. On the eve of World War I, this number had roughly doubled. In Western Europe, already half of the population was urban. Though many of these cities were small, with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the European metropoles grew, too. By 1920 in Germany, for example, 21 percent lived in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, up from only five percent in 1871. Berlin, Paris, London, St Petersburg, and Vienna all had several million citizens. This urbanization shaped, and was shaped by, European history. Industrialization and advances in agriculture, sanitation, and transportation played a vital role in this process. Wars and Europe’s changing borders also shaped the cities’ fate. Much of what we today think of as modern originated in cities. Cities often set political and cultural trends. The “Roaring Twenties” and the student movements of 1968 were fundamentally urban phenomena. Yet precisely for this reason, cities also inspired vitriol and opposition—from nationalist back-to-nature advocates afraid of the negative consequences of their “cosmopolitan nature” to health-care professionals worried by the detrimental effects of the cities on their inhabitants’ health. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, railed against “Jewish Berlin.” To this day, conservative French politicians extol “la France profonde,” the true France found in its provincial towns rather than in Paris, Lyon, or Marseille. Through the lens of the city, this course investigates major developments in modern European history, from the birth of mass politics and the effects of the World War I and World War II to the emergence of modernist art and environmentalism. Students will be introduced not only to European history but also to the historian’s craft. They will work with a variety of primary sources: from government documents to literature, from movies to propaganda speeches, from city maps to diary entries. In addition, they will learn to read secondary sources and analyze historiographical arguments.

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Made for Germany? Immigration and Foreign Labor in Modern Germany

Open , Seminar—Spring

In the 1980s, it became clear that the majority of “guest workers,” as immigrant laborers who had arrived in Germany in the previous decades were known, intended to stay in the country. Since then, the question of German identity—in particular, whether Germany has become an immigrant society—has been hotly debated. This seminar proposes that Germany has, in fact, been an immigrant society since at least the 18th century, when Prussian King Frederick William I invited Dutch craftsmen and French Huguenots to settle in his lands. The course will introduce students to the history of German economic development from the mid-19th century and stress the importance of foreign labor in economic activity until the present day. It will cover voluntary migration and immigration, forced labor during the two World Wars, and government-led recruitment of foreign workers during postwar boom years. Particular emphasis will be placed on the integration of those immigrant workers who decided to stay in Germany, as this continues to be at the center of public debate about immigration. Finally, the current influx of refugees from the Middle East will be discussed and the way that has changed the political landscape of Germany and Europe. Using a variety of sources, students will have a chance to investigate Germany’s relationship with its neighbors and the wider world through a lens that is, at the same time, economic, political, and cultural.

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Democracy and Emotions in Postwar Germany

Open , Seminar—Fall

The passion of the people has been seen as both the foundation of democracy and the greatest threat to it. Groups of people, not least women, have been denied the vote because of their supposedly too-emotional nature. More recently, in light of decreasing voter turnout and frustration with the political process, politicians, pundits, and the press have made occasionally contradicting appeals to the “passionate” hearts but also “rational” minds of citizens across democratic societies. This seminar explores the ambivalent connection of emotions and democracy in the case of post-World War II Germany. While the focus will be on the Federal Republic, the claim of the German Democratic Republic to be a different kind of democracy will also be taken seriously. Following the rise and defeat of the Third Reich, both East and West tried to formulate new rules for political feelings. For both states, the connection of bodies, spaces, and practices in the attempt to establish democratic sentiments will be examined. The course combines a chronological account of German post-1945 politics with a typology of different feelings and practices. The role of architecture, for example, in the connection between governing and the governed will be discussed, as will the role of guilt and its different expressions in establishing democratic communities in East and West. By the end of the semester, students will have gained familiarity with the political history of post-World War II Germany and with the history of emotions. The course will use a variety of sources, both primary and secondary, ranging from floor plans and governmental records to images and films.

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The Changing Shape of Europe: Tracing the Continent’s History in the Long 20th Century

Open , Seminar—Year

Where Europe starts and where it ends, who is in and who is out, was under constant discussion in the 20th century. When French President Charles de Gaulle declared in 1963 “a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals,” he challenged the Cold War division of the continent. The expansion of the European Union to Eastern Europe, as well as relations with its southern neighbors across the Mediterranean—all of them former European colonies, some demanding closer integration into the EU and also points of departure for many of the refugees reaching the EU today—has once more brought the question of the continent’s borders to the fore. In addition and related to this, European borders saw dramatic shifts across the 20th century. Two world wars and the breakup of several empires and multinational states led to the frequent movement of borders. The changing outlines of Germany or Poland on maps across the century are ample evidence of that. Maps will thus form an important part of this course to understand the continent’s history. They do not simply depict a “geographic reality” but, rather, are shaped by their makers’ conception of the world and, in turn, influence that of their readers. The movement of people, the shaping and reshaping of communities—be they political, economic, or artistic—also fundamentally influenced the way people experienced Europe, thought of themselves as Europeans, or tried to construct alternative identities for themselves and the continent. The aristocratic networks before World War I, artistic movements such as Dada or Futurism in the inter-war period, or bureaucrats in the emerging European community after World War II are but a few examples of this. Grounded in this dual focus on geography and the people who made it and moved across it, students will be introduced to the volatility of continental European history in the 20th century. The course will address not only the power dynamics of the continent but also the social changes behind them. Industrialization and deindustrialization, urbanization, and migration shaped the continent and influenced its geography. To this end, students will read histories and documents relating to pan-European developments. These will then be explored in greater depth, focusing on case studies of individual countries and cities. The course will acquaint students with different historiographical debates and methods and will link up with courses on geography and politics.

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