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 2020-2021

History

‘We Refugees’—A History of Displacement in Modern Europe

Open , 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, the course also gives voice to the individual experience of refugees, be it Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish intellectual who wrote “We Refugees” in her New York exile in 1942, or a Polish 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 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.

Faculty

Europe’s Civil War: 1914–1945

Open , Lecture—Fall

In 1909 Norman Angell wrote The Great Illusion, a book that went on to become a bestseller. Its premise: Industrialized countries had become so interconnected that war between them did not make sense and would not happen anymore. Five years later, Europe’s industrialized countries were at war with each other. The Great War, as it was called then, lasted from 1914 until 1918 and would change the course of the 20th century. But Angell was not entirely wrong. Precisely because European economies were so interconnected, the war and its aftermath were particularly devastating. After 1918, they were entangled through an additional layer of massive loss of life, devastation, and the resulting resentment and hostility from which Europe struggled to extricate itself until 1945. This period now is sometimes called “Europe’s civil war.” Not all of this, however, was war. Beyond earnest struggles for a new peacetime order, much of what we consider modern, from entertainment to consumption but also new modes of politics, has its origins in this period. The course will investigate the cultural, social, economic, and military causes and reverberations of the conflict, from the war itself to the revolutions that followed it, the enfranchisement of women and expansion of democratic government, but also the rise of Communism and Fascism and ultimately war again from 1939 to 1945. The impact of these developments was not contained to Europe alone but, rather, extended to the rest of the world—not least, the United States. In this course, we will look, on occasion, beyond the continent’s border. Through a variety of sources to be read and discussed in the group conferences, students will also be introduced to the craft of history. Making use of the rich online collections created in the wake of the centennial of World War I and 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II, we will read diary entries and private letters, government documents and poetry. We will watch movies and investigate (pop)cultural memory of the period. We will discuss the importance of smell and sound, of technology and medicine, for shaping and advancing history. In order to have sufficient time for discussions, the course meets for weekly 90-minute lectures, which will include a Q&A session following the lecture itself and weekly 90-minute group conferences.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: The Urban Century: How Cities Shaped and Were Shaped by Modern European History

Open , FYS 1B—Year

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, life in cities, including European ones, has changed dramatically. For weeks, almost all of urban life came to a halt. As European cities, both small and large, slowly emerge from the lockdown, the pandemic effects on urban life are difficult to predict. While the current moment is certainly historic, it is not without precedent. Urban life from its outset was also a history of pandemics and illness. Even the period of rapid urbanization on which this course will focus has been shaped by disease, from cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, to the “Spanish” flu in the wake of World War I, to the coronavirus today. And yet, amidst those diseases, Europe became increasingly more urban and its cities produced, adopted, and promoted many of the things, both positive and negative, that we consider hallmarks of modernity. In the middle of the 20th century, only 16 percent of Europeans lived in cities. On the eve of World War I, that number had roughly doubled. In Western Europe, already half of the population was urban. Though many of the cities were small, with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the European metropoles grew, too. In Germany, for example, by 1910, 21 percent lived in cities over the size of 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 that process. Wars and Europe’s changing borders shaped cities’ fate. Much of what we today think of as modern originated in cities, which often set political and cultural trends. The “Roaring 20s” or the student movements of 1968 were fundamentally urban phenomena. Yet, precisely for that 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 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 to be 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 modern welfare state that included sanitation and public health, across the effects of World War I and World War II, to the emergence of modernist art and environmentalism. Students will not only be introduced to European history but also to the historian’s craft. Making use of online archives and tools, we will work with a variety of primary sources—from government documents to literature, from movies to propaganda speeches, from city maps to diary entries. We will tour cities virtually and model urban landscapes. In addition, students will learn to read secondary sources and analyze historiographical arguments. During the fall semester, students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills; but we will also, on occasion, use the time for movie screenings related to the course or other shared and, if need be, virtual activities.

Faculty

Previous Courses

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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

"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.
Faculty

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.
Faculty