University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Jewish Historians and the Construction of Regional Identities during the German Empire

Dr Mathias Seiter, Principal Lecturer and Subject Area Lead for History, has recently published an article in the journal German History on the importance of regional identities for Jews in imperial Germany. See below for the abstract, and if you want to read the article, click here.

The German Reich, 1871-1918
Wikimedia Commons



The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw a wave of interest in history among Jews in Germany. The popularity of the subject extended to those who lived at the geographic margins of the German Empire, in the Prussian Province of Posen and the Reichsland of Alsace-Lorraine. Living in borderlands in which national identities were contested, Jewish historians established and joined regional historical societies that looked to the local and regional past to construct identities. While Jewish historians in the German east worked alongside non-Jewish colleagues to create a German Heimat against the backdrop of ethnic strife between Germans and Poles, their co-religionists in Alsace-Lorraine tried to maintain a regional identity which preserved the cultural and historical uniqueness of the Franco-German borderland. These different visions of regional history and identity surfaced again in the responses to the establishment of a central German-Jewish archive in Berlin. Jews from Posen were instrumental in integrating the local Jewish past into a national German-Jewish narrative. However, in the Franco-German borderland, Jews were opposed to the idea of a national archive, which they saw as a challenge to their Alsace-Lorrainian Jewish identity. This article argues that Jewish historians engaged with and were part of the wider German discourses on Heimat, regionalism and localness. Although Jewish historians in Posen and Alsace-Lorraine differed in their understanding of these concepts, they used them as markers of identity which allowed Jews to define their position towards notions of Germanness and the idea of a German-Jewish community.

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