I have been teaching this course for several years now. Every year, at the beginning of this class, first Europe and then the world, is plunged into war. This was a war for which Germany bore the brunt of the responsibility, but it was also a war that on some abstract level, many European powers considered inevitable, perhaps even desirable. Historians still debate the “why” of this Great War or the First World War as it became to be known after Germany (here there is no debate over the level and degree of responsibility) had plunged Europe and the World into a Second World War just twenty-one years after loosing the first one. But I digress… Every year, this class starts not only starts with war, it ends with war, too. And in-between this course follows the establishment and then demise of the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazis, the regime the put in place and the terror, genocide and destruction they wield.
Every year, I point out that even though this is, in fact, what happened, there was nothing preordained or inevitable about this particular course of events. For us, as students, these outcomes are predictable now, in as much as they are the subject of this course with carefully selected readings, planned discussions and, of course, essays and exams.
This blog is part of the class, but it’s a different part – it is supposed to remind us that history unfolds haphazardly and in unexpected ways, in ways that isn’t always apparent to the people who live through the times that historians will eventually study as history. On this blog I invite you to make connections between past and present, between our here and now and distant places, not because we can predict the future, not because we can know how to ward off ill, but because we can critically engage with our world and apply historical questions to our own present.
While we do have to take history on its own terms and understand historical developments as the result of the complexities of their own time, we don’t have to live in the past for history to matter.