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All Politics is Local. Revisiting William Sheridan Allen’s Northeim

  • Northeim is a town on the Leine River situated in the hilly region of Lower Saxony between Hildesheim and Göttingen; to historians it is known as the location of William Sheridan Allen’s path-breaking study of the Nazi Machtergreifung. The book was based on a 1962 dissertation at the University of Minnesota, and Allen first published it while at the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1965. Within two years, it appeared in England and was translated into German and French. Allen had settled at the State University of New York in Buffalo by the time I read the second, revised edition (New York 1984), which I used to write this review. In the forty years since its publication, Allen’s readable history became a standard for undergraduates in North America; and his microhistory of the Machtergreifung has been replicated in most German localities. A number of American scholars in particular have followed in Allen’s footsteps: Peter Fritzsche, David Imhoof, Rudy Koshar, and others, including myself. Part of the reason for the interest of American doctoral students in German Mittelstädte is, of course, pragmatic. When one has limited time and money for a research trip abroad, it seems reasonable to select for study an ‘überschaubare’ provincial town. The peculiarities of American culture is surely another reason that historians from the United States look for the German equivalent of ‘middle America’ in what Mack Walker called ‘German home towns’.1 But in the end, German historians from many countries, including Germany, have adopted Allen’s method because close investigations of events ‘on the ground’ offer a necessary balance to modern German histories ‘writ large’.

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Author:Andrew Stuart Bergerson
Parent Title (English):Zeithistorische Forschungen – Studies in Contemporary History
Publisher:ZZF – Centre for Contemporary History: Zeithistorische Forschungen
Place of publication:Potsdam
Document Type:Journal Article
Date of Publication (online):2009/10/14
Date of first Publication:2009/10/14
Release Date:2020/08/31
Volume Number:5
First Page:469
Last Page:474
ZZF Topic-Classification:Alltag
ZZF Regional-Classification:Europa
Europa / Westeuropa
Europa / Westeuropa / Deutschland
ZZF Chronological-Classification:1960er
Portal:Zeithistorische Forschungen
Zeithistorische Forschungen: Originalbeiträge:3 / 2008 NS-Forschung nach 1989/90
Licence (German):License LogoZZF - Clio Lizenz