A Project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Cooperation with the Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berliner Colloquienzur Zeitgeschichte

Rereading Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of AugustHosted by Bernd Greiner and Dierk Walter

6 and 7 Dezember 2013

The rereading of classics or texts that have all too soon been forgotten is part of the agenda of the Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte. With our interest presently focused on the outbreak of the First World War, we have revisited Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, which first appeared in the German translation almost fifty years ago as August 1914. Sparking discussion from the very start, this book has had an impact on generations of students. Its enduring quality can also be seen in the recent decision of the Fischer publishing house to bring out the book again, its reprint appearing in October 2013.

At the center of the colloquium were the themes and theses discussed by Barbara Tuchman and which have not lost any of their relevance since—as seen in Christopher Clark’s most recent publication Sleepwalkers. Of particular interest were the war expectations and images of war, the never-ending debate over guilt and responsibility for the war, the scope for action of those in charge, and the argument over the war’s supposed inevitability as well as the sheer length of the conflict—why weren’t they able to stop? In considering the history of Barbara Tuchman’s reception there is of course the question as to the status and persuasiveness of explaining the war through the history of its military operations. These questions were considered from a double perspective—in appreciation of Barbara Tuchman and from the standpoint of the research that has taken place since publication of her book.

Naturally, in the course of fifty years of research, many corrections and a widening of perspective have taken place. The most important stages of this revision naturally were reflected upon in every section of the colloquium. The discussion also asked why reevaluations and new emphases have emerged, who initiated them, and what their contexts were—as well as the related question as to scholarly trends and the development of public images of history. 

Barbara Tuchman always saw her historical work as a diagnosis of her time. Using this as our credo, the colloquium offered a venue and an opportunity for placing our knowledge of the First World War in relation to the manifold crises of our time and to investigate the similarities and differences between then and now in terms of crisis management. 

Conference language was German.



Interview with Bernd Greiner

Holger Afflerbach live at the Einstein Forum (in German)

Bernd Greiner in Mittelweg 36 (in German)

Friedrich Kießling in Mittelweg 36 (in German)