Writing Post-1970 History

Writing Post-1970 History: Conceptualizing the Late Twentieth Century in German and American Historiography


23-25 June 2011

The economic crisis and global reorganization of the 1970s triggered major structural changes in every modern society, including Germany and the United States. Contemporary observers saw the decade as marking a major break in modern history. Historians and their historically-grounded peers in the social sciences have been searching since for analytical language and narratives adequate to understanding the new character of modern societies after the post-war boom. Though the historical trends were deeply intertwined, however, the central conceptual frames that emerged in German and American historiography are in many ways significantly different. The purpose of this workshop is to bring together German and American historians of the recent past in an exchange over the conceptual, analytical, and narrative frames for post-1970 history. Its aim is to encourage a discussion between intellectual communities that, in analyzing the most recent period in the history of modern industrial nations, have often been conceptually distant from one another.

The workshop will focus on the last third of the 20th century as a period in which understandings of modern society were substantially reconfigured. It will consider and compare crisis points and periodization, including the category of a “post-1970” historical period itself, and it will focus on central trends in both national historiographies, comparing their starting points and conceptions, their overlap and their divergences. German and American historical treatments of the epoch after the post-war boom proceed from many common starting points. Both historiographies stress the wide-reaching changes in the post-1970 global economy and a “return of the market” to national politics. Both stress categories such as crisis, uncertainty, and security. Diagnoses of increasing social pluralization and individualization join both historiographies. Both tend to universalize social trends, seeing the reconfigurations of the post-1970 period as harbingers of a new “post-industrial” or “post-modern” social formation.

Yet there are also striking differences. In the American case, social pluralization plays a leading role in post-1970 history in emphasizing the history of social minorities, the growth of a multicultural society, and the break-down of political and moral consensus. In the German case, concepts of social structure, and social-theoretical categories in general, play a much stronger role. Both historiographies are strongly marked, but in different ways, by developments in the present. In Germany the ongoing debate over the future of the Sozialstaat stands at the center of present-oriented historiography. To some extent, the same is true in the U.S. case through the story of the rise of the political right and neoconservatism. While emphasis on growing social and political polarization, leading to the so-called “culture wars,” forms a central thread in contemporary U.S. historiography, patterned as a history of conflict, this model is largely absent in contemporary German historiography. It is this mix of common and divergent threads that the workshop aims to explore. The proceedings are expected to be published in a collected volume of essays on conceptualizing post-1970 history in Germany and the U.S.

Thursday, June 23


14:00-15:00 – Welcome reception and introduction

15:00-19:00 – Panel 1: The Impact of the Global on Post-1970s Society and History

  • David Engerman (Brandeis University): The Parochialism of Global Power: American Historians and American Globalism from Bemis to Bender
  • Ariane Leendertz (LMU München): Discovering Social “Complexity” in the 1970s and 1980s
  • James Sparrow (University of Chicago): Against the State: The New Left, the New Right, and the Problem of Legitimate Government Power in the Late Cold War


Friday, June 24


9:15-13:00 – Panel 2: Values in Transition

  • Sarah Igo (Vanderbilt University): Postmodern Privacy: Information, Identity and Intimacy in a Post-Watergate, Post-Database Age
  • Uwe Schimank (Universität Bremen): Excessive and Endangered Individualism: German and American Views in Comparison
  • Christopher Neumaier (Universität Mainz): Value Change: A New Paradigm of Social Sciences beyond Differentiation and Individualization?

14:30-19:00 –

  • Bethany Moreton (University of Georgia): Family Values and Market Values, or What is Milton Friedman Doing in Bed with Jerry Falwell?
  • Andreas Wirsching (Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München): Gender, Work, and the De-Standardization of the Life Course, ca.  1970-2000


Panel 3: After the Boom: Economies and Crises

  • Wencke Meteling (Universität Marburg): The Debate about the German Economy, 1980s to the Present
  • Ralph Jessen (Universität Köln): From Success to Failure? How Solutions from the Post-War Era Became Obstacles of the Post-Boom Era. Comparative Considerations about West- and East-Germany after 1970
  • Alice O’Connor (University of California Santa Barbara): Narrating the ‘Great Recession’: Economic Crisis and the Politics of Late 20th-Century Economic Reform


Saturday, June 25


9:15-13:00 – Panel 4: Modernity and Social Theory

  • Howard Brick (University of Michigan): From Modernization to World/Global Analysis
  • Martin Geyer (LMU München): Security, Risks, and Narratives of Modernity in Germany since the 1970s
  • Daniel Rodgers (Princeton University): Post-1970 Wrap Up and discussion

Contact: Dr. Ariane Leendertz, Amerika-Institut, LMU München, Schellingstr. 3/VG, 80799 München (a.leendertz@lrz.uni-muenchen.de)

Organizers: Prof. Daniel T. Rodgers, Princeton University; Dr. Ariane Leendertz, LMU München; German Historical Institute (GHI), Washington, D.C.; Center for Advanced Studies (CAS), LMU München

Venue: München, Center for Advanced Studies (CAS), Seestr. 13, 80802 München

Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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