Germany: A Nation in Its Time: Before, During, and After Nationalism, 1500–2000

Liveright. Mar. 2020. 672p. ISBN 9780871404664. $39.95. HIST
Rather than focusing on politics, diplomacy, and nationalism as a lens through which to understand the origins of the German nation, Smith (history, Vanderbilt Univ.) considers the role of maps in defining German land and identity between 1500 and 2000. Many of these maps do not describe a rigidly defined border to Germany; Smith reminds readers that prior to unification (1871), many inhabitants identified themselves by their region or principality, not by ethnic nationality. After the devastation of the Thirty Years War (1618–48), some states, such as Prussia and Austria, became increasingly militarized. In the 19th century, Germany was better known for its Romantic writers than for its armed forces. But after 1918, Smith asserts, Germany struggled to justify the devastating losses of World War I, which opened the door to a new type of racialized, militant nationalism that made the Holocaust possible.
VERDICT Smith rejects the notion that German history is the story of militant nationalism marching toward genocide, and instead focuses on cartographers intellectuals who, prior to 1918, often described the landscape and ethnography of Germany in pacifistic terms. This new perspective on German history should be welcomed by all libraries.

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