1806 and Its Aftermath: Revisiting the Period of the Napoleonic Wars in German Central European Historiography

Title1806 and Its Aftermath: Revisiting the Period of the Napoleonic Wars in German Central European Historiography
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsAaslestad, Katherine B., and Karen Hagemann
JournalCentral European History

If the French faced the 200th anniversary of the Napoleonic Empire with some trepidation about how to commemorate the infamous Corsican, the British celebrated the Battle of Trafalgar as an enduring national victory. A grand exhibit in the National Maritime Museum in London, “Nelson and Napoleon,” observed this event in 2005. In contemporary Germany, however, the commemoration of 1806 has occurred mainly among small circles of specialists and remained largely absent from popular historical consciousness. In recent times, besides the exhibition on the Holy Roman Empire in the German Historical Museum in Berlin, only small local exhibits and substantial articles in magazines like Die Zeit and Der Spiegel recall 1806. Past momentous occasions such as 1848, 1914–1919, 1933–1945, and 1949 clearly overshadow in contemporary historical memory the tumultuous decades that surrounded the Napoleonic Wars. This tendency to overlook and underestimate the significance of the early nineteenth century also remains evident among scholars who work on later periods of German history. In the shadow of World Wars and the Holocaust, the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars between 1792 and 1815 seems distant to the contemporary audience. But why do historians also tend to disregard the importance of this era of warfare and domestic, social, and economic transformation—a period so rich in complexity—and its enduring consequences for nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe?

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