Professor Geoff Eley

Placing the Holocaust in History: Shifting Perspectives, 1960-2010

March 12, 2015

Professor Geoff Eley is the Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is one of the most distinguished historians of modern Europe not just in the US, but anywhere in the world. Professor Eley is the author of ten books, and the editor of eight others. His books have been translated into German, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Serbian, Catalan and Korean. He has published 158 essays and articles in numerous publications on a wide range of subjects both in English and in German. His CV lists 404 talks, lectures and papers delivered at a wide range of conferences, symposia and universities. Professor Eley has held four visiting professorships, and has been invited to spend time at six Institutes of Advanced Studies on two continents. He has held a German Marshall Fund Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001-4.

These statistics however fail to provide a full appreciation of the significance of Eley’s work. In 1984, he co-authored a book, The Peculiarities of German History, (an expanded version of an earlier German language edition) which had a profound impact on the way in which German history has been studied ever since. According to conventional wisdom, modern Germany had taken a ‘different path’ from that of France Britain, and the US, because its bourgeoisie had always remained illiberal and weak.   Drawing on their own work, and that of other ‘new’ social historians, Eley and his co-author, David Blackbourn, showed that this received wisdom failed the test of evidence, since it misrepresented the true character of both the German, and the western European and American bourgeoisies. The failure of liberalism had not been inevitable in Germany, any more than its success had been foreordained in the west. Historical explanation had to probe deeper to understand these national complex divergences. Two generations of historians have taken the ‘Eley-Blackbourn’ hypothesis as their starting point ever since.

Since this time, Eley has continued to question many other historiographical assumptions about German and labor history, and has emerged as one of the world’s leading scholars in both fields. In 2002 this work culminated in Eley’s massive, seven hundred page synthesis, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000 (Oxford University Press). Displaying his abilities to work on a large canvass this book still stands as the most comprehensive study of its theme. Most recently, Eley has published a powerful and moving personal history, A Crooked Line, which tracks and analyzes all the major historiographical trends that have risen and fallen since the 1960s: Social history, Marxist history, feminist history, postmodernism, global history, and transnational history. Eley has left his mark on every one of them. At the same time, he has absorbed each into his own evolving historiographical standpoint. Showing how each of these successive approaches both continues and deconstructs it predecessor, he offers a capacious vision that embraces them all for the specific insights that they offer, without allowing any one of them the privileged status of unqualified authority.


Placing the Holocaust in History: Shifting Perspectives, 1960-2010

Thursday, March 12, 2015 4:00p – 6:00p

(Leadership Auditorium, Student Center, 2501)