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Source: LZpB NRW

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NRW State Prize

Hans-Ulrich Wehler

Winner of the 2003 NRW State Prize

The historian Hans-Ulrich Wehler (born 1931) has brought new ideas to historical research and thinking and has left a lasting influence on it. Many of his books are now regarded as seminal works.

Having studied history and sociology in Cologne, Bonn and the USA, Hans-Ulrich Wehler gains his doctorate in 1960 under Theodor Schieder at the University of Cologne. His thesis examines social democracy and the nation state and the question of nationality in Germany between 1840 and 1914.

His postdoctoral thesis on Bismarck and imperialism then follows, opening the way for an academic career.

He first receives a chair at the Free University of Berlin, before moving in 1971 to the University of Bielefeld, where he remains as Professor of General History until his retirement in 1996. During that period, he also works internationally as a guest professor at universities such as Princeton, Harvard and Stanford.

Wehler and his colleague Jürgen Kocka are regarded as the founders of what comes to be known as the Bielefeld School of historical analysis. Instead of emphasising the political aspects of history, as in the conventional approach, its proponents concentrate on socio-cultural developments.

History as "historical social science" (as Wehler described it) has mainly been explored in the context of studies of German society in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In his award speech, NRW's state premier Peer Steinbrück says, "Hans-Ulrich Wehler clearly and persuasively demonstrated over 30 years ago that modern historiography has a socio-political mission. He regards it as "critical social science" which aims "above all … to make a conscious contribution to honing a freer and more critical awareness of society". He has always lived up to this aim, with trenchant insights and courageous political judgement."

Wolfgang Hippe

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