medievalists, these scholars had learned the historian‘s craft in seminars dedicated to medieval Germany, and they brought both the method and the subject home with them.
The enthusiasm for medieval German history was, however, short lived. In other areas of German history, especially the Reformation period and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Americans have made major and ongoing contributions to our understanding of Germany and to Germans‘ understanding of their own past. In medieval history, this has seldom been the case. Medieval German history is even today marginal to the university curricula of most American universities; interpretations of Germany before the sixteenth century hardly intrude on the thought of a wider circle of intellectuals. Moreover, interpretations of medieval German history by Americans seldom, if ever, have a serious impact on Germans‘ understanding of their past. How is one to understand this decline, and how, if at all, should it be rectified? In other words, why did differing generations of Americans justify the study of medieval German history in this country, and why was this study abandoned? These are the questions that I would like to address here, offering two ways of understanding the premature death of German medieval history in America and suggesting some ways in which the situation may or perhaps should be reversed to the mutual advantage of both societies.
(Basel, 1964). See Charles Kendall Adams‘ description of the early seminar at the Univ. of Michigan in W. Stull Holt, ed.,
– (Baltimore, 1938), 78–80. On the early years of the Hopkins Seminar in History and Politics, see Marvin E. Gettleman, ed.,
vols. (New York, 1987), esp. vol. I, ix–xi and 3–82.