“I have profited greatly from the German scholarly tradition” – Im Gespräch mit Isabel V. Hull

Im Beisein der Bundesministerin für Bildung und Forschung, Frau Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, und des amerikanischen Generalkonsuls in München, William E. Moeller, erhielt die Historikerin Isabel V. Hull am 9. Januar den Internationalen Forschungsförderpreis der Max Weber Stiftung beim Historischen Kolleg entgegengenommen. Die feierliche Preisverleihung fand in der Aula der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München statt. Im Interview spricht Hull über ihre Forschung zu Deutschland, ihre Pläne für ihren Aufenthalt in Deutschland und ihr Forschungsprofil.

Isabel V. Hull bei der Preisverleihung am 9. Januar 2014.

Isabel V. Hull bei der Preisverleihung am 9. Januar 2014.

Frau Hull, Sie sind Preisträgerin des Internationalen Forschungsförderpreises der Max Weber Stiftung am Historischen Kolleg. Der Preis ist für 2013 zum ersten Mal ausgeschrieben worden und Professor Szöllösi-Janze, eine Kollegin aus München, hat Sie nominiert. Wussten Sie von der Nominierung?
No, I had no idea. I didn’t even know Professor Szöllösi-Janze personally.

Was haben Sie gedacht, als Sie die Nachricht bekamen, dass Ihnen der Internationale Forschungsförderpreis zugesprochen wurde?
I was completely caught by surprise and very delighted. The award is a great honour. It means a lot to me, particularly because it comes from Germany, the country I have studied for so long.

Ihre Monographie „Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany“ hat in Deutschland, Großbritannien und den USA für intensive Debatten gesorgt. Welche These hat diese Kontroverse ausgelöst?
I think two theses were especially controversial. The first was that it was not so much colonial experiences that influenced the extremity with which the German military fought its later wars, particularly the World Wars, but the reverse – German military practices developed in European wars in the 1860s and 1870s that determined its colonial campaigns in Southwest Africa, East Africa, and in China. I had originally thought that the thesis of colonial causation seemed quite likely until I looked into the matter, when it became clear that the determinants were European inspired and firmly in place before Germany’s colonial involvement.
The second thesis was that one could best understand the most significant features of the Imperial German way of war (Kriegführung) by reference to German military culture. Surprisingly, no one had applied theories of organizational culture systematically to the military. The argument is that all Western militaries shared many features of their organizational culture, but each one also differed from others due to historical, political, sociological, and other differences in the contexts in which they operated. Imperial Germany’s military culture developed out of its battle experiences in the wars of unification and became honed and strengthened through training, institutionalization in the General Staff, doctrine, and planning. Culture becomes formed when ways of operating, training, and reward systems gradually become ways of seeing, interpreting, and learning – they consolidate themselves into basic assumptions about the world and how it works; they seem natural and people no longer question them, or even recognize them. The assumptions then determine many aspects of action, and can become so strong and so impervious to criticism, that organizations behave counter-productively. In my view, this method is the most efficient way to explain certain unique and often dysfunctional aspects of how the Kaiserreich fought its wars.

Sie forschen seit Ihrer Masterarbeit zur deutschen Geschichte und haben in Deutschland zahlreiche Vorträge gehalten und Konferenzen besucht. Inwiefern unterscheidet sich die deutsche Wissenschaftskultur von der englischen und der US-amerikanischen?
Actually, I think all three are somewhat different from one another. Three of the things I prize most about the German scholarly tradition are its rigor in assessing sources (Quellenkritik), its assiduousness in the collection of data, and its interest in applying (certain kinds of) theory to historical problems. I have profited greatly from that tradition. The strengths of the American scholarly tradition, it seems to me, are: prizing good writing that is accessible to a general audience, openness to and interest in new theoretical and thematic departures (for example, women’s and gender history), and attention to providing a supportive critical atmosphere during conferences and workshops (which is especially valuable for socializing younger colleagues and helping them thrive).

Mit der Verleihung des Internationalen Forschungsförderpreises der Max Weber Stiftung beim Historischen Kolleg ist die Einladung zu einem Forschungsaufenthalt und zur Durchführung eines internationalen Kolloquiums am Historischen Kolleg in München verbunden. Was sind Ihre Pläne?
I will spend two months in Munich, where I will probably pursue some further research in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and possibly in the Militärarchiv. Iam hoping to put on a workshop on „Völkerrecht im Ersten Weltkrieg“, which will assess the importance of international law to the prosecution of the war and the ways in which the war changed or affected international law.

Welche Projekte möchten Sie in Zukunft gerne realisieren?
I am just finishing a major project called „The Struggle for International Law in the First World War“, which compares Imperial Germany, Britain, and France and the ways in which international law affected their prosecution of the war and why they were fighting it. Two projects have come out of this larger one. The first will be a small book on the sinking of hospital ships during
World War I, using that striking theme as a way to introduce a general audience to how law works during wartime. The second project concerns the disappearance of international law from political science international relations theory. One of the chief founders of that theory, Hans J. Morgenthau, was himself an international lawyer, trained in the Weimar Republic before he came to the U.S. I would like to explore the transformation in his own thinking on this subject.

Ihr Forschungsprofil ist ungewöhnlich, es umfasst scheinbar weit auseinander liegende historische Themenfelder wie die Geschichte der Sexualität, die Verwaltungs-, Militär- und Rechtsgeschichte. Wie hat sich dieses Profil entwickelt?
My projects are entirely auto-generated; that is, they tend to develop out of previous work and I just follow them wherever they lead. So, for example, my dissertation on Kaiser Wilhelm II and his entourage (Umgebung) raised questions about the political uses of sexuality. I originally thought I could answer these by focusing on the 1890s, but after just two weeks of research (in Munich and Berlin libraries), I discovered that the real origins of this in the modern world lay further back, in the so-called Sattelzeit of the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. But to figure out what had happened there, one has to go back to the early modern period against which the Enlightened reformers positioned themselves. So, I ended up doing research beginning about 1600 and going up to 1848, but I only published the results for about 1700 to 1815 – the book was long enough as it was.

In diesem Jahr jährt sich der Beginn des Ersten Weltkriegs zum 100. Mal. Seit einiger Zeit beschäftigen Sie sich wissenschaftlich mit der Entwicklung des Kriegsvölkerrechts. Welche Bedeutung kommt in diesem Zusammenhang dem Ersten Weltkrieg zu?

My work on international law in the First World War began as a way to test in its wartime practices the Kaiserreich’s views on international law, particularly its commitment to a very expansionary notion of „military necessity“. I thought I could do this efficiently by comparing the great land power (Germany) with the great sea power (Britain), assuming that both could be expected to be about equally cavalier toward the law in the sphere of their greatest armed strength. But that comparison turned out to be impossible to do so simply. The project then became much bigger and ultimately had to include France too as a kind of control instance (for continental versus common law systems). International law turns out to have been of absolutely central importance to how the war was fought and why it was fought; in fact, I think that the supposed senselessness of the war is a myth that can only be sustained by ignoring the importance of law. The Kaiserreich’s record was not good, but it was much more complicated than its Allied and neutral critics often thought. The documentary evidence on this subject is staggering in its extent and in its complexity. From the vantage point of law, World War I retains its place as the „Ur-Katastrophe“ of the 20th Century. It has been a fascinating intellectual ride.

Das Gespräch führte Gesche Schifferdecker, Referentin für Öffentlichkeitsarbeit der Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland.

Gesche Schifferdecker

Gesche Schifferdecker works as a press officer with a focus on online communication at the Max Weber Stiftung. She is editor of various scientific Blogs (e.g. trafo.hypotheses.org and wwc.hypotheses.org) and organizes the "WeberWorldCafé".

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Gesche Schifferdecker

Gesche Schifferdecker works as a press officer with a focus on online communication at the Max Weber Stiftung. She is editor of various scientific Blogs (e.g. trafo.hypotheses.org and wwc.hypotheses.org) and organizes the "WeberWorldCafé".

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