Blackbourn, David 1949- (David Gordon Blackbourn)
Blackbourn, David 1949- (David Gordon Blackbourn)
Born November 1, 1949, in Lincolnshire, England; son of Harry (a civil servant) and Pamela Jean Blackbourn; married Deborah Frances Langton; children: two. Education: Cambridge University, B.A. (with first-class honors), 1970, Ph.D., 1976. Hobbies and other interests: "My foreign languages are German and French, and I have lectured widely in Britain, Germany, and the United States. Apart from the usual academic interests (reading, theater, cinema, and so on), I would single out jazz and politics as particularly important. The natural world grows on me, without dislodging my firm attachment to the world of the big city."
Writer, educator. Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, research fellow in history at Jesus College, 1973-76; University of London, London, England, lecturer in history at Queen Mary College, 1976-79, and Birkbeck College, 1979-92; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Coolidge Professor of History and Senior Associate of the Center for European Studies, 1992—, history department chair, 1998-99, 2000-02. Member of academic management committee of London's German Historical Institute. Governor of Goodrich School, London, 1983-92; Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association, president, 2003-04; editorial board, Past and Present; Center for European Studies, director, 2007—; Friends of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC, chair of the board of directors.
American Historical Association, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Historical Society, German History Society, German Studies Association.
American Historical Association prize for best book in German history, 1996; George L. Mosse prize, 2007; Charles Weyerhaeuser prize, Forest History Society, 2007; fellowships from German Academic Exchange Service, 1997, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, 1984, and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
(Contributor) Richard J. Evans, editor, Society and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany, Croom Helm (London, England), 1978.
(With Geoff Eley) Mythen deutscher Geschichtsschreibung: Die gescheiterte buergerliche Revolution von 1848 (title means "Myths of German Historiography"), Ullstein (Munich, Germany), 1980.
(Contributor) P. Kennedy and A. Nicholls, editors, Nationalist and Racialist Movements in Britain and Germany before 1914, Macmillan (London, England), 1981.
(Contributor) G. Crossick and H.-G. Haupt, editors, Shopkeepers and Master Artisans in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Methuen (London, England), 1984.
(Contributor) T.W. Mason and R. Samuel, editors, Nineteenth-Century Liberalism: An International Perspective, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1985.
(Contributor) J. Fout, editor, Politics, Parties, and the Authoritarian State: Imperial Germany, 1871-1918, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1985.
Populists and Patricians: Essays in Modern German History, Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1987.
Volksfrömmigkeit und Fortschrittsglaube im Kulturkampf, F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden (Stuttgart, Germany), 1988.
(Editor, with Richard J. Evans) The German Bourgeoisie: Essays on the Social History of the German Middle Class from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Century, Routledge (New York, NY), 1991.
The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998, published as History of Germany, 1790-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century, Blackwell (Malden, MA), 2002.
The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany, Norton (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to The Encyclopedia of Modern History. Contributor to history journals and popular periodicals, including History Today, New Society, and London Review of Books.
British historian David Blackbourn is a professor at Harvard University and the author of numerous books on Germany history. As he once told CA: "My work is commonly grouped together with that of other British historians of the same generation (Geoff Eley and Richard Evans) working on German history, whose views on a number of issues, such as the continuity of modern German history, the nature of popular political mobilization in the Kaiser's Germany and beyond, and the interpretation of the origins of Nazism, are usually labeled ‘revisionist.’ The book Mythen deutscher Geschichtsschreibung: Die gescheiterte buergerliche Revolution von 1848 attracted considerable attention in the German media and continues to be warmly debated in academic and intellectual circles more generally. This clearly reflects the way in which historical writing in Germany, more even than in other countries, is a sensitive subject with civic and political connotations."
Blackbourn's 1991 study, The German Bourgeoisie: Essays on the Social History of the German Middle Class from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Century, edited with Richard J. Evans, is a gathering of eleven essays that investigate the role of the middle class in German social history. Specifically, many of the essays debate the theory that the German middle class aped the aristocratic behavior of the upper classes, which in turn led the bourgeoisie to reject liberal democratic ideals, a failing that had significant future costs in the twentieth century. Reviewing the work in the Journal of Social History, Richard Wetzell praised Blackbourn's "comprehensive introductory survey [that] presents a very balanced picture," and went on to conclude: "Anyone interested in the social history of the German bourgeoisie would do well to begin by consulting this excellent collection." Similarly, Panikos Panayi, writing in History Today, lauded Blackbourn's "seminal introductory essay." Further praise for the entire volume came from Business History reviewer Sidney Pollard, who observed: "These essays provide an exceptionally valuable insight into some key aspects of recent German economic and business history."
Writing on his own, Blackbourn investigated a different aspect of German history in Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Bismarckian Germany. Here Blackbourn tackles Roman Catholic history in the nineteenth century by a historical investigation of the events at the village of Marpingen where, in 1876, three young girls supposedly saw an apparition who identified herself as the Virgin. This apparition requested that a chapel be built in her honor, a place where the sick could come to be healed. Thousands of pilgrims subsequently poured into the village, and ultimately the Prussian army intervened, occupying the village and questioning all concerned. These events led to the criticism of the Catholic Church as being disloyal to the new Germany being forged by Bismarck. Booklist contributor Steve Schroeder praised Blackbourn's "careful attention to religious, social, and political context" in this "study that should be widely read." Likewise, a Publishers Weekly reviewer termed this an "engrossing study, exhaustively researched from German archives," while Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary Web site contributor Rick Kleffel found it a "picture-perfect, completely documented investigation." Further positive words for Marpingen came from National Review critic Karina Rollins, who concluded that the author's "engaging style and superb knowledge of the field make this book an exhilarating trip down one byway of the history of spirituality." History Today reviewer Michael Burleigh also commended the work, writing: "Although this outstanding book is chiefly memorable for the subtlety with which Blackbourn teases out the many ambivalent aspects of his complex subject matter, … it is also rich in character and incident." And Journal of Ecclesiastical History reviewer Sean Gill called the book "a distinguished addition to the still small number of scholarly studies of the nineteenth-century Catholic revival."
From religion at play in the making of Germany, Blackbourn turns to the taming of nature itself in his 2006 work, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany, a book that "adds much to our knowledge of the German past," according to Dieter K. Buse writing in the Canadian Journal of History. Here Blackbourn examines how, beginning with an eighteenth-century project of Frederick II of Prussia to alter the flood plain around the Oder River into agricultural land, Germany has transformed itself over the course of three centuries from impoverished bogland to one of the wealthiest countries in Europe. The projects that led to this transformation fit the German psyche well, according to Blackbourn, reinforcing a belief in scientific rationalism as well as in the German mission and its creation of living space for its people. Blackbourn divides this development into three phases, beginning with the Prussian works of the eighteenth century; continuing with nineteenth-century aquatic engineering, which, as London Review of Books critic Neal Ascherson noted, "drew its inspiration from revolution and nationalism"; and ending with the assault on the land under the Nazi and Communist regimes in the twentieth century. Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, felt that, while being "too specialized for small collections, Blackbourn's study will be a great asset to the German history section." A higher assessment came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who noted: "The unique framing of Blackbourn's interpretation of German history and the lavish illustrations make this an engrossing read." Buse added further praise, terming The Conquest of Nature "a very important, well-organized study which will encourage a rethinking of Germany history," while Ascherson noted that Blackbourn's environmental history is "a significant contribution to new ways of writing about the human past."
Blackbourn further explained to CA: "My own interests as a writer of history are in the area where social and political history intersect. Many of my books or articles have been concerned with the nature of political mobilization in Germany before World War I and the emergence of new forms of ‘mass’ politics. My research on the lower middle class in Europe from the revolutions of 1848 to the period of fascism reflects this interest; but I also hope to return to write specifically about the curious combination of patrician and popular politics in pre-1914 Germany. On the other side, my research on ‘appearances’ of the Virgin in Germany (the German equivalents of Lourdes) continues a long-standing interest in German Catholics and Catholicism. This work is very much social, rather than ecclesiastical (or narrowly political) history.
"My reviews and articles in general journals and weeklies, and my occasional broadcasts, are an important part of my belief that academics should communicate with a broader public."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 1995, Jonathan Sperber, review of Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Bismarckian Germany, p. 127.
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Steve Schroeder, review of Marpingen, p. 85; June 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany, p. 15.
Business History, October, 1994, Sidney Pollard, review of The German Bourgeoisie: Essays on the Social History of the German Middle Class from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Century, p. 140.
Canadian Journal of History, August, 1992, James Retallack, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 385; March 22, 2007, Dieter K. Buse, review of The Conquest of Nature, p. 108.
Central European History, summer, 1999, Jonathan Sperber, review of The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918.
Choice, July 1, 1998, D.J. Dietrich, review of The Long Nineteenth Century, p. 1919; March, 2007, G.P. De Syon, review of The Conquest of Nature, p. 1233.
Economist, February 18, 2006, "Water Power; Germany," p. 81.
European History Quarterly, January, 1993, Rudy Koshar, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 112.
German Studies Review, October, 2000, Robert D. Billinger, review of The Long Nineteenth Century, p. 599.
History: The Journal of the Historical Association, February, 1993, S.J. Salter, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 131.
History Today, December, 1994, Panikos Panayi, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 56; June, 1995, Michael Burleigh, review of Marpingen, p. 54.
Internet Bookwatch, October, 2007, review of The Conquest of Nature.
Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July, 1995, Sean Gill, review of Marpingen, p. 534.
Journal of Modern History, June, 2000, review of Marpingen, p. 453.
Journal of Regional Science, October, 2007, review of The Conquest of Nature, p. 847.
Journal of Social History, fall, 1993, Richard Wetzell, review of The German Bourgeoisie.
Journal of Urban History, January, 1995, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 256.
Library Journal, October 15, 1994, Augustine Curley, review of Marpingen, p. 63.
London Review of Books, April 6, 2006, Neal Ascherson, "Imagined Soil," p. 11.
National Review, December 5, 1994, Karina Rollins, review of Marpingen, p. 80.
New Scientist, January 21, 2006, "Landscape Redesign," p. 48.
New York Review of Books, January 30, 1986, Gordon A. Craig, review of The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany, p. 20; June 22, 2006, "Watch on the Rhine," p. 50.
New York Times Book Review, September 11, 1994, James J. Sheehan, review of Marpingen, p. 34; December 4, 1994, review of Marpingen, p. 79.
Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1994, review of Marpingen, p. 68; April 10, 2006, review of The Conquest of Nature, p. 59.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2003, review of History of Germany, 1790-1918: The Long Nineteenth Century, p. 38; November, 2006, review of The Conquest of Nature.
Social History, October, 1992, John Breuilly, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 516; October, 1996, Robert A. Orsi, review of Marpingen, p. 380.
Times Literary Supplement, August 12, 1988, Steven Beller, review of Populists and Patricians: Essays in Modern German History, p. 877; April 26, 1991, Daniel Johnson, review of The German Bourgeoisie, p. 10; June 3, 1994, Owen Chandwick, review of Marpingen, p. 31; November 14, 1997, Niall Ferguson, review of History of Germany, 1780-1918, p. 9; September 8, 2006, "Rectifications: Militarism and Metaphor on the Banks of the Rhine," p. 3.
Wall Street Journal Western Edition, October 17, 1994, Bruce Bawer, review of Marpingen, p. 12.
Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary,http://trashotron.com/agony/ (November 6, 2007), Rick Kleffel, review of Marpingen.
History News Network,http://hnn.us/ (November 6, 2007), "David Blackbourn: On Writing Environmental History."
Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University Web site,http://www.ces.fas.harvard.edu/ (November 6, 2007), "David Blackbourn."
Random House Canada Web site,http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (November 6, 2007), "Full Spotlight: David Blackbourn."