Evans, Richard J. 1947–

views updated

Evans, Richard J. 1947–

(Richard John Evans)

PERSONAL: Born September 29, 1947, in Woodford, Essex, England; son of Ieuan Trefor (a bank official) and Evelyn (a teacher; maiden name, Jones) Evans; married Elin Hjaltadóttir (a senior clinical psychologist), March 2, 1976 (marriage dissolved, 1993); partner, Christine L. Corton; children: Matthew John Corton, Nicholas David Corton; Sigrídur Jónsdóttir (stepdaughter). Education: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A. (first class honors), 1969, M.A., 1973; St. Antony's College, Oxford, D.Phil., 1973. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking, playing the piano, reading, gardening.

ADDRESSES: Office—Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge University, Cambridge CB2 1TA, England. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Stirling University, Stirling, Scotland, lecturer in history, 1972–76; University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, lecturer, 1976–83, professor of European history, 1983–89; Birkbeck College, London, professor of history, 1989–98, vice master, 1993–1998, acting master, 1997; University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, professor of modern history, 1998–, fellow, Gonville & Caius College, 1998–. Columbia University, visiting associate professor of European history, 1980.

MEMBER: Royal Historical Society (fellow, 1978–), British Academy (fellow, 1993–), Royal Society of Literature (fellow, 1999–), German History Society (committee member, 1979–86, chair, 1989–92), Wolfson Literary Award for History judging panel (1993–), Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History judging panel.

AWARDS, HONORS: Stanhope Historical Essay Prize, Oxford University, 1969; Wolfson Literary Award for history, 1988; William H. Welch Medal, American Association for the History of Medicine, 1989; Litt.D., University of East Anglia, 1990; Hamburger Medaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft, 1993; Fraenkel Prize for contemporary history, 1994; honorary fellow, Jesus College, Oxford, 1998; honorary fellow, Birkbeck College, London, 1999.

WRITINGS:

The Feminist Movement in Germany, 1894–1933, Sage (Beverly Hills, CA), 1976.

The Feminists: Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840–1920, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1977.

(Editor) Society and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany, Croon Helm (London, England), 1978.

Sozialdemokratie und Frauenemanzipation im Deutschen Kaiserreich, J.H.W. Dietz Nachfolger (Bonn, Germany), 1979.

(Editor, with W.R. Lee) The German Family: Essays on the Social History of the Family in Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Germany, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1981.

(Editor) The German Working Class, 1888–1933: The Politics of Everyday Life, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1982.

(Editor, with W.R. Lee) The German Peasantry, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

(Editor, with Dick Geary) The German Unemployed: Experiences and Consequences of Mass Unemployment from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich, Croom Helm (London, England), 1986.

Comrades and Sisters, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.

Steam Cars, Shire, 1987.

Rethinking German History, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1987.

Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830–1910, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1987, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2005.

(Editor) The German Underworld, Routledge (London, England), 1988.

Kneipengesprache im Kaiserreich, Rowohlt (Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany), 1989.

In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1989.

Proletarians and Politics, Harvester Wheatsheaf (Hemel Hempstead, England), 1990.

(Editor, with David Blackbourn) The German Bourgeoisie, Routledge (London, England), 1991.

Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600–1987, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

In Defence of History, Granta Books (London, England), 1997, published as In Defense of History, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification, 1800–1996, Routledge (London, England), 1997.

Tales from the German Underworld: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth Century, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1998.

Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Coming of the Third Reich: A History (Volume 1 of a three-part history), Penguin (New York, NY), 2004.

The Third Reich in Power (Volume 2 of a three-part history), Penguin (New York, NY), 2005.

Editor of German History: The Journal of the German History Society, 1983–86, and the Journal of Contemporary History, 1998–.

SIDELIGHTS: University professor Richard J. Evans is "one of the foremost scholars of his generation in German history," to quote Clive Emsley in History Today. Evans has been particularly interested in issues of social and political justice in Germany from the late Renaissance to the present era. His works include studies of capital punishment, feminism, the criminal justice system, and class structure in Germany. He has also become known for his theoretical writings on the future of history as a scholarly discipline. Eric A. Johnson in the Journal of Modern History called Evans "one of the foremost authorities on German society and among the most talented historians writing today on any subject in any language."

In The Feminists: Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840–1920, a wide-ranging study of the feminist movement, Evans examines the manner in which various forms of government encouraged or impeded the efforts of early feminists to attain political and social equality for women. "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," the cry that precipitated the French Revolution in 1789, was perceived as something other than a cry for freedom by many women listening to its echo through the streets of Europe and the United States. Evans reports a contemporary reaction in The Feminists: "The fourteenth of July [the day the French Revolution is remembered in France] is not a national celebration, it is the apotheosis of masculinity." A movement that achieved its political consciousness through such works as John Stuart Mill's Subjugation of Women, published in 1886, feminism is examined within three separate contexts: the early demand for equal rights, the alliance of the movement for women's emancipation with organizations that advocated such reforms as temperance and abolition, and the political radicalism of suffragists such as Christabel Pankhurst, Mill, and George Bernard Shaw. "The Feminists shows an admirable, level-headed, lucid grasp of the phenomenon of women's movements…. [following] patiently but succinctly the patterns inherent in feminism, as it developed," commented Marina Warner in Times Literary Supplement.

Evans has both edited and coedited a wide variety of books on many facets of German history, including the family, the working class, the peasantry, the unemployed, and the political era in Germany under Wilhelm II. In each instance, Evans assembled a collection of essays by other highly regarded historians, and his books are noted for their diversity. One such volume, Society and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany, "does not claim to be a comprehensive study … but a highly detailed series of cameos between which some illuminating links can be made," Jill Stephenson pointed out in the Times Literary Supplement. The reviewer added that "there is much that is new, stimulating and convincing. This is an important book."

In addition to editing the works of other historians, Evans has written numerous well-received volumes of social history, including In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past, a close look at Germany's Historikerstreit, a "historian's debate" with roots in the mid-1980s. Evans views this new perspective on German history as an attempt to rekindle German patriotism rather than a search for historical truths. Some influential, conservative German historians, Evans contends, have attempted to justify Nazism and the German internment and massacre of Jews during World War II. Los Angeles Times writer Jonathan Kirsch praised In Hitler's Shadow as an "important book."

Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600–1987 and Tales from the German Underworld: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth Century both examine changes in German society through the prism of the punishment of criminals. Rituals of Retribution concentrates on capital punishment, while Tales from the German Underworld uses case studies to illuminate the forms of punishment meted out for non-capital crimes during the nineteenth century. Journal of Modern History critic Eric A. Johnson found Rituals of Retribution to be "monumental, sweeping, brilliant … [a] huge and beautifully written study." The critic added that "one might even call [Evans's] book a magnum opus, but that would assume that this present work will stand as the crowning achievement of Evans's prodigious scholarly career." In Historian, David A. Meier also characterized the book as "exceptionally well-written and researched." Many critics noted the way Evans moves from specific cases to general discussion in Tales from the German Underworld. Journal of Social History correspondent Mary Lindemann described the book as "a vibrant and authentic portrait, and a robust analysis of how tales of crime, the underworld, and adventure reveal the contours of nineteenth-century German society." Noting that Tales from the German Underworld "exemplifies the virtues of what has sometimes been called 'microhistory,'" Christopher Clark in the English Historical Review described the book as "a fascinating and persuasive study that addresses an impressively broad range of issues across the span of a century without sacrificing analytical rigour or the pleasures of narrative."

Having been recognized as an eminent historian, Evans has been called upon to reflect on the field of history in both general and specific ways. His In Defence of History defends the practice of historical investigation against postmodernist claims that true history can never be grasped in an objective way. Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial takes these theoretical ideas and puts them into practice, as Evans systematically reveals factual errors and omissions in the work of David Irving, who had been accused in another text of denying the Holocaust. In his Journal of Social History review of In Defence of History, Doug Munro noted that "Evans's defence of history largely entails a withering attack on the universalizing pretensions and the 'onslaught' of postmodernism…. What gives the book, in a paradoxical way, its freshness and force is Evans's seemingly old-fashioned appeal to standards of documentary objectivism, to the related notion that genuine insights into the past are possible, and moreover, his insistence that competing interpretations often can be tested against the evidence." Munro found the book "robust and erudite." Keith Thomas in the New Statesman likewise felt that Evans's "outspoken and courageous book deserves to be essential reading for coming generations."

Lying about Hitler arose from a libel suit brought by David Irving after another scholar noted that Irving denied the Holocaust. Evans was called as a witness against Irving, and his trial notes ran to 700 pages. Lying about Hitler distills the trial notes into a narrative that takes Irving to task for selective use of sources and other abuses of academic rigor. "Simple, elegant, and unemotional in style, Lying about Hitler is devastating, a task of demolition so complete that it is hard to think of anything comparable," observed David Pryce-Jones in New Criterion. Jacob Heilbrunn in the National Review praised the manner in which Evans presents the court case and its implications before offering evidence against Irving's conclusions. Heilbrunn characterized the work as "never less than absorbing," adding of Evans, "A sure-footed writer, he allows the story to tell itself, eschewing rhetorical flourishes in favor of a clinical dissection of Irving's works and statements." Times Literary Supplement contributor Mark Greif concluded that Lying about Hitler "is an astonishing brief of the historical profession against a fallen practitioner. Evans … exhibits a vivid intelligence, clear writing and a bright animating rage…. His claim that history can be tested well in the courtroom is perfectly correct."

Evans began a planned three-volume history of the Third Reich with The Coming of the Third Reich: A History, in which he begins with a study of the prehistory of Nazi Germany, including the politics of the Weimar Republic and the Great Depression. He compares German and European politics of the period and the factors that made up the Nazi ideology, including race. He explores how the political nationalist majority of Germany, which was anti-Marxist and antisemitic, was convinced, under pressure, to adopt national socialism by 1933. Although the people were still reeling from the Depression and World War I, they did not reflect the absolute views of fascism.

Peter Fritzsche wrote in the Journal of Modern History that Evans "does an excellent job of bringing sharply into view the partisan polarities that came with massive politicization and, at the same time, the mass media representation of decay, crime, and corruption. He also puts needed stress on politics: the role of big business in breaking cooperative relations with the trade unions and the Social Democrats in 1929, the self-defeating strategy of Chancellor Heinrich Bruning in the early 1930s, and the persistent attempts of Social Democrats to renovate the Weimar system in a more democratic fashion."

In The Third Reich in Power, Evans studies the period during which the general population continued to lack enthusiasm for the Nazi police state. Although unopposed, the Nazi leaders found it no easy task to convince the adults to embrace the totalitarian regime, while at the same time, the Hitler Youth tended toward overen-thusiasm. What eventually won the people over was the promise of those conditions unfulfilled by the Weimar government, including jobs, prosperity, and order. They hardly noticed, or cared, when opponents to the party, Jews, gays, and gypsies disappeared. Evans notes that the military went unchallenged as the promises to protect the middle class and small business went unmet. The Nazis protected and developed their interests in large corporations and exercised an implied threat to anyone who disagreed with the policy of racial engineering. In effect, the Nazis engaged in two distinct kinds of terrorism, the one against their victims and the other against their own people who were controlled by fear of punishment.

In reviewing this second volume, an Economist reviewer who called the history a "magisterial study," wrote that "Evans has produced a rich and detailed description of just what the Third Reich did in every compartment of the state and every corner of society…. The text comes most to life when he is talking about society, culture and politics." "Examining the populace more than the dictator, Evans expertly surveys Nazidom's precepts and criminality," concluded Gilbert Taylor in Booklist.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Academic Questions, winter, 2000, J. Daryl Charles, review of In Defense of History, p. 93.

Booklist, September 1, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Third Reich in Power, p. 47.

Canadian Journal of History, December, 1999, Christopher Kent, review of In Defence of History, p. 385.

Contemporary Review, May, 2004, review of The Coming of the Third Reich: A History, p. 316.

Economist, October 29, 2005, review of The Third Reich in Power, p. 88.

English Historical Review, June, 1999, John Tosh, review of In Defence of History, p. 805; June, 2000, Christopher Clark, review of Tales from the German Underworld: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth Century, p. 665.

Historian, spring, 1998, David A. Meier, review of Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany, 1600–1987, p. 667; fall, 2002, Jack Fischel, review of Lying about Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, p. 213.

History and Theory, May, 2000, Wulf Kansteiner, "Mad History Disease Contained?: Postmodern Excess Management Advice from the U.K.," p. 218.

History: Review of New Books, spring, 1997, Wayne C. Bartee, review of Rituals of Retribution, p. 126.

History Today, January, 1997, Clive Emsley, review of Rituals of Retribution, p. 57; July, 1998, Clive Emsley, review of Tales from the German Underworld, p. 59.

Journal of Modern History, March, 1999, Eric A. Johnson, review of Rituals of Retribution, p. 234; March, 2000, Gabriel N. Finder, review of Tales from the German Underworld, p. 249; December, 2005, Peter Fritzsche, review of The Coming of the Third Reich, p. 1150.

Journal of Social History, summer, 1999, Doug Munro, review of In Defence of History, p. 941; summer, 2000, Mary Lindemann, review of Tales from the German Underworld, p. 986.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of The Third Reich in Power, p. 827.

Library Journal, May 15, 2001, Frederic Krome, review of Lying about Hitler, p. 140.

Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1989, Jonathan Kirsch, review of In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past.

Nation, May 10, 2004, Abraham Brumberg, review of The Coming of the Third Reich, p. 32.

National Review, April 2, 2001, Jacob Heilbrunn, review of Lying about Hitler.

New Criterion, May, 2001, David Pryce-Jones, review of Lying about Hitler, p. 67.

New Statesman, October 17, 1997, Keith Thomas, review of In Defence of History, p. 46; July 22, 2002, D.D. Guttenplan, review of Lying about Hitler, p. 46.

New York Times Book Review, June 21, 1998, Dagmar Herzog, "Repeat Offenders," p. 17.

Times Literary Supplement, January 27, 1978, Marina Warner, review of The Feminists: Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840–1920, p. 86; October 20, 1978, Jill Stephenson, review of Society and Politics in Wilhelmine Germany, p. 1228; October 11, 1996, Joachim Whaley, review of Rituals of Retribution, p. 8; May 8, 1998, David Blackbourn, review of Tales from the German Underworld, p. 30; July 13, 2001, Mark Greif, review of Lying about Hitler, pp. 28-29.

ONLINE

Richard J. Evans Home Page, http://www.richardjevans.com (January 20, 2006).

University of Cambridge Department of History, http://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/ (January 20, 2006), faculty profile of Evans.

About this article

Evans, Richard J. 1947–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article