Mommsen, Wolfgang J(ustin) 1930-2004

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MOMMSEN, Wolfgang J(ustin) 1930-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born November 11, 1930, in Marburg, Germany; died of a heart attack, August 11, 2004, near Usedom, Germany. Historian, educator, and author. Mommsen was a highly respected historian who often wrote about economist and sociologist Max Weber and on the history of German imperialism. Coming from a family of historians that included his brother, his father, and his Nobel Prize-winning grandfather, Theodor Mommsen, he studied at the University of Marburg before earning a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne in 1958. After some postdoctoral studies at the University of Leeds, Mommsen returned to Cologne, where he was a research assistant through 1967. The next year, he joined the University of Düsseldorf's faculty as professor of modern history, and from 1977 to 1985 he directed the German Historical Institute in London. Unlike many of his colleagues in Germany, Mommsen argued against what he considered "revisionist" thinking among some historians, insisting that the Holocaust represented an unprecedented time of persecution and not simply a repetition of typical wartime atrocities; on the other hand, as an expert on German imperialism, he rejected the idea that Germany was the only country to blame for World War I. Mommsen published several works about imperialism, including Das Zeit-alter des Imperialismus (1969), Der Imperialismus (1977), Imperialism and After: Continuities and Discontinuities (1986), an edited work with Jurgen Osterhammel, and Culture and Politics in Imperial Germany (1994); his other favorite subject was Weber, about whom he wrote in Max Weber und die deutsche Politik (1974) and, as editor with Osterhammel, Max Weber and His Contemporaries (1987). Mommsen spent 1988 through 1992 as chair of the Association of German Historians; he was working as a fellow of the University of Erfurt when, while swimming off the coast of the German island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea, he apparently died of a heart attack.



Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2004, section 2, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2004, p. B17.

New York Times, August 14, 2004, p. A13.

Washington Post, August 16, 2004, p. B5.