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Level 5

5AAH1038 Germany 1914-1945: Economic Extremes

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2018/19: Dr Christopher Dillon
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,500 words (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

This module invites students to approach a familiar period in German history from what will often be an unfamiliar perspective: that of the economy. Between 1914 and 1945 Germany's economy charted many of the extremes of modern capitalism: three currencies, two global wars, hyperinflation, sovereign debt, depression, fiscal stimulus (rearmament), autarky, racial expropriation, conquest, plunder, and saturation bombing. These experiences have passed into economic folklore and continue to shape German (and European) policy-making today. The module introduces students to the basic principles of economic history while considering economics very much as a social science: the social, political, military, and cultural influences on - and repercussions of -  economics in this period will remain in focus throughout.

Provisional teaching plan

1. Introduction. This first seminar offers an introduction to the period and a preparatory overview of key concepts, economists, and historians. We will establish an inclusive definition of economics as a social science and consider its potential for approaching this critical period in history from a fresh perspective.
2. The Great War. This seminar will address the economic dimensions of the First World War, focusing particularly on the funding of the German war effort. It will consider state intervention in various sectors of the economy and the social and political conflicts this generated. We will also discuss interpretations of the indemnity bill presented at Versailles and its implications for the German economy.
3. The Weimar Inflation. This seminar will address the Weimar inflation and hyperinflation - theories, course, and experiences.
4. Stabilization and Credit. This seminar will address the stabilisation package introduced in 1924 and subsequent influx of American credit to the Republic: at $3bn, over twice the sum later provided to West Germany under the Marshall Plan. This was used in part to fund its generous welfare programme and also left a controversial mark on 'Roaring Twenties' culture and society.
5. The Great Depression. This seminar addresses the origins and course of the Great Depression in Germany, the country most severely impacted outside the US. It will consider the domestic and global factors involved as well as the slump's contribution to the electoral breakthrough of the NSDAP.
6. Rearmament. This session will focus on the Nazis' loudly-trumpeted stimulus programmes of the 1930s and their evolution into a vast state-sponsored rearmament representing "the largest transfer of resources ever undertaken by a capitalist state in peacetime" (Tooze). It will also address interpretations of the relationship between big business and the Nazis, as well as the experiences of German workers in a fascist economy.
7. Blitzkrieg. This seminar will tackle the cluster of debates among military and economic historians concerning the extent to which the Nazi economy was geared to a 'shock and awe' military strategy between 1939 and the German setback in the Soviet Union. And what were the dividends of military success for the home front?
8. Aryanization. This seminar will consider the relationship between Nazi economic and racial policy. German Jews were progressively excluded from the Germany economy from 1933, a process accelerated in 1938 and soon applied to occupied Europe. Who were the beneficiaries of these policies? How did they contribute to the popularity of the regime? To what extent was the 'Final Solution' - ghettoization, forced labour, extermination - shaped by economic factors?
9. Occupying Europe. After the critical winter of 1941/2 the Nazi regime officially placed the economy on a "total war" footing and began to exploit its resources even more ruthlessly. This seminar will consider both the domestic and occupied economies, the latter with a particular focus on the well-documented occupation of France.
10. The End and After. The final seminar will explore the economic impact of the controversial Allied bombing of Germany in the war, along with the structural links between the Nazi war economy and the West German 'economic miracle' of the 1950s. It will conclude by reviewing the legacy of Germany's economic extremes, particularly the hyperinflation, for German and European policy-making since 1945.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Gerald Feldman, The Great Disorder: Politics, Economics and Society in the German Inflation, 1918-1924 (New York, 1993).
  • Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (London, 2006).
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