D.he historian Hedwig Richter grew up in Bad Urach, a deeply Protestant health resort on the Swabian Alb, with a late medieval marketplace, the traditional shepherd’s run and a declining population because the young are drawn either to nearby Stuttgart or Berlin.
The politician Cem Özdemir also comes from Bad Urach. Hedwig Richter even has a lot in common with him. She has perfected her public appearance, her gestures and the persistent mild smile. She is turned towards and answers polemical questions with unbroken seriousness. If you ask Hedwig Richter about her childhood, she answers teleologically atypically for a historian.
You can tell that she has told the story many times. In retrospect, everything seems to have been designed in such a way that she could not become anyone other than what she is today: a popular historian, professor at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, who wrote an unusually successful book on the German Democracy, which some colleagues not only consider overestimated, but downright unscientific. But she is that too: a Twitter star, a science influencer who has just co-authored a controversial manifesto “for an open society”.
As if you were watching her think
Hedwig Richter was the first woman in the family who could decide to study, that was in the early 1990s. Her family was particularly conservative and deeply Protestant even for the rural Baden-Württemberg milieu. She was about six years old when her mother pulled the Bible off the shelf. Read if you want, she said. Richter read the Old and New Testaments from front to back. A little later she discovered the biography of the Dutch woman Corrie ten Boom, who hid several Jewish families during the German occupation. Since then, Richter has wondered how the Germans could commit these crimes.
However, Richter did not become an expert on National Socialism, but on the Empire, which outside of historical research is more associated with authoritarianism, dull militarism and expansive nationalism. Hedwig Richter wants to change this picture. She thinks that the empire was also a haven for emancipatory developments; after all, the women’s movement and social democracy emerged in this epoch.
A differentiated picture of the period from 1871 to the end of the First World War has long been established in German historical studies. Richter’s books, however, are aimed at a broader public. They read like watching Hedwig Richter herself thinking. She is now being reproached for.
Favorite word “project”
“Democracy. A German Affair ”is the title of her bestseller (published by Beck). Richter’s style is free of technical jargon, the theses dramaturgically pointed. Her favorite word is “project”, whereby everything can turn into a project, that is, a large-scale undertaking with an open outcome. Emancipation, social democracy, in general, democracy.
German historiography is known to be particularly sober. Hedwig Richter’s book is the opposite. In the tone of a pop historiography, she reports German history as if it were a Netflix series with a cliffhanger and a good ending: “It’s not a straightforward story whose end is certain. But on the contrary. The affair continues. The next season follows. “
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