Narrating the Fall of Empires in Weimar and National Socialist Racial Ideology
Dr Helen Roche (University of Cambridge)
Discussant: Dr Joachim Whaley (University of Cambridge)
At the turn of the twentieth century, the idea that the destinies of races, nations and empires were universal and biologically determined (wherever and whenever in human history they existed) was the preserve of a minority of racial theorists and academics. However, within a few decades, such ideas came to dominate National-Socialist thought, and were propagated in ideological and educational material throughout the Third Reich. Using a variety of examples drawn from these racial interpretations of history, concerning both the ancient and the modern world, Roche argues that this inculcation of a particular racial historical framework follows very closely the model of ‘schematic narrative templates’ devised by the sociologist James Wertsch. Wertsch’s work has shown that a crucial element in the formation of collective identity is provided by forcing historical occurrences to fit into a consistent, immutable narrative framework, which can be used both to justify and to legitimise the actions of the nation or ruling power in question. This paper explores the development of this phenomenon, and analyses the ways in which schematic narrative templates of race came to dominate German intellectual and historical thought during the 1930s and 1940s.
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Field Notes: Histories of Archaeology and Anthropology