Being Prussian-German after 1800: Christian Men Fighting for the Nation


After the Holy Roman Empire collapsed in 1806 in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, the (Prussian) debate about Germanness intensified. Gender and confession, but also art, played an important role. General conscription was introduced in 1813–14 but did not fully take hold until later. Nonetheless, “poets and thinkers” proclaimed that masculinity meant fighting for a German fatherland, and they identified war and art as their chosen battlegrounds. Women, too, were urged to enlist in the war effort—by Prussian princesses and others as well. Women were thus inscribed in the longed-for nation, even if they were mainly relegated to so-called feminine tasks. Jews volunteered for the war as well. But interpreting “Germanness” as Christianness had consequences that differed from those associated with the gender hierarchy. Since the 1781 publication of Christian Wilhelm Dohm’s treatise “On the Amelioration of the Civil Status of the Jews,” the debate about the emancipation of the Jews had not ceased; the Prussian edict of 1812 granted them the opportunity to become equal citizens. Some educated people, however, rejected this development; instead, they defined Germanness as non-Jewishness and translated confessional difference into an allegedly essential one.


  1. < Nationalizing Anthems
  2. Inventing Traditions: Construing History as German >