Political and Intellectual History

As part of the thriving research culture at the Institute, political and intellectual history has gained increasing prominence in recent years. In particular, topics such as migration and social policy, transnational social thought and politics, and nationalism and internationalism in American society have received new scholarly attention. Three main networks and projects represent the breadth and depth of current collaborative research:


Immigration, Ethnicity, and Welfare States: Transnational Social Politics in the US, Britain, and Germany between the World Wars

This project sheds light on the contemporary dilemma of how to reconcile high levels of immigration with public support for comprehensive welfare states by examining the historical linkages between migration and social policy in the US, the UK, and Germany. It focuses on the period during and after World War I when all three countries implemented policies that were crucial for the development of both modern immigration bureaucracies and twentieth-century welfare states. Combining theoretical models drawn from the social sciences and culture studies with a transnational analysis, the project focuses on four policy areas where concerns with foreign migrants were particularly prominent and experiments in social planning widely circulated: health care, public housing, labor laws, and settlement policies. In particular, it explores how international networks of social scientists, civic reformers, immigrant activists, trade unionists, and business leaders shaped fledgling welfare states based on their view of the “immigrant problem.”  The project focuses on the three countries because they broadly represent the different types of nations, immigration experiences, and welfare state models in the West.  It contributes toward a synthesis of social policy and migration studies that is still missing in the scholarly literature. At the same time, it aims to recover historical discourses that sought to reconcile high levels of immigration with broad-based public support for comprehensive systems of social provision.


“Gilded Ages” Past and Present: Economic Crises, Transatlantic Reform, and the Boundaries of the Twentieth Century 

In the wake of the financial crisis in 2007, a renewed interest in the history of capitalism has captured historiography in both Europe and the US. In particular, growing wealth inequality, fraying welfare states, bankers’ excesses, and the pitfalls of boom-and-bust economies since the 1970s have revived talk about a new “Gilded Age” in Western societies, invoking the cutthroat competition, speculative bubbles, stock market runs, land speculations, and “malefactors of great wealth” that have become staple images of the 1870s and 1880s in U.S. history. This project brings together scholars from the US (Illinois State University), the UK (University of Glasgow), and Germany (JGU) in a project that advances innovative interdisciplinary and transnational perspectives on the formation and contestation of the “two Gilded Ages”.  They seek to offer new perspectives on crucial dimensions of the twentieth-century, including (1) the professionalization of social policy expertise and the rise of experts in public policy-making; (2) political realignments that saw the rise of both effective working-class parties and the racially and ethnically-based nationalism of right-wing mass movements; (3) socioeconomic transformations linked to the rise of corporate capitalism and consumer society; (4) demographic shifts and encounters in the context of the rise and decline of territorial regimes and processes of (de)colonization; and (5) profound intellectual sea changes associated with cultural modernity.


The Triumph of Internationalism Revisited: U.S. Domestic and Transatlantic Debates over America’s Role in the World

The term “triumph of internationalism” has served as a largely unquestioned label for the complex story of American engagement with the world in the first half of the twentieth century.  The term describes a dramatic shift, both on the part of policy-making elites and ordinary Americans, from isolationism to robust and lasting activist global engagement.  This project, which brings together scholars from the U.S. (University of Iowa, Oregon State University) and Germany (JGU) with respective backgrounds in American diplomatic history/international relations, Religious Studies, and transatlantic history, maintains that the internationalist story line focuses too narrowly on foreign policy, overemphasizes coherence and continuity, and eclipses the broader range and depth of American debates over the country’s international role. In turn, the network’s research goes beyond official foreign policy ideas and national myths to probe more deeply religious, ethnic, social and political subcultures, specifically those of soldiers, African-Americans and immigrants.  It suggests that international experiences and transnational perspectives have entered American lives through many avenues: missionary and professional assignments, military deployment, marriage, immigration, educational sojourns, travel, and media, especially wartime reporting. By including voices that defined American interests and relationship obligations in ways that put them at odds with official concepts of national security, this project recovers the breadth and complexity of American patriotism, the many forms of American internationalism, and the precise connection between the two.

Visiting Professorships
Prof. Alan Lessoff (Professor of History, Illinois State University)
Obama Fellow, April-June 2016

Prof. Dr. Axel R. Schäfer



Prof. Dr. Axel Schäfer
Philosophicum II
Jakob-Welder-Weg 20
Room 02.211

Phone: +49-6131-39-26767