Five questions for Andreas Fahrmeir, Hartmut Leppin, Juergen Mueller, and Eckhardt Treichel –Editors of “Historische Zeitschrift”
1.The “Historische Zeitschrift” was founded in 1859 by the eminent German historian Heinrich von Sybel. The aim was to create an independent scientific journal which addressed itself to academic historians in the German-speaking countries. According to Sybel, the journal’s principal object was to promote “the true method of historical research”. The journal was explicitly not intended to pursue antiquarian or political interests. Since its foundation more than 150 years ago the “Historische Zeitschrift” has become the most important and highly reputed historical journal in Germany which publishes articles about ancient, medieval, early modern and modern history. The journal does not adhere to any specific academic school or historiographical method. Instead it serves as a platform for any kind of serious and original historical research. The focus lies on German history, yet in recent years the editorial staff has been trying to extend the perspective to European and global history.
2.The editorial staff consists of two chief editors and two review editors. They belong to the generation who began their academic careers in the 1980s and 1990s. The chief editors are eminent representatives of the younger generation, aged 46 and 52 years. The editors have international research and teaching experience. Since 1985 the editors rely on the advice of an advisory committee of currently 11 members chosen to represent various temporal, geographical and methodological preferences. Aside from working (mostly) at German universities, the contributors to the review section cannot really be said to represent a particular generation or group; the same goes for the authors of articles published in the journal, where the number of contributions from international colleagues (e.g. from the U.S., Korea, Japan, Sweden, Russia etc.) is increasing.
3.In the beginning and during the first decades of its existence the journal had a strong national-liberal orientation, and its editors saw the German nation state founded in 1871 as the legitimate and logical aim of the course of German history – it was briefly edited by Heinrich von Treitschke, for example. After World War I, under its editor Friedrich Meinecke, the journal became more critical of national politics and its consequences, but also reflected the generally conservative bent of the German historical profession. From 1935, its editor was one of the most committed National-Socialist historians, Alexander von Müller. The “Historische Zeitschrift” temporarily ceased publication in 1943 and was re-established in 1949 under Ludwig Dehio. From the 1960s the journal became a forum of important controversies about German history (such as the Fischer-Kontroverse about the responsibility for the outbreak of World War I). In these debates, the journal did not explicitly promote any particular historical approach, method or viewpoint, but sought, under Theodor Schieder, Rudolf Schieffer and Lothar Gall, to remain relevant to all perspectives. By the later 1970s, however, the foundation of a number of journals with an explicitly progressive agenda made the “Historische Zeitschrift” appear more conservative, also because it was the journal of choice for more ‘established’ authors, while the new publications attracted more contributions from doctoral candidates and early career scholars. In that sense, the changing place of the journal is due less to editorial decisions but to a changing journal marketplace, that was also affected by the rise of the volume of collected essays as the preferred mode of publication for collaborative research projects. By the early 2000s, this particular preference in the German academic system had moved back to articles in refereed journals, placing the “Historische Zeitschrift” back more clearly near the centre of the field.
4.Perhaps the meaning of publishing a historical journal in the sense of the “Historische Zeitschrift” has changed less than the publication of journals with an explicit methodological, political or thematic agenda – when these faced new challenges, the journals were or are required to re-orient themselves more explicitly. In spite of the significant debates about the usefulness of subject boundaries, the need for a ‘historical’ journal with a broad scientific remit seems to have changed little, perhaps even been strengthened a bit by the fragmentation of the field.
5.Historical research conducted at a scientific level and the publication of the results in independent historical journals is as important today as it has always been. Historians are certainly not “useless”, for they continue to be the experts who are capable to explain the development of the political, social, economic, and cultural units we live in. Historians’ scientific approach to the past is indispensable, if we want to prevent “history” from becoming a means to certain political or cultural objectives or a vehicle for indoctrination. In some cases, the divulgation of our content is still assured by brief summaries of articles in newspapers, though this route is certainly narrowing. Given that the focus of the journal is more the internal scientific discourse, the topics you mention, while sometimes the subject of articles in the journal, do not affect the journal’s development very much at present.