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November 22, 2013
Vol. 55 No. 11

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Professor publishes research on Nazi Germany

"'Becoming a Nazi Town: Culture and Politics in Göttingen between the World Wars' examines the way in which culture in Germany helped give rise to Nazism," Associate Professor of History David Imhoof said.
The book, which was published in October by the University of Michigan Press, takes a "bottom-up approach" to studying the creation and growth of the Nazi movement.
Imhoof said: "I wanted to look at a small town, because I believed you would understand better what average Germans were doing in a small town."
He continued: "The culture of Berlin, for example in the 1920s, really interesting, really cool, sexy, but not necessarily what everyone was doing, so I focused on a smaller city called Göttingen."
Imhoof began his research intending to study the development of Weimar culture within the city but found himself increasingly interested in how that led to the Nazi era, beginning after 1933.
"In German history, we often put a lot of emphasis on the year 1933, the year that the Nazis came to power," he said, noting that it was in this year that the minorities faced instant persecution.
He continued, "But for a lot of Germans, the year 1933 did not necessarily signal a huge break in their lives, and it certainly didn't signal a break in their cultural lives."
Imhoof's research supported his proposal that more could be understood by looking at the larger time period for "evolutionary changes" that impacted people's lives rather than just studying one massive change in 1933 when the Nazis came to power.
Imhoof said that he was surprised by the way that people in this town were able to use their local culture and even their local patriotism and pride to do two things that seem contradictory.
According to Imhoof's research, the people of Göttingen were able to use their local culture to both support the rise of Nazism and the Third Reich, as well as shield themselves from its power.
Imhoof's research was conducted almost entirely in the city of Göttingen, where he studied old government records, laws and newspapers found in the city's archives.
"It is a very labor-intensive, archival-intensive kind of research," he said.
Imhoof said that the research can be applied beyond the city of Göttingen in the years between WWI and WWII.
He said, "The things I discovered there I think you would see happening in lots of other German towns."
"Studying that larger process of gradual change and revolutionary political change is, I think, a good way to understand how Germans actually lived through these changes," he continued.
The "bottom-up method" he used in his research may also be helpful when studying other important moments in the history of Germany and other parts of the world.
"Germany is sort of filled with these big dramatic moments of change and all those are pretty dramatic historical changes, but I think what my research says is that we can understand those dramatic political shifts by looking around that time period," Imhoof said.
He said, "This encourages historians to consider even big powerful political movements often have sort of bottom up pressure that help to create them."
"Becoming a Nazi Town" began as Imhoof's dissertation research back in the late 1990s and remained a work in progress for about 15 years.
"I do feel that because I was able to keep working on it and develop it at a little bit slower pace, it was ultimately a stronger book," he said.
Imhoof credits the environment at Susquehanna for allowing him to move at a more relaxed rhythm, a luxury he would not be afforded at many larger universities.
"I wish there was more emphasis on this campus on scholarship, because I think it's what is going to improve our reputation," Imhoof said.
He continued, "However, I feel that by not demanding that scholarship is the only identity that I have, it allowed me to sort of build the book more slowly."
Imhoof said, "At other schools [with requirements and deadlines for scholarship] I think that other aspects of my work -- my teaching, my service -- would have suffered."
Imhoof said the favorite part of his book are the acknowledgments.
"For me, the acknowledgements are just utterly essential to the book because there's no way this book could have come to fruition without the assistance of some really important people," he said.
"You finally get to celebrate all the people who helped drag you, or kicked you, or motivated you to the point of getting the thing done," Imhoof said.
He continued, "So in particular I was able to thank some other faculty members: the guys that are in [my band] Faculty Lounge with me."
He continued: "In an academic book to get to thank a rock band, that alone is just immensely satisfying. They are the most personalized part of an academic book, it was sort of a bizarre thing to get to do that for myself at last."
Another important contributor to the book was Associate Professor of Art Mark Fertig, who designed the cover art.
Imhoof said, "I always knew I wanted Mark to do the cover and he more than impressed me."
The publication of his first book is still somewhat surreal to Imhoof.
Imhoof said: "It's very rewarding and very strange, because there's still this part of me that feels like a grad student," he said.

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