Item description for Sensationalizing the Jewish Question: Anti-semitic Trials and the Press in the Early German Empire (Studies in Central European Histories, V. 39) by Barnet P. Hartston...
Historians have generally assumed that the French Dreyfus Affair had no counterpart in turn-of-the-century Germany. However, while no single anti-Semitic trial in Germany had the social and political impact of the Dreyfus Affair, a series of sensational court cases did have a significant influence on the growth and development of anti-Semitism in Imperial Germany. These trials, which included prominent libel cases and several ritual murder accusations, frequently spurred debates in the German press about the nature of Judaism and the role and influence of Jews in German society. This book examines the nature of these anti-Semitic affairs, assesses their role in German politics, and evaluates their effect on the overall development of German anti-Semitism.
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Primary Research at its Best Feb 14, 2010
This is a very important and very well executed study, which I think deserves more attention than it has perhaps received even in historical circles. Throughout this meticulous examination of a wide array of often spectacular court cases, Hartston demonstrates a superb command of the historical realities of the first decades of the Second German Empire. What is perhaps even more important, however, is the author's judiciousness, his fine balance of judgment. Unlike far too many of his colleagues, Hartston never gives in to the urge to sermonize, but describes the events he is dealing with in a language that is always cool and analytical, without for that reason becoming dry or inelegant. He is, for instance, clearly superior to Helmut Walser Smith in that respect, even though Smith too is a fine historian, who also paid his compliments to Hartston's work in a review for "Central European History," and whose "The Butcher's Tale" deals with an incident that is also covered in the "Sensationalizing the Jewish Question." This objectivity is especially important in the present case, as Hartston is often the first scholar to deal extensively with some of the trials he covers, which means that later research will have to rely on him alone, a practice that otherwise has the potential of reproducing and aggravating errors or misperceptions. But of that there is scant danger in the present instance.
The history of German anti-Semitism during the period between the foundation of the Second Empire in 1871 and the coming of the Third Reich is a surprisingly under-researched field. There are a number of general surveys, but these are often sorely inadequate because of their superficiality, and far too often scholars rest content with repeating what has already been covered in other books (Peter Pulzer's mediocre "The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria" is a case in point). Hartston's study, however, is quite novel; it is exactly the type of primary research the field is in dire need of. Hartston doesn't summarize what other scholars have already said; it will be other scholars who summarize what *he* has said.
It is unfortunate that this book is so prohibitively expensive, for it would deserve to reach a much wider audience than that which has access to a research library. Hartston has not been compelled to sacrifice stylistic elegance on the altar of academic meticulousness; his prose is eminently readable, and if one is interested in the topic, it is difficult to put the book down. Perhaps the narrative gets a little repetitive when it deals with a string of different blood libel cases; Walser Smith focused only on a single one, which is no doubt why that book was printed in a much larger edition. But this is a very minor complaint; and by looking at several cases after another, Hartston can easily point to the themes that were common to all of them.
Hartston is still, I believe, at the beginning of his academic career, and I for one am eagerly anticipating his next work. If he pursues his studies in the history of anti-Semitism in the Kaiserreich further, he seems destined to become one of the leading authorities in the field before long. Indeed, I would say that he should be counted among them already now.