Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - European history of the 20th century

Chair for 20th Century European History



Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Department of History
Unter den Linden 6 | 10099 Berlin


E-Mail:  thomas.mergel (at)





The unit for 20th century European History dedicates its research and teaching efforts to a highly changeable and extraordinarily dynamic epoch of recent European history. An era marked by more contradictions than any other in history, the 20th century bore witness to both World Wars and the Cold War as well as the pacification of Europe and the unification of its societies, circumstances of extreme poverty and prosperity of unprecedented proportions. Fundamental transitions and periods of
accelerated change have not only had catastrophic consequences for the first half of the twentieth century, they have also impacted – although far less violently – the path of European history since the 1950s.

Drawing from these antecedents unit faculty members will explore what is so unique about the 20th century and which shared experiences – not limited to Western Europe – constitute common European History. However, to determine what is intrinsically European one must repeatedly direct their attention to non-Europe; only through the lens of comparison will the contours of Europe become clear.

Research topics of the unit are tailored around this understanding of European history. A significant portion of our efforts cover historico-cultural, communication-theoretical political history, with an emphasis on tensions between dictatorship and democracy. Further research efforts explore the social dimension of change, from multifaceted migration movements and the history of consumption to urban history. These efforts always work from the premise that perceptions and experiences shape
reality and the structural dimension of history.

Twentieth century European societies lend themselves particularly well to their designation as media societies. Electronic media and new forms of communication now affect our lives to a degree that would have been absolutely inconceivable in 1900. At the same time, new and different forms of knowledge and science have gained, alongside the popularization of science, tremendous influence in the 20th century, and it was in this area that the most dramatic changes vis-à-vis the 19th century occured. On account of this the unit devotes special attention to the history of media and knowledge of Europe in the 20th century.