Undergraduate Stephanie Truskowski Seeks to Expand Understanding of German Unification

Published: June 14, 2017

Stephanie Truskowski is a third year history major with a focus in intellectual history with a minor in German. She initially chose to study German because of her interest in the history of the country and the culture. Her interest primarily lies in the history of ideologies because, as she states, “the ideologies that developed historically continue to influence how we perceive and interact with the world now.” Particularly, Stephanie has been fascinated with the interactions of myth, ideology, and history in Prussia. In her idependent research project in Winter 2017, Stephanie wrote a paper, “Prussian Myth Building and the Prusso-Austrian Rivalry in the Creation of a German National Identity between 1806 and 1871,” that she also presented during the UCLA Undergraduate Research Week (May 22-26, 2017).

Stephanie argues that the historiography of German unification in 1871 has focused on the role of manipulations by the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck and Prussian military victories over Denmark, Austria, and France (1864-1871) in bringing divided Germany together under the Prussian rule. According to Stephanie, the historiography has neglected an earlier ideological struggle between Austria and Prussia, in which both states attempted to define and re-create what they both perceived as the essence of German identity. Her research fills this gap by focusing on German ideological unification. She demonstrates that Prussia was able to re-define the essence of German identity, Germanism, as an extension of the older concept, Prussianism. By analyzing political proclamations, speeches, and literary texts, she argues that the leaders of Prussia laid the groundwork for unification under the Hohenzollern monarchy, equating German culture with Prussian culture and excluding Austria from German affairs. Before the unification in 1871, Germany consisted of several states at odds with each other, unwilling to transcend individual power struggles for a greater cause, and unable to defend themselves against the French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Paradoxically, this weakness sparked a drive to unify. The rise of nationalism coupled with the German Romanticism led to a search for the essence of German identity and culture in shared blood and language, while solidifying the belief that the imperial crown belonged to the monarch whose kingdom was the most German.