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Research at St Andrews

Riccardo Bavaj


Riccardo Bavaj
Postal address:
School of History
Modern History
St Katharine's Lodge, The Scores
St Andrews
United Kingdom


Web address:

Direct phone: +44 (0)1334 463307

Research overview

My research is concerned with 20th-century German, Western European and American history and encompasses various historiographical fields and trends: Weimar Republic, Third Reich, "1968", political extremism, liberalism, modernity, "the West", generation and memory studies, intellectual history, conceptual history, and spatial history.

My first book, published with Oldenbourg in 2003, investigates the intricate relationship between Nazism and modernity. It analyzes the intense and wide-ranging debate about the modernizing effects which Nazism exerted on German society. It argues that the Third Reich did not so much provide a driving force behind the modernization of twentieth-century Germany as create an ‘alternative modernity’ – a racist, anti-pluralist, totalitarian modernity that revealed the inner ambiguity of the modern age. My second book (2005) is the abridged version of my doctoral dissertation and examines the multifaceted utopias that were imagined by Weimar’s extreme Left. It offers the counterpart to Kurt Sontheimer’s famous analysis of right-wing anti-democratic thought in the Weimar Republic. It argues that an anti-parliamentary strand of ‘life-ideology’ cut across the divide between left- and right-wing extremism, presenting a decisive challenge to a republic that was cast in terms of a ‘cold’, ‘inert’, ‘bureaucratic machine’ controlled by ‘bourgeois ideologies’.

More recently, I have been examining the political culture of West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. My current major research project, however, transcends the boundaries of German history. It investigates liberal scholars and their responses to student radicalism in West Germany and the United States, while also drawing comparisons to France, Italy and Britain. My project argues that student activism of the mid- and late-1960s helped to bring about the bifurcation of a ‘liberal consensus’ which had been culturally hegemonic in the U.S. from the 1940s onward and had been crystallizing in West Germany from the late 1950s on. What I refer to as ‘the liberal schism’ was at the heart of a far-reaching polarization of the political culture in both West Germany and the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. Despite striking differences between two distinct political cultures, liberal scholars of both countries reacted similarly to the challenge of student activism. This, my project argues, can largely be attributed to intellectual transfers. While academic émigrés brought memories of interwar Germany to the U.S., West German scholars were influenced by their experience of American political culture. The conduits of intellectual transfer were manifold: transatlantic key organizations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, American universities and summer schools like Henry Kissinger’s Harvard International Seminar, and European training workshops offered, for instance, by the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. My project seeks to make a central contribution to the scholarship on postwar liberalism and the political culture of the Cold War era, while at the same time shedding light on the multifarious repercussions of ‘1968’ and the contested issue of its Wirkungsgeschichte.

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