Michael Geyer

Samuel N. Harper Professor Emeritus of German and European History and the College
Dr phil Albert Ludwigs Universität Freiburg

The University of Chicago
Department of History
1126 E. 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-7550 – Fax

Michael Geyer has retired and no longer directs BA theses or accepts new graduate students.

Field Specialties

Modern German and European history; history and theory of human rights; international & transnational history; globalization; war & genocide.


Twentieth-century German and European history is my main field of research and teaching. I have written on a wide range of topics such as the German military, resistance against the Third Reich, the politics of memory, the culture of death and sacrifice, intellectuals in contemporary Germany, religion and belief, and more. By way of comparison, I have lately ventured into Japanese, American, and Soviet history. Topics I would like to write on in the future include love and friendship and the variety of intimate communities of all kinds or the way the German and European countryside radically changed in the course of the twentieth century. But for the moment, I am engaged in figuring out how to work with transnational histories of Europe and what it takes to do contemporary history in a global age.

My interest in the history and theory of human rights emerges from my concern with war, peace, and the constitution of civil society. I co-founded and currently serve as director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago, an innovative humanities- and social-science-based program of research and education on human rights. My scholarly work focuses on the question why, at certain times, human rights matter, while at others they do not. The question of rights—how people know that they have them and, equally important, that strangers have them too—informs my teaching on the matter.

War, civil war, and genocide in modern German and European history have been the focus of my research interests throughout my academic career. I am working on a study of German defeat and its aftermath in World War I and World War II. This project explores the social experience and catastrophic imagination of extreme violence during the late phases of both world wars and in their aftermath.

I have also been involved in developing global history as a distinct field of research and teaching. My colleague Charles Bright (University of Michigan) and I have taught courses on the twentieth-century world long before global history became fashionable. We have jointly written several essays that develop the outlines of a history and theory of globalization and globality and we are completing a book-length study, currently titled The Global Condition in the Long Twentieth Century.

Teaching is a consuming part of my academic work. My undergraduate teaching covers modern German and European history, the history and theory of human rights, with occasional forays into global history. I prefer to work with graduate students who, after a period of disciplined training, strike out on their own and present their projects and findings to a diverse community of peers. They work on transnational Evangelicals and Pentecostals in Wilhelmine Germany, on Soviet human rights politics in the Cold War, on squatters and the revolution of domesticity in the 1970s, on the theology and the politics of reproduction in the Catholic Church, on migrant women, working class milieus in the 1930s, antifascist humanism, C.J. Jung, post–World War II pacifism, the question of extraterritoriality and international law—to mention just a few current projects. In the Modern Europe Workshop, German historians work with students of other parts of Europe with similarly diverse interests and agendas. Human-rights scholars meet in the Human Rights Workshop that is more topical.

Selected Publications

Coedited with Helmut Lethen and Lutz Musner. Zeitalter der Gewalt: Zur Geopolitik und Psychopolitik des Ersten Weltkriegs. Frankfurt and New York: Campus Verlag, 2015.

Coedited with Sheila Fitzpatrick. Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Coedited with Lucian Hölsche. Die Gegenwart Gottes in der modernen Gesellschaft: Transzendenz und religiöse Vergemeinschaftung in Deutschland. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2006.

Coedited with Hartmut Lehmann. Religion und Nation–Nation und Religion: Beiträge zu einer unbewältigten Geschichte. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2004.

Editor. War and Terror in Contemporary and Historical Perspective. Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins University, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, 2003.

With Konrad Jarausch. A Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

"How the Germans Learned to Wage War: On the Question of Killing in the First and Second World Wars." In Between Mass Death and Individual Loss: The Place of the Dead in Twentieth-Century Germany, edited by Paul Betts, Alan Confino, and Dirk Schuman, 25–50. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2008.

"The Subject(s) of Europe." In Conflicted Memories: Europeanizing Contemporary Histories. edited by Konrad H. Jarausch and Thomas Lindenberger, 254–80. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007.

"Donde moran los alemanes: transnacionalismo en la teoria y la práctica." Istor: Rivista de Historia Internacional 8, no. 30 (2007): 99–113.

With Charles Bright. "Regimes of World Order: Global Integration and the Production of Difference in Twentieth Century World History." In Interactions: Transregional Perspectives on World History, edited by Jerry H. Bentley, Renate Bridenthal, and Anand A Yang, 202–238. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005.

"Virtue in Despair: A Family History from the Days of the Kindertransport." History & Memory 17 no. 1–2 (2005): 323–65.

"Deutschland und Japan im Zeitalter der Globalisierung: Überlegungen zu einer komparativen Geschichte jenseits des Modernisierungs-Paradigmas." In Das Kaiserreich transnational: Deutschland in der Welt 1871–1914, edited by Sebastian Conrad and Jürgen Osterhammel, 68–86. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004. 

"Violence et expérience de la violence au XXe siècle—La Première Guerre mondiale." In 1914–945: L'ère de guerre: violence, mobilisations, dueils, edited by Anne Duménil, Nicolas Beaupré, and Christian Ingrao, 37–71. Paris: Agnès Viénot Editions, 2004.

With Charles Bright. "Where in the World is America? The History of the United States in the Global Age." In Rethinking American History in a Global Age, edited by Thomas Bender, 63–99. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002.

"Insurrectionary Warfare: The German Debate about a Levée en Masse in October 1918." Journal of Modern History 73 (September 2001): 459–527.

"The Long Good-bye: German Culture Wars in the Nineties." In The Power of Intellectuals in Contemporary Germany, edited by Michael Geyer, 355–80. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

"America in Germany: Power and the Pursuit of Americanization." In The German-American Encounter: Conflict and Cooperation between Two Cultures, 1800–2000, edited by Frank Trommler and Elliot Shore, 121–44. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2001.

"Cold War Angst: The Case of West-German Opposition to Rearmament and Nuclear Weapons." In Miracle Years, edited by Hanna Schissler, 376–408. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

"Germany, or, the Twentieth Century as History." South Atlantic Quarterly 96, no. 4 (1997): 663–702.

"Civitella in Val di Chiana, 29 giugno 1944. Ricostruzione di un 'intervento' tedesco.” In La memoria del nazismo nell'Europa di oggi, edited by Leonardo Paggi, 3–48. Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice Scandici, 1997.

With Charles Bright. "World History in a Global Age." American Historical Review 100 (October 1995): 1034–1060.

"German Strategy in the Age of Machine Warfare, 1914-1945." In Makers of Modern Strategy, 2nd ed, edited by Peter Paret, 527–597. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.