Revisiting Prussia's Wars against Napoleon

Publisher’s Website

This book won  the  Hans Rosenberg Prize for the best book in Central European History in 2016 by the Central European History Society.


In 2013 Germany celebrated the bicentennial of the so-called “Wars of Liberation” in 1813–15. These wars were the culmination of the Prussian struggle against Napoleon that had started in 1806, marked by the devastating defeat of the Prussian-Saxon army at Jena and Auerstedt, and ended 1815 with the final victory over Napoleon at Waterloo by the coalition armies. The period of the Anti-Napoleonic Wars occupied a key position in both German national historiography and memory. While these conflicts have been analyzed in thousands of books and articles, most of that scholarship has focused on military campaigns and alliances, emerging sovereign states and reform movements, and early articulations of modern nationalism. This book argues that we cannot achieve a comprehensive understanding of these wars and their importance in collective memory, without recognizing how the interaction of politics, culture and gender influenced these historical events and continued to shape later recollections of them. The focus of the study is therefore on the highly contested discourses and symbolic practices by which individuals and groups interpreted theses wars and made political claims in the broadest sense, starting in the period itself and ending with the centenary in 1913.

“As one of the leading historians of gender and war, Karen Hagemann writes a masterful account of the Germanic wars against Napoleon in the era 1806–1815 and their place in subsequent collective memories. Weaving archival evidence on daily life experiences with interpretive sophistication of cultural artifacts, she assesses the place of the Napoleonic wars in the construction of Prussian-German nationalism and gendered citizenship. [This book] … will enthrall all readers interested in the play of history and memory in one of Europe’s most consequential nation-states.”
Jean H. Quataert, Binghamton University

“Karen Hagemann has written a pathbreaking book that reveals, in lusciously rich detail, how the Germans of the ‘long nineteenth century’ understood and interpreted Prussia’s wars against Napoleon. Applying methods drawn from military history, memory studies, gender studies, art history, and much else, this is interdisciplinary scholarship at its best.”
David A. Bell, Princeton University

“‘War is the mere continuation of politics …’, Clausewitz asserted, distilling the experience of the Napoleonic Wars. He passed over the fact that in Prussia, as in all of the German lands, politics was a battlefield of contending interests, norms, and values as well as of competing political projects. This latter conflict over competing war cultures and war is the subject of the present book. The divisiveness of war cultures arose amid a novel configuration of war, in which the full force of public opinion underwrote the efforts to mobilize a people only to be confronted with fatal choices. Was the war against Napoleon to be a ‘War of Liberty’ or a ‘War of Liberation’? Karen Hagemann concludes that it was waged by contemporaries for the liberty of the German nation, but won by historians and novelists for Prussia’s liberation. Of course, it was a mere paper victory, but the price was paid in blood.”
Michael Geyer, University of Chicago



List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations                                                                                                              Acknowledgments                                                                                                                 

Prelude:  War, Culture and Memory

Introduction:  Revisiting the Wars against Napoleon 

The Anti-Napoleonic Wars in Historiography and Memory
Gendered Experiences, Perceptions and Memories of War

Part One:   A History of Defeat, Crisis and Victory

1.     The Defeat of 1806 and Its Aftermath
2.      Reform and Revenge: Political Responses
3.      Liberation and Restoration: The Wars of 1813–15 and
Their  Legacy

Part Two:    Discourses on the Nation, War and Gender

4.      Mobilizing Public Opinion: Propaganda, Media and War
5.      Defining the Nation: Belonging and Exclusion
6.      Debating War: The Military, Warfare, and Masculinity
7.      Regulating Participation: Patriotism, Citizenship and

Part Three:   Collective Practices of De/Mobilization and Commemoration

8.        Military Service: Mobilizing Militiamen and Volunteers
9.        War Charity: Patriotic Women’s Associations
10.     De/Mobilizing Society: Patriotic-National Celebrations
and Rituals
11.     Honoring and Commemorating Heroes: The Iron Cross
and the Cult of Death for the Fatherland

Part Four:  Literary Market, History and War Memories

12.     Politics, Market and Media: The Development of a
Culture-Consuming National Public
13.     Inventing History: Nostalgia, Historiography and Memory
14.     Remembering the Past: The Napoleonic Wars in
Autobiographies and War Memoirs

Part Five:  Novels, Memory and Politics

15.     Recreating the Past: The Time of the Anti-Napoleonic
Wars in Novels
16.     Hopefulness and Disappointment: Novels of the
Restoration Era and the Vormärz
17.     Critique, Desire and Glory: Novels of the Nachmärz and
the German Empire

Epilouge:  Historicizing War and Memory, 2013–1813–1913

Experience, Politics, Media and Memory Construction
Changing National Memories
Forgetting and Remembering


For the Review in the American Historical Review click here




James G. Kenan Distinguished Professor; Adjunct Professor of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense