Press Releases: Historiography Edition

Bolibrush – Blackbourn, Eley, The Peculiarities of German History

The Impact of David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley’s The Peculiarities of German History

Book cover of Peculiarities of German History
Book cover of Peculiarities of German History

Historiography Connections

Marxist History, Social History, Narrative

Geographic Coverage


Citation for First Edition/Printing

Blackbourn, David, and Geoff Eley. The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Oxford (U.A.): Oxford Univ. PR, 1984. 

Press Release

Historians David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley co-wrote The Peculiarities of German History in 1984. David Blackbourn is a Cornelius Vanderbilt distinguished chair of history who has taught various courses regarding German history, European history, and western civilization [1]. Blackbourn is the author of six books and has written on a wide range of topics regarding German history [1]. He specializes in modern German and European history, social, political and cultural history, the history of religion, and transnational history [1]. Eley is a distinguished university professor of contemporary history and German history at the University of Michigan [2]. He is a published author and focuses his field of study in German history, British history, fascism, and cultural studies [2].


Throughout the book, Blackbourn and Eley challenge the idea that German history is different from the rest of Western Europe. This is known as Sonderweg, or special path. In The German Empire by Hans Ulrich-Wehler became a staple in the Sonderweg theory, and Blackbourn and Eley directly critique these ideas. Historians often believed this not only due to the rise of the Nazi party but also of their distinct traits that clearly set them apart from countries like Britain or France. German historians have linked the rise of the Nazi party and these traits to the failure of a bourgeois revolution in German history. The Sonderweg theory argues that the rise of this party in 1933 and what they do is a culmination of a peculiar path of German history, which doesn’t follow the path other European states. Blackbourn and Eley argue against this and argue that Germany did have a silent bourgeois revolution. They argue that European history is broad and every country had their own unique peculiarities so we shouldn’t single out Germany.  They also argue that it is incorrect to think about these issues as a special path in German history just because it doesn’t follow the path to liberal democracy. They critique historians, like Ralf Dahrendorf, that have focused too much on the failures of the country when trying to explain why German history doesn’t follow this typical model. They also argue that there was a bourgeois revolution but it doesn’t match up to what France or Britain goes through during this time. They begin to question what historians mean when they talk about the bourgeoise revolution and argue that we should reconsider the definition of what that is. Blackbourn and Eley state that bourgeois revolutions are not confined to the criteria of Marx and Weber but results show the German revolution follow more broad patterns of institutional, legal, and intellectual changes rather than a battle between the bourgeois and aristocracy.


Blackbourn and Eley approach German history through the lens of Marxist history and social history. Social history is used to show the history of bourgeois revolutions throughout Western Europe. Marxist history is used to look at how one of the main changes of the silent revolution was the emergence and consolidation of the capitalist system “based on the sanctity and disposability of private property”[3]. The authors also go beyond the ideas of Marx and Weber to define the bourgeois revolution.


Blackbourn and Eley state that critics against the original essays argued that the ideas they were studying did not exist, that they did exist but were perfectly understandable, that they used to exist but had long been abandoned, or that they were the ideas of political scientists and not historians [4]. 

Impact on Historiography

Prior to the writing of this book, there was a tendency of historians to follow this idea of Sonderweg, or a special path, in German history. The Peculiarities of German History challenges this dominant theory and changed how historians view German history. This book led to the realization of the silent revolution among historians. It also changed how historians view German history in terms of them having a distinct history and characteristics that separate them from Western Europe.

[1] Vanderbilt University, Department of German, Russian, and East European Studies, David Blackbourn, accessed November 16, 2022,

[2] University of Michigan, Geoff Eley, accessed November 16, 2022.

[3] Blackbourn, David, and Geoff Eley. The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Oxford (U.A.): Oxford Univ. PR, 1984), page 176. 

[4] Ibid, 11.

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