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Professor Jan Palmowski

Profile pictureProfessor of Modern History

Email: J dot Palmowski at warwick dot ac dot uk


Jan Palmowski is Professor of Modern History, with an interest in German political and cultural history since the nineteenth century. Raised in Germany, he studied at the University of York and completed his doctorate at the University of Oxford. He became a Lecturer in European Studies at King’s College London and was appointed Professor of Modern and Contemporary History there in 2009, before moving to the University of Warwick in 2013. In 2001 he won a major research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board for a project on ‘Constituting the German Nation: The Construction of National Identity through Theory and Practice, 1898-1998), and in 2007 he won a King’s College London Teaching Award. He served as Head of Arts and Humanities at King’s College London (2008-12), and Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Academic Vice President at the University of Warwick (2013-18). He is currently on secondment from Warwick as Secretary-General of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, though he continues to teach PhD students.

Research interests

  • The History of Every-day Life
  • The History of Germany since 1945, especially the GDR
  • The History of the German Empire, 1866-1918
  • German and European political history
  • The History of the European Union
  • The history and politics of German citizenship

My research focuses on how political power is exercised, expressed and refracted – in popular practice, political rhetoric, and symbolic action. My early research concentrated on political practices and local politics in Imperial Germany. My more recent work has largely concentrated on the history of the GDR, notably how the ideology of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) influenced popular practices. I have examined how these practices affected what individuals and communities thought of themselves, and how they defined their identities. From this perspective, my work has asked how East Germans, living in a centralist state defined by socialism, sustained a concept of belonging to the homeland, to the heimat. This attachment to the locality, my work argues, was a critical trait that East Germans retained in common with West Germans, and it became a basis on which unification in 1990 could succeed. I have also explored how political structures and ideas affect behavior and identities in relation constitutions, citizenship and the law, both in relation to Germany, and the European Union. I am currently working on new interdisciplinary perspectives on the history of East and West Germany since 1945.

Research supervision at Warwick

  • William I and Monarchichal Rule in Imperial Germany (AHRC funded, completed)
  • Negotiating Nationhood: Mediating German Identities, 1988-1995 (with Anne Fuchs)
  • Learning Democracy? The political transition in Thuringia, 1986-1994 (in the Department of History, with Corey Ross – University of Birmingham

Selected Publications

Books and Co-Edited Volumes

Die Erfindung der Sozialistischen Nation. Heimat und Politik im DDR-Alltag. Berlin: Chr. Links, 2016. German translation of Inventing a Socialist Nation.

At the Crossroads of Past and Present: Contemporary History in the Historical Discipline, Special Issue of Journal of Contemporary History, edited with Kristina Spohr-Readman, vol. 46, number 3, July (2011).

Inventing a Socialist Nation: Heimat and the Politics of Everyday Life in the GDR, 1945-90, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany), edited with Geoff Eley (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Urban Liberalism in Imperial Germany. Frankfurt am Main, 1866-1914, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Articles and Chapters

  • “Power and Community in the GDR: ‘Eigensinn’ and Private Transcripts”, Socialism and Every-day History, ed. Jan C. Behrends, Moscow: Rosspen Publishers, 2016, 66-89 (in Russian).
  • “Speaking Truth to Power: Contemporary History in the Twenty-First Century”, with Kristina Spohr-Readman, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 46 (2011): 485-505.
  • “The Europeanization of the Nation-State”, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 46 (2011): 631-57.
  • “Local activists and renegotiations of heimat in the GDR, 1949-90”, Playing the Rules - or Normalisation of Rule? Towards a critique of the state-society dichotomy in the GDR, 1961-1979, Eds. Mary Fulbrook and Alf Lüdtke, (New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2008:151-77.
  • “Introduction: Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany”, with Geoff Eley, Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany Eds. Geoff Eley and Jan Palmowski, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008, 3-23.
  • “Citizenship, Identity and Community in the GDR”, Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany, Eds. Geoff Eley and Jan Palmowski, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008, pp. 73-94.
  • “Staatssicherheit und soziale Praxis”, Staatssicherheit und Gesellschaft. Studien zum Herrschaftsalltag der DDR, Ed. Jens Gieseke, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck, 2007), 253-72.
  • “Regional Identities and the limits of Democratic Centralism in the GDR”. Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 41 (2006): 503-526.

Professional Association and Memberships

  • German History Society
  • Royal Historical Society
  • DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Alumnus
  • Alexander von Humboldt Fellow and Feodor Lynen Mentor
  • Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes Alumnus
  • Studienstiftung des Berliner Abgeordnetenhauses, Alumnus
  • BA in History and Economics, University of York (1991)
  • DPhil in Modern HIstory, Oxford University (1995)