The Project


After the completion of my dissertation, I was determined to write a monograph on German agrarianism, but this has proven to be a long and circuitous task. While the extensive press archives of the leading agrarian organization - the Bund der Landwirte - survived destruction during the Nazi period and the Second World War, most of the papers concerning the internal working of the organization were destroyed, as were the personal papers of Bund leaders and functionaries.

In 1992, I was in the Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv Stade working on an article on agrarianism when Archivdirektor Dr. Schulze told me that he had just received the initial deposit of papers concerning the Hahn family from Diederich Hahn's son, Christian-Diederich Hahn-Godeffroy. This discovery set off a long investigation that continues to this day. A well-received article on Hahn led me to consider a full-scale life-and-times, despite the fact that the biographic turn had not yet turned.

Diederich Hahn, as all who knew him would attest, possessed enormous curiosity. He kept extensive notebooks of his observations while campaigning and maintained a constant correspondence with family members that is rich with political detail. It took his son nearly 10 years to fully organize his papers and deliver them to the Staatsartchiv, to which I made repeated trips to view the latest releases. A succession of three Archivdirektoren have assisted me in this project, to whom I am enormously grateful.

As I waited for each new tranche of the Hahn Nachlaß, I pursued every other avenue of approach to the subject, including a close reading of twenty-five years of the Stader Tageblatt, the Nordhannoversche Landeszeitung, the Neuhaus-Ostener Zeitung and other newspapers held at the Institut für Zeitungsforschung in Dortmund. While reading these newspapers, I noticed that they published village polling place results for each election, whose accuracy I have confirmed from the limited telegrams and official reports still extent in the Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv in Hanover. I assembled these results and began to analyze them statistically to learn what they could tell me about Hahn's electoral Tätigkeit. The same papers that carried campaign reports also contained lengthy petitions signed by Hahn's supporters (and contradicting petitions signed by supporters of his opponents) that list the signers place of residence and occupation. This data became the source of one conference paper, as data concerning campaign rallies became the source of another.

Along the way, I learned a great deal about historical GIS and spatial representation of political and economic data. As I was at a stalemate in my Hahn research, I created a GIS of Hahn's constituency as well as the entire province of Hanover. The marvellous thing about historical GIS is that it allows scholars to represent data (electoral, census, etc.) spatially, exploring old assumptions and opening new areas for historical research. I was particularly interested in the perspective that I could learn about Hahn's career by studying the neighboring area of East Friesland, the other area in Hanover where the Bund der Landwirte was particularly successful.

In 2005, I was asked to present a paper on the anti-Semitic continuities in the German agrarian movement to the Association for Jewish Studies. This enabled me to confront the final sticking point in my research: Diederich Hahn's role in advancing anti-Semitism in the north German countryside. In the course of my research, I have developed a different understanding of this role that conflicted with that I had presented in the article which began this whole project. While Hahn was a self-described anti-Semite, his language and actions were far different from that exhibited by völkisch politicians in the 1920s and 1930s. Completing an accurate life-and-times, therefore, required a study of the developments within north German anti-Semitism (ideologically, linguistically, electorally) after his Hahn's death in February 1918. The result is a book manuscript Peasants and Jews: Anti-Semitism and Rural Politics in Northwest Germany, 1893-1933  that I am preparing for publication.

When I began this project, I had never imagined that it would consume so much of my professional career, but it has been a worthwhile endeavor and I have learned much more about Wilhelmine and Weimar-era politics as practiced in the villages and parishes of northwest Germany than I had ever thought possible.