Changing Views of Twentieth-Century German History at A/AS and GCSE Level

Submitting Institution

Sheffield Hallam University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

This case study presents the impact of two book chapters, one book and an extended journal article written by Professor Matthew Stibbe on related aspects of gender relations, mobilisation for war, and wartime captivity in twentieth-century Germany. The Weimar and Nazi periods continue to be extremely popular subjects at all levels of the education system. Through sixth-form master classes, A/AS-level and GCSE day conferences, and a magazine article aimed at sixth-formers and their teachers, Stibbe has used his research findings and profile to influence the way that modern German history is understood by school students, taught by school teachers, and presented to school audiences by professional actors, examiners and textbook writers.

Underpinning research

Stibbe is an internationally recognised expert on twentieth-century German history. He was employed by Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in 2003 as a Lecturer, and has since been promoted to Senior Lecturer (2004), Reader (2007) and Professor (2010); all underpinning research was undertaken at SHU by Stibbe.

Since 2004 Stibbe has been engaged in a programme of original research on the treatment of POWs and civilian internees in twentieth-century conflicts. References 1-2 represent one strand of this, the relationship between gender, wartime captivity and peace-making or `cultural demobilisation' after war. Reference 1 exposes the uneven reintegration of former POWs into German society in the 1920s, and the expectation that women, as wives and mothers, should `heal' men's suffering. The previously little-known work of the Swedish Red Cross nurse and philanthropist Elsa Brändström, who founded convalescent homes for ex-prisoners and their families, is a key aspect of this story. Reference 2 examines both women's and men's experiences of civilian internment and brings to light its marked impact on their status as citizens and national subjects during and after the war. In particular, it reveals that men who had spent the war in captivity found it hard to regain their sense of masculine self-worth.

In addition, Stibbe undertook research to produce a broader thematic book (Reference 3) which reshapes conventional understandings of the failure of the Weimar Republic, particularly through focusing on the legacies of wartime violence. By beginning the study in 1914 rather than 1918, Stibbe gives a longer-term perspective highlighting the very deep and contested impact of the First World War on all areas of German life, especially on class, culture and gender relations. In particular, he draws attention to the difficulties faced by successive Weimar governments in incorporating all ex-soldiers and relatives of the dead and injured into official commemorations of the war, including over one million ex-POWs and their dependants. He also shows that the war became an even more divisive subject in late 1920s Germany than it had been in the earlier part of that decade, as financial constraints led state authorities to discriminate quite openly between different categories of war victim, and as veterans' groups failed to agree on a unified form of national remembrance.

Finally, Stibbe's 2012 peer-reviewed journal article, `In and Beyond the Racial State' (Reference 4), offers a critical discussion of recent work on gender and National Socialism. In particular it draws out new insights which a gendered approach sheds on established themes such as mobilisation for war and genocide, the links between home front and fighting front, and the formation of memory after 1945. It also engages with the construction of masculinities and femininities in the context of work and leisure, wartime travel and military service overseas, and post-war captivity and family reunions. Instances of `militarised comradeship' between men and women - a phenomenon almost wholly ignored in previous literature - are interrogated and their gendered meanings explored. The article concludes by calling for a new social history of experience in the Third Reich based on the study of personal forms of communication, such as diaries, letters and conversations with peers. These sources can be used to uncover previously hidden understandings and subjective, everyday re-workings of Nazified terms like `honour', `performance', `heroism' and `struggle'.

References to the research

1. `Elsa Brändström and the Reintegration of Returning Prisoners of War in Post-War Germany and Austria', in Ingrid Sharp and Matthew Stibbe (eds.), Aftermaths of War: Women's Movements and Female Activists, 1918-1923 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 333-53. The output can be supplied by the HEI on request.
(This peer-reviewed book chapter was praised in a review in H-Soz-u-Kult by Laurie Cohen for its `nuanced reading' of the campaigner Elsa Brändström and for its `admirable uncover[ing of] a speech in 1922 that reveals [her] view of gendered social cohesion' - see

2. `Gendered Experiences of Civilian Internment during the First World War: A Forgotten Dimension of Wartime Violence', in Ana Carden-Coyne (ed.), Gender and Conflict since 1914: Historical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 14- 28. The output can be supplied by the HEI on request.
(The readers' reports on this essay were so positive that the editor and publisher decided to reposition it from Chapter 8 to Chapter 1 and use it as the flagship sample contribution. See A review of the volume by Juliette Pattinson in Women's History Review in 2013 also notes that Stibbe's chapter `utilises documents in Austrian and German archives' to produce new `insights... about the emasculation of male prisoners and the destabilisation of captive women's roles' - see


3. Germany, 1914-1933: Politics, Society and Culture (Harlow: Longman/Pearson, 2010)
(This 258-page book has been lauded by Monica Black in European History Quarterly, 42/2 (2012), pp. 370-2, as a work which `shift[s] the focus' away from standard narratives of World War I and of Weimar's demise. Another reviewer, Thomas J. Saunders, writes in German Studies Review, 35/1 (2012), pp. 174-5, that: `the author's recognized expertise on this period and the relative expansiveness of treatment yield an impressive synthesis of key developments and historiographical reflection'). The output can be supplied by the HEI on request.

4. `In and Beyond the Racial State: Gender and National Socialism, 1933-1955', Politics, Religion & Ideology, 13/2 (June 2012), pp. 159-78, DOI: 10.1080/21567689.2012.675712
(One of the readers' reports for this refereed journal article noted: `This is a richly-textured historiographical review of the scholarship on gender issues in Nazi Germany. It is clearly written by someone who is well versed in the field').


Details of the impact

Through a variety of events listed below, groups of students, as well as teachers and actors involved in delivering theatre-based events for schools, have been provided with up-to-date knowledge and fresh perspectives on established themes in GCSE and A/AS-level history. This has challenged some of their preconceived ideas about Weimar and Nazi Germany. It has also given them insights into what historical research is today, how and why it produces new knowledge, and the processes by which that new knowledge is turned into new interpretations of the past. In other words, it has furthered their comprehension of history as an academic discipline as well as their understanding of `Germany' as a topic.

Since 2008 Stibbe has expanded his impact activities from local to regional to national reach, incorporating insights from his new research and publications. This upward trajectory of impact can be traced in the following list of beneficiaries.

1. A-level students at Barnsley Sixth Form College
The impact here built on contacts established by Stibbe over a six-year period (2004-2010) when he held annual sixth-form master classes at Sheffield Hallam University on women in Nazi Germany as part of the government's Aim Higher initiative. In March 2012 and February 2013 master classes with new content were delivered to c.35 A-level students from Barnsley Sixth Form College. They comprised a lecture and seminar on the theme of the legacy of World War I for Weimar Germany. The class involved use of primary sources from Stibbe's research on gender and the reintegration of former POWs (References 1-2), including the above-mentioned speech in 1922 by Elsa Brändström (see section 3), in order to provide new ways of thinking about the divided memory of the war in the 1920s and early 1930s. Interviewed by one of the education specialists at Sheffield Hallam University on 11 March 2013, the lead history teacher at Barnsley Sixth Form College stated that the master classes had given her `more confidence in teaching the subject' and had helped her and her students to see the link between original research into specific areas such as returning POWs and the development of new interpretations of Weimar Germany more generally (Source 1).

2. A-level teachers at the National History Teachers' Conference, Keele
A lecture and follow-up question-and-answer session on recent developments in historiography on Nazi Germany were delivered to two separate groups of A-level teachers (around 25 in each group) as part of a conference organised by Tristram Hunt MP in conjunction with Keele University in November 2012. They provided Stibbe with the opportunity to showcase new themes based on Reference 4, particularly with regard to gendered approaches to National Socialism. The lead organiser of the conference wrote to Stibbe afterwards thanking him for his contribution and adding: `Your sessions on the Nazis were well received with 84% of the delegates in the morning and 87% of the delegates in the afternoon stating that it was valuable or very valuable' (Source 2). One teacher commented in direct written feedback to Stibbe: `I appreciate the historiography you provided. You have re-engaged me with the subject'.

3. Sixth-form students and their teachers
Publication of Stibbe's article `The Legacy of the First World War for the Weimar Republic', in the sixth-form magazine New Perspective, 18/2 (December 2012), pp. 13-16. This piece draws on References 1 and 3 in order to demonstrate how the under-explored theme of returning POWs can be used to provide a more multi-dimensional understanding of the impact of the war, thereby encouraging students to move beyond a narrow focus on the supposed `injustices' of the Treaty of Versailles in their coursework and exam answers. According to an email from the magazine's editor: `Most purchasers are in the UK and are schools and colleges that teach AS- and A-Level'. It is especially suited to the sixth-form style of teaching (Source 3). There are purchasers from all continents, excluding South America. The journal is available in print and by electronic edition, online at').

4. A- and AS- level students from the North-West and Yorkshire regions
Using material from Reference 4, a lecture was delivered to around 180 A- and AS-level students at Manchester Central Hall in December 2012 on the theme: `Were women as well as men included in the Nazi `national community?'. The lecture drew on examples of `militarised comradeship' between the sexes as a way of challenging the idea that war in the Third Reich was necessarily imagined and experienced in fundamentally separate ways by men and women. This event was organised by Sovereign Education. Of the 90 students surveyed, 76% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: `this lecture has shown me that an understanding of gender history can help challenge existing interpretations of the past' (Source 6).

5. GCSE students, school teachers and examiners, and professional actors
In March 2013 Stibbe made a major contribution to Germany Live!, a national conference-come- theatre show in the Adelphi Theatre, London put on by Keynote Educational Ltd., one of the leading providers of training courses for teachers and conferences for students. This event was attended by 1,350 GCSE students and 125 teachers representing 43 schools from England including London, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, the West Midlands, Hereford, Torquay and Carlisle (Source 8). The event covered German history in the period 1918 to 1945. Prior to the show, Stibbe took part in ten hours of rehearsals, helping to advise actors, narrators and GCSE examiners on particular scenes as well as refining his own visual and written material (Source 4). On the day of the show, Stibbe had walk-on parts in Acts I, III and IV, delivering detailed explanations of the legacy of the First World War for Weimar Germany (References 1 and 3); mass organisations in the Third Reich (Reference 4); and the role of women in Nazi Germany (Reference 4). These spoken sessions were combined with information packs, visual material and imaginative scenes created by the actors. The show was captured on a DVD made courtesy of Keynote Educational Ltd. Of the 87 students surveyed, 69% agreed or strongly agreed that `the event has given me a greater understanding of the role of women in Nazi Germany', while 54% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: `This event has given me greater understanding of how ex-POWs were treated in post-war German society'. One student commented: `The role plays were very entertaining and I think the [information] pack will be useful for me' (Source 7). The chief narrator of the show, himself an experienced history education consultant, wrote in a testimonial afterwards that `Professor Stibbe's sessions... were well-judged, thorough and appropriate for the age group... Stibbe committed himself fully to the whole venture, discussing with and making suggestions for the contributions of the other participants in a collaborative way' (Source 5). He also continued: `At the same time as the "Germany Live" event was being prepared I was in the latter stages of writing an A Level textbook... [for a] leading history education publisher. Professor Stibbe's contributions to the development of "Germany Live" enabled me to improve the approach I was taking, particularly in the chapter on the Volksgemeinschaft. Professor Stibbe also made available to me the article "In and Beyond the Racial State" [Reference 4] which was particularly useful' (Source 5).

Sources to corroborate the impact

Corroborating contacts:

  1. The lead history teacher at Barnsley Sixth Form College
  2. The PGCE Director of Partnerships/History Course Leader, Keele University
  3. The editor of New Perspective magazine
  4. The productions coordinator at Keynote Educational Ltd., Wilmslow, Cheshire

Individuals who have already provided a statement:

  1. Testimonial from an experienced history education consultant who was chief narrator of the Germany Live! show regarding Stibbe's input into this event. The author of the testimonial is also a former director of the Schools History Project, Deputy-President elect of the Historical Association, GCSE chief examiner and a school textbook writer

Other sources

  1. Questionnaires filled out by 90 students at the Manchester Central Hall event
  2. Questionnaires completed by students at the Germany Live! event at the Adelphi Theatre, London
  3. List of the 43 schools who attended the Germany Live! show at the Adelphi Theatre, from London, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, the West Midlands, Hereford, Torquay and Carlisle

Items 5, 6 and 7 and 8 are in Stibbe's possession and are available on request from the University.