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The commentary also applies to the historical sections of German, English, Romance and Slavic studies and other language and literature programmes. It further applies to theology, art history, music, law, education, psychology, politics, sociology, media

Course: History
Group of courses: Humanities



Course objectives:

The place of “history” within the society and, thereby, also the structure and function of university education in this discipline have changed considerably in the last years. For, the social models of order in the globalized world are engaged in rapid change. The field of history, born in the nineteenth century with its national-state character, therefore stands before new tasks of explanation and interpretation of the genesis and development of structures and processes in the mode of the “long term”. Up to the present, the study of “history” was oriented above all to the needs of the various teaching professions, encompassed all epochs with a focus on “German” history, and qualified for instruction in an independent school department. For, a knowledge of the historical canon, with its ruling dynasties and the events marking them, belonged to the self-understanding of the educated classes and reproduced itself through the multiplying function of trained experts. But more and more, the traditional boundaries of the discipline are dissolving and it begins to develop a dynamism and pluralism: In instruction in the schools, the historical aspect increasingly is integrated into a comprehensive cultural and/or social scientific curriculum with varying accents. The male and female graduates of the new courses of study are also sought after in other vocational fields that deal with historical phenomena and with the processing and mediation of historical knowledge in the public sphere, as, for example, in the areas of media and museums. Graduates with degrees with historical components also increasingly are employed on cultural tours. The modulization of college education corresponds to these requirements. Other departments in cultural studies (and increasingly also in the natural sciences) also themselves offer historically-oriented sub-modules.

Teaching Goals/Study Goals

Gender is a central, multi-relational differential category, and historical gender research is, for this reason, especially suitable for meeting the multicultural and multi-religious challenges of the future. By becoming acquainted with gender models from the past, the students learn to know the origins and development of exemplary concepts of masculinities and femininities of the present. In this, no linear process of development can be demonstrated, but rather a concurrence of manifold continuities, stages, and ruptures. Through the critical analysis of sources of many kinds, the students acquire the ability independently to gain knowledge about the social definitions and role models of masculinity and femininity, to examine and classify these with the aid of specialist literature, and to orient themselves within the (controversial) variety of interpretations and assigned meanings with their own well-founded judgments. On this basis, the students think through the possibilities for alterities of the gender orders with which they are confronted, and receive impulses for their own action and for social projects that are suitable for the present and future shaping of masculinities and femininities.


Teaching content/subject-specific gender studies content:

On the Origin of Gender Worlds in the History of the Modern Period

Traditionally, the field of history concerned itself with the deed of “great” men on the public political stage. In contrast, historic gender research in the last forty years actually has made the historicity of feminine existence visible for the first time, an existence that before this was understood biologistically (and thus unhistorically) as directed statically toward reproduction. The validity of supposedly gender-neutral terms, collective forms, and the central schemes of order in the field, as well as of epochal concepts, was placed in question and reconsidered.

Instead of the tripartite division of Antiquity - Middle Ages - Modern Age, a division into pre-Modern and Modern ages appears to determine the gender relationship more clearly: The gender order becoming problematic at the time is characterized by a dichotomous assignment of the sexes to certain spheres, tasks, and roles with a genuine and symbolic duality: While the man realizes himself in the realms of public affairs, culture, the working world, and politics, the areas of private life, nature, and reproduction are seen to be fixed for a gender that realizes itself within the family through unpaid labor in the interior space of the house.

This two-part division central for the perception of the gender order in the past originated in connection with “Project Modernity”. Around 1500, a process of change became dynamic: This change resulted from the transformation of the pre-modern corporative system through urbanization and industrialization, as well as through the development of a bourgeois class as bearer of the national state that possessed a new order of values, which in turn was a product of the major revolutions. There are, of course, contentious positions in regard to the beginning of this awakening, positions that fluctuate between the Later Middle Ages and the eighteenth/nineteenth century. The significance and effect of this change so fundamental for gender relationships also is assessed in different ways. Thus, historical gender research showed long-term female representation in the areas supposedly dominated above all by men: education and training; the professions and work; war, the army, conflict, and violence; writing, authorship, and source production; networks, associations, and social groups, and devoted itself to the question of the participation of women in the classic historical events structurally determinative for the self-understanding of the historical sciences. At the same time, it disputed the private nature of the household and child-rearing. Thereby, it demonstrated the limitations of the dualistic interpretations of masculine and feminine action in history. The change in perspective to an orientation on cultural studies has sharpened consciousness for the fact that not only femininity, but also masculinity, does not represent a primarily biological (essential) phenomenon; rather, both gender models are historically variable constructions. Nevertheless, or precisely for this reason, study will have to grapple with the features and genesis of the modern gender order.

Goals of the Method: Critical Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Gender in History

The widespread images and stereotypes in regard to masculine and feminine life in the past originated in different ways: through back-projections from the nineteenth century, a century that clearly stamps historical thinking to the present. But, one-sided continuities also are extracted as a strategy of legitimation, in the sense of a founding myth that maintains tradition and lends authority or, conversely, in the sense of a defense mechanism used for the purpose of demarcation over against forms of living and phenomena that (supposedly) have been overcome. Statements about history, thus, are interest-led interpretations using the medium of judgmental linguistic structures. Above and beyond this, what has found general acceptance is the insight that gender is not only part of a structure that is normatively determined and socially assigned, but also is determined in a dynamically individual way specific to a certain group through “agency”, that is, through one’s own action: the “doing gender” concept.

The formation of an obligatory canon and a monocausal classification of concrete content and elements of knowledge about gender in the field of history is, to a great extent, rejected within historical gender research, and the pluralism and controversialism of research results and gender concepts is insisted upon. At the focus of the concern with “gender” in the past stands the training of competencies in the use of method. These are directed toward the capability of demythologizing supposedly natural phenomena and interest-led assignments of meaning, but above all toward the deconstruction of such historical images as well as toward a critically discriminating reconstruction of past life worlds and the comparative treatment of controversial perspectives and interpretations.

Surveys are available that enable work with examples of masculinity and femininity within history. Such surveys present research results and analyses from all historical epochs along with events and phenomena, treat the typical images of men and women as matters for discussion, describe their life worlds, realms of action and practices, identify the characteristics of relationship patterns and emotional worlds, present role models and outlines as well as symbolic representations of gender, and unfold traditional imaginings and visions narratively and visually.

Practice-Oriented Content of Studies

In the framework of the practical and professional orientation within the bachelor’s and master’s programs, the students acquire experience in the various areas of the mediation of history. Places for learning outside the university are, along with the schools, historical museums, archives, libraries, institutions of adult education such as the VHS and other academies, associations, and, in addition, the expansive area of the media, including publishing houses, newspapers and periodicals, radio, and television. These are institutions with state and public, party and church sponsorship, but also private organizations. The process of the mediation of history, which these places of engagement undertake, is structured through gender on different levels. For this reason, the gender-specific problems in these working areas must be discussed in the student’s process of discovering his or her professional goal in the preparatory and accompanying seminars. A correspondingly gender-sensitive assessment of practical experiences, through diaries and biographical reflections, for example, is therefore also necessary.


Integration of gender studies content into the curriculum:

Training in the field of history follows fundamentally the principle of the exemplary selection of elements of content, for which gender themes have proven to be suitable on all levels.

In the framework of the chronologically oriented bachelor’s/master’s program in the department of history:

  • As a rule, training is primarily chronologically oriented, whereby themes specific to the field from all epochs are treated: pre- and early history, ancient history, medieval history, early modern/modern/contemporary history. A modular introduction into the study of the historical sciences including gender themes is of practical value for all epochs. The same is true for epoch-specific modules in the progressive studies for the master’s degree.

In the framework of cross-cutting themes/geographically discriminating themes as well as in the framework of theory in the field of history:

  • Cross-cutting historical themes, above all, can be treated using the example of gender: Such fundamental anthropological phenomena as conflict and war, power and control, rituals and symbols, integration, daily life and festivities, childhood, youth, old age, family, work, environment, bodies, sexuality, mentalities and emotions, etc. to a great extent are made accessible via the historical dimension of gender-specific research.
  • The course offerings oriented on certain spheres, nations, and regions can be provided with a gender emphasis and are then wisely offered above all in a comparative perspective (e.g., “Feminine and Masculine Education in National Socialism”; “Masculinities in Eastern and Western Europe Since 1945”).
  • Since gender research has provided decisive impulses to the theoretical debate in the field of history, seminar modules on the theory and history of the discipline from the perspective of gender history also are useful (e.g., “Gender-Specific Places of Recollection and Memory”; “Historical Role Models for Men and Women in Europe”).

Historical gender themes in the framework of interdisciplinary courses of study:

  • Gender is not only a multi-relational historical category that becomes a useful subject of discussion for all historical themes. It is, in addition, a fundamental component in understanding the present-day gender order with its manifold facets as reflected in a series of academic fields. For this reason, interdisciplinary cooperation in the area of cultural studies, and also already at the outset in the natural sciences, has proven to be successful. Here, above all, part modules that provide an introduction to historical foundations and a depth of focus for contemporary content in other academic disciplines also offer themselves (e.g., “Household and Nutrition in Process of Change”; “Images of Women in the Transmission of Myths and Fairy Tales”; “Masculine and Feminine Criminality Since the Early Modern Period”).


Degree Stage:

To be concluded from this is that the content of historical gender research should be offered as a module as an introduction into history. But preparatory content in the framework of the later modules within the bachelor’s and master’s programs likewise also belongs in the curriculum. Along with professionally oriented training in the framework of the historical disciplines, part modules in interdisciplinary working environments in numerous other fields also are in demand.