Interpreting the Visual Evidence

The New German Nation

In order to silence their critics at home and abroad, nationalists in Germany sought to create a vision of German history that made unification the natural outcome of a deep historical process that had begun hundreds of years before. In image A, the family of a cavalry officer prepares to hang a portrait of King William on the wall, next to portraits of Martin Luther, Frederick the Great, and Field Marshall von Blücher, who commanded the Prussian forces at Waterloo. In the lower left corner, two boys roll up a portrait of the defeated French emperor, Napoleon III. The implication, of course, was that the unification of Germany was the inevitable culmination of generations of German heroes who all worked toward the same goal.

This unity was itself controversial among German people. Image B, a pro- Bismarck cartoon, shows the German minister-president dragging the unwilling liberal members of the Prussian Parliament along with him as he pulls a triumphal chariot toward his military confrontation with Austria in 1866. The caption reads: "And in this sense, too, we are in agreement with Count Bismarck, and we have pulled the same rope as him." Image C, on the other hand, expresses reservations about Prussian dominance in the new empire. The title "Germany's Future" and the caption: "Will it fit under one hat? I think it will only fit under a [Prussian] Pickelhaube." The Pickelhaube—the characteristic pointed helmet of the Prussian army—had already become a muchfeared symbol of Prussian military force. Such an image may well have struck a chord with residents of the non-Prussian German states who now paid taxes to the Prussian monarchy and served in an army dominated by Prussian officers.


Questions for Analysis

What is the significance of the familial setting in image A? Why was it important for nationalists to emphasize a multigenerational family as the repository of German national spirit?
How do images B and C treat the question of Prussia’s role within the new German nation? Was German national identity seen as something built from below or defined from above by a strong monarchy?
What is the place of the individual citizen in these representations of the German nation?

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