Naval History as a History of Disappointment: Disappointment – Planning – Experts and the German Navy, 1871-1928

Abgeschlossenes Projekt


The aim of this dissertation is to establish disappointment as a historiographical category, building on the analysis of German naval history with a view to disappointment, expertise, and planning across various eras. This should lead to a better understanding of the close correlation between disappointment, planning, and expertise in the German history of the 20th century. The working hypothesis here presupposes that the German Navy became increasingly more scientific in its approach through 1914, with central actors such as Tirpitz and his colleagues achieving a solid level of expertise in terms of greater effectivity and definition. The period in question stretches from the beginnings of German naval politics, the rise of the German Naval Office and the connected expectations around 1900, through the phase of disappointment during the First World War, and the subsequent reckoning with this disappointment in the Weimar democracy.

The study will look into the fractures, continuities, and motivating power of these experiences of disappointment: To what extent did disappointments drive the naval administration in its planning, actions, and institutional learning processes during and after the war? In what way did the constellations, legitimations, and trust placed in naval policy change through the conflicts of interpretation before and after 1918/19? Did disappointments serve as the framework for the relation between (naval) policy and the general public in a society increasingly anchored in expertise and planning? The history of knowledge, emotions, and planning provide an interpretational approach to the study as a means of understanding the development of the navy during this period as a history of disappointment.

Approaches from historical semantics, and the history of argumentation in particular, will be used to support the overall methodology. The example of Wilhelmine Germany’s naval project will serve to better understand the extent to which disappointment played a key role in the planned actions and argumentations of the 20th century.

Publications within the project

Sebastian Rojek

Versunkene Hoffnungen.

Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte

Berlin 2017


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