Sussex historian awarded prestigious prize

Professor John Röhl

A Sussex historian has been recognised for his monumental three-volume biography of Germany's last emperor.

Emeritus Professor John Röhl, who has spent five decades at Sussex studying the life and political significance of Wilhelm II, is to receive the prestigious Einhard Prize.

The 10,000-Euro prize is awarded every two years “for an outstanding biography of an individual whose scholarly, religious, political, artistic or economic life’s work has a strong European connection”.

Although it was under Wilhelm’s leadership that Germany hurtled towards the abyss of the First World War, for a long time he did not feature in historical controversies about Germany’s share of responsibility for the First World War.

“With the hard work and acumen of the unwavering lone fighter, Röhl has brought about a revision of opinion,” say the trustees of the Einhard Foundation in their prize citation.

In his evaluation of the life of Wilhelm II, Professor Röhl has “brought to light the often pathetic, sometimes shocking, irrationality of the key players,” they add.

“His questioning of Wilhelm II’s responsibility and irresponsibility has anticipated the return of historical research to its original interest in political decision-making processes.”

In his work the author draws on a wealth of unknown sources, especially the personal effects of royal figures. “If history – according to the definition of Paul Veyne – is a true story with gaps, then Röhl has closed almost every gap in the life story of Wilhelm II,” say the trustees.

And they argue that the “catastrophe of the First World War” is justification for Professor Röhl’s monumental undertaking in painstakingly reconstructing Wilhelm’s life day by day. “The European context of Röhl’s account is the great thing about his interpretation,” they say.

Volume one, on the emperor’s early life from his birth in 1859 to his accession to the Prusso-German throne in 1888, appeared in German in 1993. The English translation followed five years later.

Volume two, covering 1888-1900, was published in German in 2001 and in English in 2004.

Translation has just been completed of the third and final volume, which came out in 2008 and deals with the years from 1900 (including Wilhelm’s abdication at the end of the war in 1918) until his death in 1941. It will be published in English (along with the first two volumes) in summer 2013.

Professor Röhl will receive the Einhard Prize in March 2013 in the town of Seligenstadt, east of Frankfurt. The award ceremony will take place in the basilica founded by Einhard (c. 770-840), whose study of the life of Charlemagne is deemed to be the first (post-Greek or post-Roman) biography.

Posted on behalf of: History
Last updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2012