Mosse was born in Berlin into one of Germany's richest Jewish families. His maternal grandfather, Rudolf Mosse, was the founder of one of Germany's leading newspaper concerns and publisher of Berliner Tageblatt. His father, Hans Lachmann Mosse, commissioned the architect Erich Mendelsohn to redesign the Mossehaus where the Tageblatt was produced until the Nazis closed it and forced the family to emigrate. He was educated at the famous Mommsen-Gymnasium in Berlin and later from 1928 onwards at Schule Schloss Salem. In 1933 the Mosse family fled and separated. His mother went to Switzerland, as did his sister. His father and his new wife moved to France. Mosse went to boarding school in England. Mosse served as professor at the University of Iowa (1944–1955), the University of Wisconsin from 1955 onwards, and also the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A strong Zionist, Mosse enjoyed teaching in Israel. As a pupil in Germany, Mosse attended the exclusive boys' boarding school at Salem. During the period when Mosse attend the school, it was run by former Army officers who imposed a demanding physical education regime imposed on the pupils, which Mosse as a frail youth, he had difficulty with. Most of Mosse's teachers were supporters of the German National People's Party and were more or less open anti-Semites. Mosse's experience there left him with an life-long sense of being an outsider.
After fleeing Germany in 1933, he attended the Bootham School and Cambridge University in England, where he studied history with G. M. Trevelyan and Helen Maude Cam. According to Mosse's autobiography, Confronting History, it was at the Bootham School that he discovered he was an homosexual. In 1936 Mosse moved to the United States. Despite his background, Mosse was a self-proclaimed "Marxist of the heart", meaning that while he did not believe in Marxism as a theory, he nonetheless sympathized with it as an ideology. In 1939, his family relocated to the United States, where he completed undergraduate studies with honors at Haverford College in 1941. He continued his studies on the graduate level at Harvard University, earning a Ph.D. in 1946 with a dissertation written under the supervision of Charles Howard McIlwain that was subsequently published as The Struggle for Sovereignty in England (1950).
Mosse began his career as a historian at the University of Iowa, where he focused on religion in early modern Europe and published a brief study of the Reformation that was widely adopted as a textbook in university courses. In 1955, he moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and began lecturing on modern history. His The Culture of Western Europe: the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, An Introduction (1961) summarizes these lectures and was also widely adopted as a textbook.
From 1969, Mosse spent one semester each year teaching at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He taught for more than thirty years at the University of Wisconsin, where he was named John C. Bascom Professor of European History and Weinstein-Bascom of Jewish Studies, while concurrently holding the Koebner Professorship of History at Hebrew University. He was also a visiting professor at University of Tel Aviv and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. After retiring from the University of Wisconsin, he taught at Cambridge University and Cornell University. He was the first research historian in residence at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Mosse turned to a focus on fascism and Nazism in the 1960s, challenging conventional interpretations in a series of innovative books including The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (1964), Nazi Culture (1966), The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars Through the Third Reich (1975), and Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (1977).
For Mosse, culture was never simply the literary and artistic achievements of the élites. Defining culture as "a state or habit of mind which is apt to become a way of life," Mosse pioneered the study of mentalities or popular attitudes which were often inconsistent and contradictory ways of coping with reality. In later years, he turned to the broader implications of European culture for the cataclysmic events of the 20th century, especially World War I and the Holocaust. His 1977 study of European racism, Toward the Final Solution, showed that racial stereotypes were deeply rooted in the European tendency to regard humanity from an aesthetic point of view and to classify human beings according to their closeness or distance from Greek ideals of beauty. Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-Class Morality and Sexual Norms in Modern Europe (1985) extended these insight to encompass the broader history of the excluded and persecuted—Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies (or Roma), and the mentally ill—in European history. The 19th century gave academic and scholarly license to popular cultural stereotypes, defining human beings as "healthy" and "degenerate," "normal" and "abnormal," "insiders" and "outsiders." In his ground-breaking study The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (1996), Mosse traced the ways that the model of middle-class male respectability, beauty, solidity, and self-control established in the 18th century constantly evoked "countertypes"—images of men whose weakness, nervousness, effeminacy, degeneracy, or sexual ambiguity threatened to undermine the ideal of manhood.
Much of Mosse's writing and teaching was about the complex legacy of German Jewry for post-Holocaust Jews in America and elsewhere. As he once recalled, "I remember well the shock I received when, shortly after emigration to the United States in 1939, my family was told that we could not go to our chosen vacation spot because it was 'restricted.' And when I wanted to enter the graduate school of my choice, I was told that the Jewish quota was full. I was the first Jew ever hired on the history faculties of the two state universities where I have taught (Iowa and Wisconsin), and this was, I am sure, because I was a German Jew of a 'good family' who had gone to an excellent English public school and Cambridge University."
Mosse's upbringing in a family that represented the best traditions of German-Jewish civility and cultivation attuned him to the advantages but also the dangers of a purely humanistic education. His book German Jews Beyond Judaism (1985) describes the German-Jewish dedication to Bildung, or cultivation, as helping to transcend a narrow group identity. But it also reveals how, during the Weimar Republic, it contributed to a collective blindness toward the harsh and illiberal political realities that engulfed enlightened Jewish families like the Mosses. His skeptical liberalism also informed his supportive but critical judgment on Zionism and the State of Israel. In an essay written on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Zionism, he wrote that, whereas the early Zionists envisioned a commonwealth that was liberal and based on individualism and solidarity, in the State of Israel a "more aggressive, exclusionary and normative nationalism eventually came to the fore."
At the University of Wisconsin, George Mosse became legendary as a charismatic and inspiring teacher. During the Vietnam War era, despite political divisions among students and faculty, he was able to speak to both sides. Tom Bates' Rads: A True Story of the End of the Sixties (1992) describes how students flocked to Mosse's courses to "savor the crossfire" with his friend and rival, the Marxist historian Harvey Goldberg. Mosse's popularity was due not only to his compelling style of critical skepticism laced with humor, irony and empathy; he was able to address contemporary issues with historical insight without deprecating the opposing view while remaining true to his own principles.
Mosse left a substantial bequest to the University of Wisconsin–Madison to establish the George L. Mosse Program in History, a collaborative program with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He also left smaller endowments to support LGBT studies at both the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Amsterdam, where he taught as a visiting professor. The endowment was funded by the restitution of Mosse family properties located in eastern Germany that were expropriated by the Nazi regime and not restored to the Mosses until 1989-90, following the collapse of East Germany. He viewed the use of restituted funds to educate future generations as a validation of his family liberalism and an "unforeseen irony of history" that allowed for some level of justice.
Burial: Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin, USA, Plot: Section 38, Lot 033B
Confronting History: A Memoir by George L. Mosse
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (August 1, 2000)
Amazon: Confronting History: A Memoir
Just two weeks before his death in January 1999, George L. Mosse, one of this century’s great historians, finished writing his memoir, a fascinating and fluent account of a remarkable life that spanned three continents and many of the major events of the twentieth century. Writing about the events of his life through a historian’s lens, Mosse gives us a personal history of our century. This is a story told with the clarity, passion, and verve that entranced thousands of Mosse’s students and that countless readers have found, and will continue to find, in his many scholarly books.
Confronting History describes Mosse’s opulent childhood in Weimar Berlin; his exile in Paris and England, including boarding school and study at Cambridge University; his second exile in the U.S. at Haverford, Harvard, Iowa, and Wisconsin; and his extended stays in London and Jerusalem. Mosse also deals with matters of personal identity. He discusses being a Jew and his attachment to Israel and Zionism. He addresses his gayness, his coming out, and his growing scholarly interest in issues of sexuality.
This touching memoir, sometimes harrowing, often humorous, is guided in part by Mosse’s belief that “what man is, only history tells,” and by his constant themes of the fate of liberalism, the defining events that can bring about the generational political awakenings of youth (from the anti-fascism struggles of the 1930s to the campus anti-war movement of the 1960s), the meanings of masculinity and racial and sexual stereotypes, the enigma of exile, and—most of all—the importance of finding one’s self through the pursuit of truth, and through an honest and unflinching analysis of one’s place in the context of his times.
The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (Studies in the History of Sexuality) by George L. Mosse
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 8, 1998)
Amazon: The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (Studies in the History of Sexuality)
What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be manly? How has our notion of masculinity changed over the years? In this book, noted historian George L. Mosse provides the first historical account of the masculine stereotype in modern Western culture, tracing the evolution of the idea of manliness to reveal how it came to embody physical beauty, courage, moral restraint, and a strong will. This stereotype, he finds, originated in the tumultuous changes of the eighteenth century, as Europe's dominant aristocrats grudgingly yielded to the rise of the professional, bureaucratic, and commercial middle classes. Mosse reveals how the new bourgeoisie, faced with a bewildering, rapidly industrialized world, latched onto the knightly ideal of chivalry. He also shows how the rise of universal conscription created a "soldierly man" as an ideal type. In bringing his examination up to the present, Mosse studies the key historical roles of the so-called "fairer sex" (women) and "unmanly men" (Jews and homosexuals) in defining and maintaining the male stereotype, and considers the possible erosion of that stereotype in our own time.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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