Date of Award
Master of Arts
Wiesen, S. Jonathan
This Thesis examines the evolution of the Battle of Waterloo from the perspective of both British and German historical memory over the course of a century. In popular media, Waterloo emerged as a potent symbol for the unity of the nation in both German and British contexts. The Thesis's comparative study of historical memory argues that historical memory is integrally related to a society's development; subsequent generations of Britons and Germans reimagined themselves fighting Waterloo in such diverse media as poetry, editorials, popular history, and iconography. In the British context, the memory of Waterloo from 1815-1914 was partial to small-scale commemorations that reflected expanded notions of Britishness that was more in synch with Britain's political development. This use of a historical memory in effect helped to define what was British. The memory of Waterloo was far less straightforward in the case of Germany during the same period, where the erratic course of German political evolution stymied efforts to turn Waterloo into a national public symbol. Paradoxically, the volatility of German politics only served to intensify efforts to shape Waterloo into a national memory because emphasizing a German victory over Napoleon in 1815 simplified and obscured the complexities of German historical development. All these intertwined strains of memory found themselves at play during the centennial of Waterloo in 1915 as intellectuals and artists mobilized memory of Waterloo for the war effort. In this wartime environment, Waterloo became instrumentalized along four interlocking iterations in both nations as they used Waterloo to present a case for the legitimacy of their respective war efforts. This memory's failure to predict the course of the First World War ultimately rendered Waterloo irrelevant to each society as a master symbol of historical memory.
This thesis is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.