Sir Christopher Clark
Christopher Clark in 2013
Christopher Munro Clark
14 March 1960
|Awards||Wolfson History Prize|
|Institutions||St Catharine's College, Cambridge|
|Thesis||Jewish mission in the Christian state: Protestant missions to the Jews in 18th- and 19th-century Prussia (1991)|
|Doctoral advisor||Jonathan Steinberg|
|Website||Cambridge Faculty of History page|
Sir Christopher Munro Clark, FBA (born 14 March 1960) is an Australian historian working in England. He is the twenty-second Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge. In 2015 he was knighted for his services to Anglo-German relations.
He received his PhD at the University of Cambridge, having been a member of Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1987 to 1991. He is Professor in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and since 1991 has been a Fellow of St Catharine's College, where he is currently Director of Studies in History. In 2003 Clark was appointed University Lecturer in Modern European History, and in 2006 Reader in Modern European History. His Cambridge University professorship in history followed in 2008. In September 2014 he succeeded Richard J. Evans as Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. In the Birthday honours of June 2015 Professor Clark was knighted on the recommendation of the Foreign Secretary for his services to Anglo-German relations.
As he acknowledges in the foreword to Iron Kingdom, living in West Berlin between 1985 and 1987, during what turned out to be almost the last years of the divided Germany, gave him an insight into German history and society.
Clark's academic focus starts with the History of Prussia, his earlier researches concentrating on Pietism and on Judaism in Prussia, as well as the power struggle, known as the Kulturkampf, between the Prussian state under Bismarck and the Catholic Church. From this his scope has broadened to embrace more generally the competitive relationships between religious institutions and the state in modern Europe. He is the author of a study of Christian-Jewish relations in Prussia (The Politics of Conversion. Missionary Protestantism and the Jews in Prussia, 1728-1941; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Professor Clark's best-selling history of Prussia (Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947; London: Penguin, 2006) won several prestigious prizes and its critical reception gave him a public profile that reached well beyond the academic world. The German language version of the book, entitled Preußen. Aufstieg und Niedergang 1600-1947, won for Clark the 2010 German Historians' Prize, an award normally given to historians nearing the ends of their careers. Clark remains (in 2014) the youngest ever recipient of this triennial prize, and the only one of the winners not to have approached his work as a mother-tongue German speaker. In 17 chapters covering 800 pages, Clark contends that Germany was "not the fulfillment of Prussia's destiny but its downfall". Although the nineteenth century Kulturkampf was characterised by a peculiar intensity and radicalism, Clark's careful study of sources in several different European languages enabled him to spell out just how closely the Prussian experience of church-state rivalry resembled events elsewhere in Europe. In this way the book powerfully rebuts the traditional Sonderweg bandwagon, whereby throughout the twentieth century mainstream historians have placed great emphasis on the "differentness" of Germany's historical path, before and during the nineteenth century. Clark downplays the perceived uniqueness of the much vaunted reform agenda pursued by Prussia between 1815 and 1848. He believes that the political and economic significance of the German customs union, established in 1834, came to be discovered and then overstated by historians only retrospectively, and in the light of much later political developments.
With his critical biography of the last German Kaiser (Kaiser Wilhelm II; Harlow: Longman, 2000, series "Profiles in Power"), Clark aims to offer correctives to many of the traditional positions presented in J. C. G. Röhl's three-volume biography of Wilhelm.
Clark's study of the outbreak of the First World War, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, appeared in English in 2012: the German version followed in 2013. The book challenges the imputation, hitherto widely accepted by mainstream scholars since 1919, of a peculiar "war guilt" attaching to the German Empire, instead mapping carefully the complex mechanism of events and misjudgements that led to war. There was, in 1914, nothing inevitable about it. Risks inherent in the strategies pursued by the various governments involved had been taken before without catastrophic consequences: this now enabled leaders to follow similar approaches while not adequately evaluating or recognising those risks. Among international experts many saw this presentation by Clark of his research and insights as groundbreaking.
In Germany itself, where the book received much critical attention, reactions were not all positive. Volker Ullrich contended that Clark's analysis largely disregards the pressure for war coming from Germany's powerful military establishment. According to Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Clark had diligently researched the sources covering the war's causes from the German side only to "eliminate [many of them] with bewildering one-sidedness" ("verblüffend einseitig eliminiert"). Warming to his theme, Wehler attributed the sales success of the book in Germany to a "deep seated need [on the part of German readers], no longer so constrained by the taboos characteristic of the later twentieth century, to free themselves from the burdensome allegations of national war guilt". Yet Clark observes that the current German debate about the start of World War I is obfuscated by its link to their moral repugnance at the Nazi era.
Christopher Clark is also the co-editor with Wolfram Kaiser of a transnational study of secular-clerical conflict in nineteenth-century Europe (Culture Wars. Catholic-Secular Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), and the author of numerous articles and essays. Professor Clark presented the BBC Four documentary programme "Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia".
Since 1998 Clark has been a series-editor of the scholarly book series New Studies in European History from Cambridge University Press. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and a prominent member of the Mannheim based Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Preußischen Geschichte (Prussian History Working Group). Since 2009 he has been a member of the Preußische Historische Kommission (Prussian Historical Commission), and since 2010 a senior advisory (non-voting) member of the London-based German Historical Institute and of the Otto-von-Bismarck-Stiftung (Bismarck foundation) in Friedrichsruh. 2010 was also the year in which Clark was elected a member of the British Academy.
Mit seinen neuen Thesen zum Kriegsausbruch 1914 provoziert der britische Historiker Christopher Clark heftige Debatten. In Potsdam stellte er sich seinen Kritikern - mit erstaunlichem Ergebnis.