Lothar Gall

1993 Balzan Prize for History: Societies of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Through the meticulous research of various sources, a masterly analysis of social history, and a fascinating narrative style, he has succeeded in bringing to life the rise and fall of the German bourgeoisie in the context of 19th and 20th century Europe, thus paving the way for a new and promising means of studying the history of modern-day society.

The historian to whom the Balzan Foundation wishes to award its prize has carried out continuous and extensive research on the progress of 19th and 20th century society, but more importantly, thanks to his skill as a narrator, he has succeeded in bringing these periods in history to life. Professor Gall has concentrated on the 19th century, starting with the study of political liberalism in western Europe and Germany. In 1963 he published his book on the political thought of Benjamin Constant, which he completed, in 1970/71, with an annotated edition of Constant’s writings in four volumes. His book, published in 1968, on the model of the liberal state of Baden during the second half of the 19th century, has become a work of reference. The anthologies published in 1976 and 1981 are proof of his profound knowledge of European liberalism. His biography of Bismarck, published in 1980 and translated into English, French, Italian and Japanese confirms his international reputation. This book, now in its seventh edition, is a masterpiece of political biography; it is the reconstruction of political strategy in the game of the ruling interests of the time. Gall presents Bismarck as the skilful juggler directing the forces of the past and those of the future.

Professor Gall’s researches on liberalism and the bourgeoisie in 19th century Europe have resulted in numerous and diverse publications, in anthologies and collections of essays. One essential question is always at the forefront of the argument, and it is that of the essence of 19th century bourgeois culture: how does social, political and economic history fit in with the history of ideas and culture? What is the relationship between liberalism and industrialisation, dynamic at first, but which later led to the downfall of the bourgeoisie? Since 1987 Professor Gall has devoted his energies to an extensive research programme on the social history of the bourgeois élites in certain towns and cities. This programme, based on statistical data, saw its first fruits in 1991 in the collection entitled “Vom alten zum neuen Bürgertum. Die mitteleuropische Stadt im Umbruch 1780-1820”; other volumes are currently being printed.

The research carried out by Professor Gall on the development of modern-day society reaches its culmination in his great work entitled “Bürgertum in Deutschland”, published in 1989. lt is an exemplary tale of German bourgeoisie in the 19th and 2Oth centuries. In it Gall describes, in precise detail, the story of a family of peasants and small traders from Mannheim in the 17th and 18th centuries by the name of Bassermann , their social and economic rise, the power they gain with the industrial revolution, their discovery of culture and art and their fame which spreads throughout the world thanks to the actor Albert Bassermann, who dies in 1952. So it is that Gall descends to the level of “microhistory” which, when placed within the context of “macrohistory”, brings to life the climate of days gone by. It is both a fine example of the historian’s return to the art of narration, in vogue at the moment, as well as one of the relativism of structuralism: man is no longer a mere object, he is the subject who acts upon social, political and economic structures.

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Fondazione Internazionale Premio Balzan