Say it with Pride

A little over a week ago, 34 UK-based academics signed an open letter, printed in the Sunday Times, in which they argued (among other things) that respecting the identities of trans and gender-diverse students and colleagues, including their pronouns and names, constituted an intolerable restriction on “free speech” and “academic freedom.”

This is not the sort of claim that can be left standing, for two reasons. Firstly, this constitutes nothing short of an attack on trans and gender-diverse people’s rights to be included, and to be able to live and work in a safe and welcoming environment in higher education. Secondly, the authors of this letter seem to have taken it upon themselves to speak for what they assume is a ‘silent majority’ of academics, wanting to be critical of transgender identities but too afraid to speak up. This is nonsense.

In response, I had the honour of working on an open letter in response, which turned into a manifesto of inclusiveness for LGBTQIA+ colleagues across all levels of academia. Our manifesto was then picked up by The Independent. We opened it up to be signed by higher education professionals from all over the world and at any level, as long as they have or had been employed in a capacity by a university. This is because higher education is about much more than one or two professors, and these issues are global. Human rights are universal.

At the time that The Independent printed it, our letter had been signed more than 4,000 times. At the time that I am writing this entry, it has been signed by 6,587 people. To put this in perspective: for every one person who argued that trans rights impinge on their freedom of speech, 194 of their peers disagree.

The Independent very generously gave space to the first 1,000 signatories. But it didn’t stop there. It also commissioned us to write a piece on why this is important. I am proud to share the byline on this article. There is one major point that I want to stress, to quote from the article itself:

Trans, gender-diverse, and other queer people are not problems to be theorised and hypothesised. They are living, breathing human beings. And if we are to defend academic freedom, then it is their freedom – to live and work and research and teach and learn safely in our universities, without fear of being marginalised or denied – that must be respected, treasured, and protected.

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to work on this campaign, and I would like to express my deepest thanks to my dear colleagues Dr. Caroline Dodds Pennock, Dr. Andy Kesson, Dr. Matthew M. Mesley,  Dr. Sara Barker, Dr. Amy Fuller, and Dr. Matt Lodder, not to mention more than 6,500 more spread around the globe, for taking this stand. It is incumbent on all of us to make academia and the university the safe place that, for far too many of our colleagues, it is at present not. Diversity is our strength. Academia is open, and existence is non-negotiable.

New: Frederick the Great and Prussian Masculinity

Once upon a time, I began work on Frederick the Great. I wasn’t quite sure where it would lead me, but Frederick has always fascinated me. Christopher Clark has previously noted that the first three kings in/of Prussia — Frederick I, Frederick William I, and Frederick II (the Great) — offer us a curious historical puzzle: if we look at their reigns as parts of an overarching political programme, then they were astonishingly coherent, but personally they despised and rejected one another’s positions. The Hohenzollerns (certainly at the beginning of Prussia’s ascendency to kingdom) were dysfunctionally functional, in other words.

Of all of them, Frederick II has been a puzzle, owing largely to the fact that he was a clear deviation from the pattern initiated by his father. He was sensitive, poetic, musical, and not at all miserly. If we take Frederick William as the exemplar of Prussian masculinity, then Frederick would appear to have been the antithesis — and, in an era when masculinity was perceived to be the highest virtue, this would appear to be a black mark against Frederick’s name. Yet not all is as it seems, and historians and public commentators alike have consistently read their own contextual anxieties of gender relations into the past. The result is that we tend to misrepresent Frederick as being somehow “unmasculine”, which then begs any number of questions.

So I started work on that a while ago. I presented my work at conferences and it was always received well. Finding a place to publish it, however, took longer. But today I can happily declare that I have the honour to have contributed to the relaunch of the Australian National University Historical Journal. The first issue of the relaunched journal is available free to read online. So, please: go and read about Frederick. And stay for the other outstanding scholarship offered by my friends and colleagues.

The long and winding road (or track?)

Grüß Gott!

The last few months have been incredibly busy, and this has meant that even the act of updating my website has been something that has taken a backseat to preparing work for publication deadlines, preparing class plans for the new semester, and preparing grant applications for…well, grant application deadlines. There’s also the small matter of “conference season”, which seems less to be a season and more of a mode of existence.

First, to the immediate news: on Sunday, I travel north — way, way, way north — to the Universität Greifswald. There, I’m giving a guest lecture on Monday evening, with the topic being Europäischer Konstitutionalismus und europäische Kolonialisierung in South Australia Colony: Eine Agenda für künftige Forschung. Greifswald is the fourth-oldest university in Germany (founded in 1456), and it is an honour to be asked to lecture there. It is also a very long way from Passau, so I will spend most of Sunday and most of Tuesday as a guest of Deutsche Bahn. I don’t mind this, because I love travelling by train, and it will also be my first time on the Baltic.

Once I get back from Greifswald, I have a couple of weeks and then I will be off to Houston for the American Society for Legal History conference, this year held in Houston. I’m fortunate to be presenting alongside some excellent scholars of legal history, and it promises to be another adventure.

And, in the midst of all this, I am once again teaching at Uni Passau — this time an English course on argumentation, as well as a legal history course on Verfassungs- und Staatstheorie.

There are also a couple of publications that will be appearing in the not-so-distant future (at the moment looking like early in the New Year), so watch this space!

Newly published! ReConFort II by Springer

Hi everyone!

It’s been a very busy month, and it’s definitely not getting any quieter. However, it is my pleasure to announce that the ERC Advanced Grant project ReConFort (Reconsidering Constitutional Formation) has just published its second volume of research. Combining work by Dr. Marcin Byczyk (Poznań, Passau), Dr. Brecht Deseure (Passau), Dr. Frederik Dhondt (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Prof. Dr. Eirik Holmøyvik (Bergen), Dr. Giuseppe Mecca (Macerata), Prof. Dr. Thomas Olechowski (Hans Kelsen-Institut), Emer. O. Univ.-Prof. Dr. h.c. Gerald Stourzh (Vienna), and Dr. Anna Tarnowska (Nicolaus Copernicus University of Toruń), and edited by Prof. Dr. Ulrike Müßig (Passau), Reconsidering Constitutional Formation II: Decisive Constitutional Normativity — From Old Liberties to New Precedence (Cham: Springer, 2018) is now available in open access. It has been a pleasure to help put together the volume.

German History Society conference programme available now

The programme for the German History Society annual conference, at the University of Leicester between 13 and 15 September 2018, is now available via the GHS website.

There are too many standout sessions and papers to spotlight here, but I am particularly looking forward to Peter Wilson’s keynote about new research approaches to the Thirty Years’ War. Wilson’s work, The Thirty Years War: Europe‘s Tragedy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), is, in my opinion, the most complete and impressive history of that conflict, and one of the many reasons why some of my own research is drifting in that direction (watch this space!) Other than this, it will of course be fantastic to see my colleague, mentor, and friend Matthew Fitzpatrick again, and to follow his exciting new work in the understanding of German imperial policy and its relationship to the colonies. Matt’s musings on his research can be followed at his fantastic blog, which I encourage everyone to follow.

German history is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, as historians try to move away from the overwhelming focus on the dozen years of National Socialism, and once more begin publishing on the centuries of history that the country and region have experienced. The GHS conference will be a wonderful confluence of minds. If you’re in the general vicinity of Leicester in September, why not come have a gander?

Symposium, Universität Passau, 8 June 2018

On 26 May 1818, the Bavarian King Maximilian I Joseph granted his state a liberal constitution. This was a ground-breaking moment in the history of Bavaria and in southern Germany, and was part of a process of ‘compulsory constitutionalism’ that followed the German Restoration after the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna. This year is the bicentenary of this momentous occasion and, to that end, the Universität Passau — in particular the Faculty of Law — is hosting a symposium, entitled “Die Bayerische Verfassung von 1818”, to take place on 8 June 2018.

My own research has focused not on Bavaria, but rather on its western neighbour, the Kingdom of Württemberg. Because of this, I will be giving a paper at this symposium, entitled “Die Württemberger Verfassung 1819 als Kulminationspunkt südwestdeutscher Verfassungsidentität” (“The Württemberg Constitution of 1819 as the Culminating Point of Southwest German Constitutional Identity”), in which I will discuss the basis of the Württemberg equivalent, which passed in the following year, and its role in constructing or bolstering a form of communal identity.

I am fortunate to be taking part along with some of the great constitutional and legal historians of Europe, including Prof. Dr. Fabian Wittreck (Münster), Prof. Dr. Luigi Lacchè (Macerata), Prof. Dr. Sebastian Martens (Passau), Prof. Dr. Bettina Noltenius (Passau), and Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Dietmar Willoweit (Würzburg), among others.

The day promises to be a fascinating exchange of ideas, with relevance not just to the specifics of the 1818 constitution, but indeed to the idea(l) of constitutionalism and the identification of a community of belonging.

German History Society conference, Leicester, September 2018

I will be speaking at the German History Society annual conference, being held this year at the University of Leicester between 13 and 15 September 2018. I’m appearing on a panel along with Dr. Anna Ross (University of Warwick) and Dr. Jean-Michel Johnston (University of Oxford), the panel topic being State and Society after 1848. My paper is entitled “The Myth of the Ultraösterreichischern: Particularism and Patriotism in Württemberg and the South after 1848″, and the abstract is below:

Southern German Mittelstaaten played prominent roles during the 1848 revolutions, and many of the key revolutionary protagonists hailed from these states. In spite of this, with some exceptions the south German states are typically ignored in the aftermath of the failure of the revolutionary project. In the standard narrative, 1848 stands as a ‘last hurrah’ of Mittelstaat autonomy; what followed, particularly after the post-1849 reaction, was best characterised by a mixture of servitude and obsequiousness, with most states reaffirming their commitment to an Austrian-led Germany. 1848 is thus the moment of rupture between the Metternich era and a more sympathetic rapprochement between Vienna, Stuttgart, Munich, and Karlsruhe.

This reading, however, ignores the complexities of Mittelstaat politics, and assumes that a correlation of southern states siding with Austria in German disputes implies a causation of fealty. In reality, the revolutions and their aftermath provided a catalyst for a gradual distancing of the Mittelstaaten from Austrian policy, and a souring of attitudes towards Vienna. Using the Kingdom of Württemberg as a case study, this paper demonstrates that, far from demonstrating so-called ‘ultra-Austrian tendencies’, between 1849 and 1866 the southern states manipulated their relationships with the Habsburg Empire to their own ends. Far from the end of Metternich signifying a new, positive era in Austro-German relations, between the end of the Frankfurt Assembly and the triumph of the Prussian army at Königgrätz diplomatic ties in the centre of Europe were strained, fractious, and frequently and cynically exploited.

The German History Society is a fantastic professional academic organisation, and is responsible for the publication of the journal German History, as well as a series of monographs (Studies in German History) in conjunction with Oxford University Press. Anyone with an interest in German history in general would be well advised to see if they can put together a trip to Leicester in September!


Hello everyone! I’m pleased to unveil my new website, which will act as a hub to keep you informed of my activities, while also giving you the opportunity to contact me for consultancy, media interviews, and so on. I will also be using the site as a platform to discuss my latest research and other developments, and to talk about conferences and opportunities that come up along the way.