Nation, Identity, and German "Particularities." The Case of the Ruhr, 1871-1908

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To contemporaries in the heavily industrialized region of the Ruhr Valley, the creation of the German nation in 1871 was not merely an abstract vision that needed to be dealt with on a theoretical level, but a tangible reality that was taking a significant toll on the socioeconomic and cultural make-up of the region. Beginning in the 1860s and 1870s, industrialization would draw approximately 450,000 migrant workers of Polish ethnicity into the region by World War I. To the German nationalists of the empire, this apparent "Polonization" of the German "heartlands" was a cause of grave concern, and by the 1890s, they introduced the policy of Germanization to agressively assimilate the Polish-speaking newcomers.

Coal miners in Marsberg in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia, ca. 1896. Source: Felix Bieker and Klaus Lattek, ed.  Kilianstollen. Bergbau und Geologie in Marsberg.  Marsberg, 1986.

Coal miners in Marsberg in present-day North Rhine-Westphalia, ca. 1896. Source: Felix Bieker and Klaus Lattek, ed. Kilianstollen. Bergbau und Geologie in Marsberg. Marsberg, 1986.

While the plight of the Polish migrants has been examined extensively, this study directs its attention towards the indigenous population of the Ruhr and examines how the local Germans themselves may have reacted to Germanization. Can we assume that being "German" automatically translated into support for a German nationalist idea? Such a presumption favors the theory that there was widespread consensus on what it meant to be a German nationalist. During the late nineteenth century, however, that concept was anything but clear. This study then seeks to investigate how natives perceived an essentially alien nationalist policy, in what ways they challenged the measure with their own visions of a German nation, and how they came to support it eventually.