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Ambiguous Visions of the Past: The Perception of History in Nineteenth-Century German Jewry

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This article not only provides a characterisation of the concept and meaning of historical thought—as a new concept—created by 19th century German Jewry. It also elaborates on the general nature of the newly developed historical approaches, showing the deeply ambivalent character of this major discourse on Jewish identity in modern times that included a general concept of self-perception that would soon overpower and characterize even religion. Although an amazingly unified perception of Jewish history can be found throughout the century, it remained janus-faced in many respects. Such ambivalences were the outcome of a modern historical approach and of 'minority history'. Its aim was to establish Jewish history within the wider frame of a national and evolutionary world history, at the same time defining it as a distinct and decisive one, central not only to Jewish identity, but to all of mankind through its purpose of upholding the quest for excellence, uniqueness, and power.

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