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12 - “Comparing Apples and Oranges?” The History of Early Prisons in Germany and the United States, 1800-1860

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

Norbert Finzsch
Affiliation:
Universität Hamburg
Robert Jütte
Affiliation:
Universität Hamburg
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Summary

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

Comparative history is a much debated field and it does not attract only positive comments and warm recommendations. The late Cologne historian Erich Angermann warned that comparative history requires more than just access to the right information about two societies or periods, and his warnings are echoed in the debate on comparative history in its modern guise, that is, the debate on American exceptionalism in an age of international or world history. To German historians, who remember the discussion on the German Sonderweg (unique path toward modernity), as well as to British historians, who have come to accept an English exceptionalism - not to mention the historians of lagrande nation - this debate seems quite familiar and the arguments exchanged seem to echo each other. Evidently, there is no scholarly comparative reception of the others' exceptionalism, so that we seem to be condemned to listen to the same emphasis on national history over and over again. In this chapter, I argue that there is no other way to determine whether there is exceptionalism in one's own national history than by doing comparative history and that, therefore, anybody making the claim to national exceptionalism ought to probe the deep and troubled waters of comparative history first.

Type
Chapter
Information
Institutions of Confinement
Hospitals, Asylums, and Prisons in Western Europe and North America, 1500–1950
, pp. 213 - 234
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1997

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