I'm trying to come up with a History Undergraduate dissertation topic on Weimar Germany: Culture and Society.
Im finding it hard to come up with an original area of focus. I've had quite a few ideas but can't seem to shape them into a focused question that could illuminate something about the society that hasn't been raised yet, or anything that would allow me to dive in to research... Help? Any tips/suggestions/ideas??
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It is much harder to write on a broad topic than a narrow one. Especially as a new researcher, you will not be able, in a reasonable amount of time, to read the existing primary and secondary literature on a topic as large as ‘hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic’ or ‘architecture of the Weimar Republic’. What you can do effectively is examine in detail some very small topic that has not been well studied (this is what most published scholarship does).
What you cover depends on the type of history that influences you. If you are interested in economic history, for example, you might trace the volume of sales and prices of one particular type of goods that have not been widely studied, perhaps something like kisrchwasser (how did the loss of Alsace Lorraine effect that?) Or you could do a local history, not of the big cities (Berlin has been done), but of a small village (do you have access to the complete run of a village newspaper for the period?) Or you could look at art history in terms of the changes in the collections or exhibitions in a single smaller museum, or reviews of new art movements in provincial newspapers. Another possibility would be following the biography of an individual or a school or a political institution. In all these cases, your strategy should be to avoid the famous people, events, and institutions that have been covered by other researchers and find some small and interesting topic others have overlooked.
I first have to say that I'm not thoroughly familiar with the historiography of this period so I don't know for sure what "hasn't been raised yet." Here are some general ways to start thinking about this.
First, you might try to look for "change and continuity." In other words, you might want to look at the time just before and just after the Weimar Republic and try to explore what remained the same and what changed from one period to the next.
Second, you might try to account for some aspect or aspects of Weimar culture. You might want to think, for example, about why there was an "Americanization" of Germany culture during that period. Or you might consider why so many of the leading lights of the time were Jewish.
Finally, you might try to think about the impacts of various aspects of the culture. You might ask, for example, if any aspects of Weimar culture helped to bring about the rise of the Nazis.
If you find topics that interest you and that have already been addressed in the literature, a good thing to do is to look at different theories about those topics. You can examine what others have said and they try to determine which theory is best or to come up with some sort of synthesis of your own.
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