Department of History

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Maiken Umbach

Professor of Modern History, Faculty of Arts



I am a Professor of Modern History, with a passionate belief in combining cutting-edge historical work with interventions that make 'real life' differences in the world. I was educated at Cambridge (BA 1992, PhD 1996, JRF 1995-98), taught at the University of Manchester from 1998-2011, whilst also holding visiting appointments at various international universities. I joined the University of Nottingham in 2011.

I regularly publish in the media and appear in public fora debating the legacies of National Socialism, for example, in a recent discussion with Rowan Williams at St Paul's Cathedral, which you can watch here.

Building on work in recent years on the role of photography, official and private, in Nazi Germany, my team and I are now working on an AHRC-funded three year project on "Photography as Political Practice in National Socialism", on which we collaborate, amongst others, with the National Holocaust Museum.

With Prof Mat Humphrey in our School of Politics, I co-direct the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies; Mat and I jointly publish on the role of authenticity in naturalising various ideologies in modern European history, and are beginning to explore a new project on the photography of victims across time. We also ran a MOOC on Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life, in collaboration with the British Library, and our new joint MOOC, "Learning from the Past? A Guide for the Curious researcher" is about to go life -- you can register and watch a preview here. Click here to check out my latest piece on how ideology works, and doesn't work, in Hitler's Mein Kampf, and listen to a fuller interview on the topic on CBC here.

Expertise Summary

National Socialism, in particular its emotional and personal history; amateur photography in the Third Reich.

Cultural history of cities and the built environment in Europe, c. 1850-1945.

Cultural history of nature, landscape and gardens, 1750 to the present.

Teaching Summary

I normally teach modules on comparative cultural histories of National Socialism and Fascism, and on the experience of ideology in everyday life. Due to my current role as Associate Pro Vice… read more

Research Summary

How did people photograph their lives under Nazi rule -- and what does tells us about how ordinary people responded to, and repurposed, official ideology?

I am currently working on two projects to explore these questions. One, with the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich on "Private Lives in National Socialism", recently produced a book with CUP.

The other, funded by the AHRC, and supported by our partners, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, explores what photography may tell us about the history of National Socialism and the Holocaust. For details, click here to go to the project page, for more information on outputs and impacts.

Generally, my work explores the relationship between politics and visual culture in modern European history. I look to sources such as the built environment, or the history of private photography, and use methodologies such as the linguistic turn or the idea of material culture as an 'actant', to shed fresh light on some of the big questions that have animated the study of modern Germany, and modern Europe more broadly, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Political problems I seek to elucidate in this way include the role of regional identities in modern states, 'second cities', federalism, trans-national networks and the spatial imaginaries of totalitarian regimes.

I jointly direct the Centre for the Study of Political Ideologies. The Centre moves away from a view of ideology as a mask for false consciousness, or a rigid and dogmatic sets of political beliefs, and instead seeks to understand the role of ideology in everyday life, and how political ideas are embedded in wider discursive milieus, cultural habitus and visual and material culture.

Recent Publications

I joined the University of Nottingham in 2011, taking up the chair in modern history, after 14 years at the University of Manchester, and a previous ten at the University of Cambridge -- where I had moved after attending school in Germany. I also held visiting appointments at Harvard, the Australian National University, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona), the Free University of Berlin, UCL, and, in 2015, the Institute for Contemporary History at Munich. I work on the relationship between culture, ideas and politics in modern European history, teasing out the ideological meanings of cultural practices, which range from urban planning to private photography, from official architecture to the design of industrial objects, and which I have read as evidence to re-think some big concepts such as Enlightenment, modernism, federalism, regionalism, and National Socialism.

I am passionate about impact and engaging with wider publics. Have a look at the new MOOC I have designed with the British Library here. And if you are interested in the Holocaust and photography, which is my latest project, please have a look at our collaboration with the National Holocaust Centre here.

I normally teach modules on comparative cultural histories of National Socialism and Fascism, and on the experience of ideology in everyday life. Due to my current role as Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Research in the Faculty of Arts and being the PI on a large AHRC research project, I will not be offering these modules in the foreseeable future. However, I still contribute lectures and classes to team-taught modules for undergraduates and MA students.

I am very interested in teaching beyond the boundaries of the University. With the British Library, I have designed a new MOOC called "Learning from the Past? A Guide for the Curious Researcher". Registration is free for all -- why not check our the trailer?

In terms of graduate supervision, three of my doctoral students recently gained their PhDs. Sheona Davies wrote on representations of the Teutonic Knights in popular culture in Weimar and Nazi Germany; she then did a post-doc stint on an AHRC project at Swansea on 'Mapping the War', and is now works for the Commission for Looted Art. Victoria Stiles wrote on representations of British imperialism in German print culture, 1918-1945; she has recently completed an AHRC cultural engagement fellowship, supervised by me and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. Lucila Mallart wrote on the uses and display of the classical and medieval past in the work of the Catalan politician and architect Puig i Cadafalch, and has just curated an exhibition on this topic in Calatunya. I am currently co-supervising two other students: Ms Seonaid Rogers, on a CDA award with the British Museum, on picture postcards of Israel and Palestine; and Ms Alice Tofts, on a CDA with the Imperial War Museum, on personal photos of people persecuted by the Nazi regime.

I welcome inquiries from all students interested in postgraduate work on any aspect of the cultural history, broadly defined, of modern German or European history, or Europe's relations with the wider world, up to 1945, especially in relation to the use of visual sources including photography, identity politics (such as localism, regionalism, political uses of the past), or new approaches to the study of National Socialism, or the role of ideology in everyday life.

Past Research

The sense of self -- as individuals and as members of imagined communities, of class, nation, gender -- is constituted by an imagination, which, my research argues, is structured by material and visual cultures as well as words. All my work to date, covering a range of examples from European history, from the eighteenth century to the Second World War, explores this nexus. Photographs, paintings, designed objects, architectures all provide clues to how historical actors imaged spaces, such as Heimat/homeland, the city, the region, and nation, and imagined time, the past as well as the future. For details on how I argue these elements payed out in different historical episodes, please click ont he links to summaries of key publications below.

Authenticity: The Cultural History of a Political Concept, Palgrave 2018

Heimat, Region and Empire: Spatial Identities under National Socialism, Palgrave, 2012

German Cities and Bourgeois Modernism, 1890 - 1929, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Vernacular Modernism: Heimat, Globalization and the Built Environment Stanford University Press, 2005.

German Federalism: Past, Present, Future Basingstoke, 2002.

Federalism and Enlightenment in Germany, 1740-1806, London and Ohio, 2000.

Future Research

My next monograph will be a study of the role of private photography, especially family photo albums, in Nazi Germany. Through photos, I explore how people assimilate, appropriate and, on occasion, subvert the political culture generated by the state in their own lived experience. The book will form part of the outcomes of a collaborative, AHRC-funded project called Photography as Political Practice in National Socialism (this links to the full project website). As part of this project, Sylvia Necker is writing a book on German-Jewish photo albums, and Prof Liz Harvey explores the private photos of so-called 'ethnic Germans'. The project builds on findings we published in a special issue on Photography and German History (Central European History, 2015). I have already published a short monograph, with Scott Sulzener, called "Photography, Migration, and Identity: A German-Jewish-American Story". We have also curated, jointly with the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, a travelling exhibition, which explores the problem of perpetrator and victim photography through historical displays, Virtual Reality, and an art installation: see here for details of "The Eye as Witness".

  • HARVEY, E. R., HÜRTER, J., UMBACH, M. and WIRSCHING, A., eds., 2019. Private Life and Privacy in Nazi Germany Cambridge University Press.
  • MAIKEN UMBACH and MATHEW HUMPHREY, 2018. Authenticity: The Cultural History of a Political Concept Palgrave Pivot.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN and SULZENER, SCOTT, 2018. Photography, Migration, and Identity: A German-Jewish-American Story Palgrave Pivot.
  • MAIKEN UMBACH and ELIZABETH HARVEY, 2015. Photography and Twentieth-Century German History Central European History. 48(3), 1-13
  • MAIKEN UMBACH, 2015. Selfhood, Place, and Ideology in German Photo Albums, 1933–1945 Central European History. 48(3),
  • MAIKEN UMBACH and ELIZABETH HARVEY, eds., 2015. Photography and Twentieth-Century German History Cambridge University Press.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN and SZEJNMANN, CHRIS, eds., 2012. Heimat, Region and Empire: Spatial Identities in National Socialist Germany Palgrave.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2010. Moderne zwischen Heimat und Globalisierung. In: AIGNER, ANITA, ed., Vernakulare Moderne: Grenzüberschreitungen in der Architektur um 1900 Transkript Verlag. 231-262
  • UMBACH, M., 2009. The modernist imagination of place and the politics of regionalism: the case of Puig i Cadafalch and early twentieth century Barcelona. In: LANDY, J. and SALER, M., eds., The re-enchantment of the world: secular magic in a rational age Stanford University Press. 81-101
  • UMBACH, M., 2009. German cities and bourgeois modernism, 1890-1924 Oxford University Press.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, ed., 2008. Municipalism, Regionalism, Nationalism. Hybrid Identity Formations and the Making of Modern Europe
  • NÚÑEZ, X.M. and UMBACH, M., 2008. Hijacked Heimats: national appropriations of local and regional identities in Germany and Spain, 1930–1945 European Review of History. 15(3), 295-316
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2007. The civilising process and the emergence of the bourgeois self: music chambers in Wilhelmine Germany. In: FULBROOK, M, ed., Un-civilising Processes: Excess and Transgression in German Society and Culture Rodopi.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2007. Culture and Buergerlichkeit in eighteenth-century Germany. In: SCOTT, H.; SIMMS, B., ed., Cultures of Power in Europea during the Long Eigtheenth Century Cambridge University Press.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2006. Regionalism in modern European nation-states. In: HEWITSON, M. and BAYCROFT, T., eds., What is a Nation? Oxford University Press.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN and HUPPAUF, BERND, eds., 2005. Vernacular Modernism: Heimat, Globalisation and the Built Environment Stanford University Press.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2005. Federalism in Europe: History and Future Options. In: DREW, J, ed., Redefining Europe Rodopi.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2005. A tale of second cities: autonomy, culture and the law in Hamburg and Barcelona in the long nineteenth century American Historical Review. 110(3), 659-692
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2004. Memory and historicism: reading between the lines of the built environment, c.1900 Representations. 88(Fall), 26-54
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, ed., 2002. German Federalism: Past, Present, Future Palgrave Macmillan.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2002. The vernacular international: Heimat, modernism and the global market in early twentieth-century Germany’ National Identities. 4(1),
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2002. Classicism, Enlightenment and the other: thoughts on decoding eighteenth-century visual culture Art History. 25(3),
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 2001. Made in Germany. In: SCHULZE, H and FRANCOIS, E., eds., Deutsche Erinnerungsorte II. Beck.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 1999. Reich, Region und Föderalismus als Denkfiguren in der Frühen und der Späten Neuzeit. In: LANGEWIESCHE, D. and SCHMIDT, G., eds., Die Föderative Nation: Deutschlandbilder von der Reformation bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg Oldenbourg.
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 1998. Visual culture, scientific images and German small-state politics in the Enlightenment’ Past & Present. 158,
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, 1998. The Politics of Sentimentality and the German Fürstenbund The Historical Journal. 41,
  • UMBACH, MAIKEN, Federalism and enlightenment in Germany, 1740-1806 London : Hambledon, 2000..

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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