Manuela Achilles

Manuela Achilles

Lecturer, Departments of History and German (2005)

Associate Director, Center for German Studies

Office Hours: W 10:00-12:00

Office: Nau 255; New Cabell Hall 233

Phone: (434) 924-7091

Email: ma6cq (at)

Fields & Specialties

Modern German and European history and culture; history of emotions; cultural studies; critical theory, sustainablity in transatlantic perspective.


M.A. Free University of Berlin, 1996
M.A. University of Michigan, 1996
Ph.D. University of Michigan, 2005


"Anchoring the Nation in the Democratic Form: Weimar Symbolic Politics beyond the Failure Paradigm”, in: Contest of Futures: Rethinking German Modernities, 1880-1930, ed. Geoff Eley, Jennifer Jenkins, Tracie Matysik (forthcoming with Bloomsbury-Academic in 2015)

Review of Shulamit Volkov: Walther Rathenau. Weimar's Fallen Statesman. German History 2015.

German Environmentalism in Transatlantic Perspective: A Multidisciplinary Approach, edited volume, Palgrave Macmillan 2013 (Climate and Energy series), with Dana Elzey.

"Nuclear Power? No, Thank You!" Germany's Energy Revolution Post-Fukushima," in: Achilles (ed.), Environmental Sustainability in Transatlantic Perspective, Palgrave Macmillan 2013.

"The Economy Under the Nazis: Keynesianism Avant La Lettre?", 2013, Darden Business Publishing, UVA-GEM 112 (with Peter Debaere).

"Why Read Freud Today?" Review ofMark Edmundson, The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of his Last Days. H-German, H-Net Reviews. August, 2011.

"With a Passion for Reason: Celebrating the Constitution in Weimar Germany," Central European History, Volume 43, Number 4 (December 2010), Special issue on the Culture of Politics / Politics of Culture in the Weimar Republic.

"Reforming the Reich: Democratic Symbols and Rituals in the Weimar Republic," in Kathleen Canning, Kerstin Barndt, and Kristin McGuire (eds), Weimar Publics / Weimar Subjects: Rethinking the Political Culture of Germany in the 1920s, Berghahn Books 2010.

"Placing Benjamin in the Tradition of German Kulturwissenschaft,“ book review of Christian Emden, Walter Benjamins Archäologie der Moderne: Kulturwissenschaft um 1930 (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2006), H-German (October 2007).

Book review of Pamela E. Swett, Neighbors and Enemies: The Culture of Radicalism in Berlin, 1929-1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Social History (November 2006).

"On Healing and Hailing: Lawrence A. Rickel's Nazi Psychoanalysis," book review for H-German (April 2004).

"Nationalist Violence and Republican Identity in Weimar Germany," in David Midgley and Christian Emden (eds), German Literature, History and the Nation. Papers from the Conference: "The Fragile Tradition" (Cambridge 2002), Oxford 2004, pp. 305-328.

"Blutdurst' und 'Symbolhunger': Zur Semantik von Blut und Erde", in Walter Delabar, Horst Denkler, Erhard Schütz (eds), Spielräume des Einzelnen: Deutsche Literatur in der Weimarer Republik und im Dritten Reich, Berlin 2000, pp. 185-315.

Current Research

My research combines the historical study of German culture, and the cultural study of German history, with theoretical analyses. in 2010, I organized a thematic issue for Central European History on the politics of culture/culture of politics in Weimar Germany. The volume includes my essay, “With a Passion for Reason: Celebrating the Constitution in Weimar Germany.” I am currently completing my manuscript, Invisible Fatherland: Constitutional Patriotism in Weimar Germany. The book revisits a major paradigm of Weimar historiography: the assumption that Weimar democracy lacked the symbolic appeal necessary to win popular support and thus was doomed to collapse. My book challenges this assumption of doom – or “failure paradigm” – by reconsidering the symbolic politics, festivals, insignia and defining moments of the nascent Weimar democracy. The shift in perspective from failure to possibility allows me to recover a largely forgotten, legally coded civic mode of national identification that transcended homogenizing notions of class, religion or race, thus offering a pluralist alternative to the extremist politics the interwar years also engendered. In this context, the metaphor of the "invisible fatherland," coined by Gustav Radbruch in 1922, captures a major challenge this particular mode of national belonging faced: Seeking to rally the nation around constitutional principles and ideas, the proponents of Weimar democracy had to render abstract principles perceptible to the senses. This necessity to symbolically legitimate the republican nation-state inspired a labor of democratic representation that was no less compatible with German traditions than Nazi ideology. On the contrary; Weimar republicans produced a constitutional culture that re-anchored the nation in the democratic form. The Grundgesetz-patriotism of the Federal Republic, as well as constitutional patriotisms from Sternberger to Habermas, are clearly prefigured in the legally-coded democratic nationalism that developed under the Weimar Republic.

My second research interest revolves around the idiom and culture of sustainability or Nachhaltigkeit. In the United States we sometimes struggle to imagine what it takes to become a more sustainable society. Germany is widely regarded as a frontrunner in environmental policy and practice. I have put together an edited volume that explores and contextualizes these policies and practices, with the aim to engender a fruitful transatlantic discussion as to which of these interventions are transferable to the United States. The initial lecture series that produced this body of work was connected to Generation Green, a pilot undergraduate course cross-listed in the Department of Science, Technology & Society (School of Engineering) and the German Department (College of Arts and Sciences). The resultant book targets a broad audience of interested, non-specialist readers, and can serve as undergrad textbook for classes in sustainability, as well as for German and European studies courses -- the manuscript was published in the Palgrave Macmillan series 'Climate, Energy and the Environment.' My own contribution explores the German energy revolution with an eye to the country's decision to phase out nuclear power within the next decade. I expect to develop this exploratory essay into a book-length historical study of the German culture of sustainability.

Teaching Interests

Teaching is an enjoyable and rewarding component of my academic work. Neighbors and Enemies, one of my signature courses, explores the tension in Germany between a chauvinist belief in German racial or cultural superiority and moments of genuine openness to strangers. Drawing on a variety of different materials – from history and philosophy to film and literature – this course challenges students to consider the construction and deconstruction of images of the “enemy” from different angles. My seminars on German and Jews, History and Fiction, and Germany and the Environment also practice the careful inter-disciplinarity that characterizes this course. My survey lecture courses include Modern German History, Nazi Germany, and Western Civilization.

Working within a multi-disciplinary environment is central to both my scholarship and pedagogy. I helped launch UVa’s Center for German Studies in Fall 2008, am serving on its Advisory Board, and was appointed its Program Director in Spring 2009 (since 2011 Associate Director). I have been involved in the Center’s activities both as organizer and presenter. Examples include the German Studies workshop Weimar and Beyond (Nov. 2008), the international conference Approaching Revolutions (March 2010), and the multi-disciplinary symposium The Future of the Car/The Car of the Future, which took place on Nov. 5-6 in conjunction with UVa’s Family weekend. Bringing together many UVa schools, programs and outside expertise, the symposium explored conceptions of a more sustainable society by focusing on one of its central everyday objects (the automobile). Speakers included bestselling authors Jeremy Rifkin, Daniel Sperling and Debbie Gordon, car company executives Chris Borroni-Bird (GM) and Burkhard Hunke (VW), battery expert Michelle Buchanan from the Oakridge National Laboratory, and German cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch. I am the co-organizer of a series of events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall in November 2014. More informaton at

Courses Taught at UVA

  • Germany after 1918
  • Germany in the 20th Century
  • Nazi Germany
  • Democracy and Violence
  • History and Fiction
  • Neighbors and Enemies (cross-listed in German and History)
  • Germans and Jews (cross-listed in History and Jewish Studies)
  • Postwar German Literature and Culture (cross-listed in German and History)
  • Generation Green: Germany and the Environment (cross-listed in German; and Science, Technology and Society)
  • Umwelt und Energie (German-language course on the environment)
  • German for Professionals
  • German Crime Stories (Deutsche Krimis)
  • German Conversation
  • Western Civilization (1600 to the Present)

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
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