Book Essay on:
Jennifer Jenkins, Provincial Modernity: Local Culture
and Local Politics in Fin-de-Siecle Hamburg

(Cornell University Press, 2003), 336 pages.
UCSB DD901.H28. J46 2003

by Lauren Tenuta
December 11, 2006

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
19th Century Germany
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2006

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About Lauren Tenuta

I am a junior Sociology major and I have not extensively studied the German culture until this class. I have German heritage on my mother’s side of the family but it goes far back and I’m not sure when they came to the United States. I took this class and choose this book because I am interested in how the modern culture of Germany has come about and who the influential people were in this era.

Abstract (back to top)

Provincial Modernity describes how the modernist and public culture came about in Imperial Germany. The book describes the populace in the nineteenth century and the cultural organizations the populace brought about and how this led to a more advanced city and culture. The book focuses on the work of Albert Lichtwark and his development of the Hamburg Art Museum and how it affected the developing public culture of the time. Lichtwark inspired the cultural movement that ultimately changed Hamburg and its citizens. Lichtwark saw the middle class as the “custodians of national culture,” and inspired the middle class to become more civic minded to boost the modernist culture. Jenkins also focuses on the legacy and lasting impression that Lichtwark left on Germany. Overall Provincial Modernity seeks to demonstrate how the history of public culture was formed in Imperial Germany and analyzes “the rise and transformation of Hamburg’s public culture.”

Essay (back to top)


Hamburg was one of eighteenth-century Europe’s largest cities and rivaled London and Amsterdam in the excitement and activity of theaters, newspapers, reading circles, coffeehouses, and reform associations. Its own citizens described Hamburg in the eighteenth century as more enlightened and democratic than any other part of Germany, but since the seventeenth century, Hamburg’s cultural organization had not been anything to be proud of. The “Hamburg model” was described as characterized by five factors: “an absence of state support for the arts, weak municipal institutions, reliance on the private initiative, the strength of the market, and the absence of a unified cultural style” (p. 41). Provincial Modernity seeks to demonstrate how the history of public culture was formed in Imperial Germany and analyzes “the rise and transformation of Hamburg’s public culture” (p. 9). Jenkins mainly focuses on the Hamburg Art Museum and the museum director Alfred Lichtwark to explain the development of modern culture in Germany. Jenkins believes Lichtwark inspired the movement of political and cultural reform in Hamburg. Lichtwark saw the middle class as the “custodians of national culture,” and he revolutionized the public’s view of art through his reforms of the Hamburg Art Museum. Jenkins focuses on the legacy of Lichtwark throughout the book, as well as his lasting impression on Germany.

Hamburg thrived economically making it a prosperous and productive city. For many writers and travelers to Hamburg at this time, it was truly enlightened city that allowed them to have more freedom than any other city could. Hamburg’s economic success was due to its productive position of trade that allowed its economic life to be structured and controlled by the government. The different citizenships of Hamburg are described and what it means to be a citizen of the city. Jenkins describes the Patriotic Society as influential on the modernization of German culture. The Patriotic Society was Hamburg’s largest middle-class association and it “invested considerable time and energy in transforming private projects into public institutions” (p. 47) and emphasized the concept of Bildung. The Patriotic Society played an active role in promoting civic culture, Lichtwark called it a “voluntary cultural ministry” (p. 41). Because of the Patriotic Society, Hamburg became a pioneer on many cultural fronts.

The modern culture of Hamburg was shaped during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the eighteenth century, changes in the concept of citizenship and a new concept of the general public evolved. Much of its reform can be attested to Alfred Lichtwark, the director of the Hamburg Art Museum. The development of modernist culture today in Hamburg can be attributed to many different ideas that were started by the revolutionary ideas and acts of Albert Lichtwark. This paper will investigate the concept of citizenship in Hamburg as it was the center of all local political organization and how it changed through the development of modernist culture. Also, this paper will discuss the cultural idea of Bildung and its importance to citizenship and German liberalism. How the cultural movement changed Hamburg and just what exactly the ideas of Lichtwark were will be discussed, as well as what was the culmination of Lichtwark’s movement and how it transformed the society of Hamburg with his legacy today.

By the end of the nineteenth century when Hamburg began to develop its modern culture, a new form of citizenship began to emerge. Citizenship, to the city of Hamburg, was the most important legal category, but not all residents of Hamburg were citizens (p. 19). The legal institution of citizenship, called Burgerrecht in Hamburg were members of the urban community who had a variety of rights and privileges including legal, social, political, and economic rights (p. 20). Their traditional rights included “the right to marry, the right to practice a trade independently, and the right to purchase land” (p. 20). At this time the Burgerrecht bounded its Burger, or citizens, into various social and economic systems of order (p. 20). In Hamburg, the Grossburger and the Kleinburger both owned property in the city, while the Schutzverwandten did not own land and were not necessarily citizens.

Hamburg did not establish this system of citizenship overnight, it started in the mid-seventeenth century when Hamburg began to see its citizenship move to a more general public as the civic public sphere began to emerge (p. 26). At this time men began forming associations like the medical society of 1643 and the Rose Society, which was concerned with matters of language (pg 26). Der Patriot, a satirical newspaper published from 1724 to 1726, had an important club organized around it. The group called itself the “Patriotic Society” and formed a new conception that departed from older concepts of Burgerrecht. As these institutions became more advanced, associations like the Patriotic Society evolved which devoted itself to “bring to pass such things as will be useful to the members of the community” (p. 29). The Patriotic Society believed that civic growth would come through growth of the individual and the community. They believed any member could become a citizen of Hamburg and obtain Burgerrecht through self-education and cultural betterment (p. 30). Societies like the Patriotic Society helped the betterment of citizens of Hamburg and revolutionized ideas in order for the modernist culture to arise. However, before Albert Lichtwark there was no local culture of the citizens of Hamburg. Lichtwark described the pattern of local cultural development as “Whenever a need was discovered or could be foreseen, an influential man would get together with his friends and form a structured association or loosely organized committee” (p. 44). There was no structured way for citizens to have a sense of culture before Lichtwark became the museum director and revolutionized how the citizens viewed their culture.

Bildung, or “the ideal of individual development and cultivation,” is the concept at the center of German liberalism and at the center of the autonomous and independent citizen (p. 5). The Patriotic Society, for example, put high value on the acquisition of Bildung and believed it encouraged citizens to become individually knowledgeable (p. 29). Bildung was also important to Lichtwark’s ideas because he believed Bildung to be at the center of his reform in the arts and in people’s education. Lichtwark believed that Bildung was not only needed to create social identity and social citizenship but also elevate and moralize the people (p. 40).

Alfred Lichtwark became the Hamburg Art Museum’s first professional director and has been hailed as creator of a new public culture in Hamburg. The museum was his “principal tool” to complete his task of local cultural development (p. 3). Lichtwark’s plan “focused on cultural production through the training of artists, on cultural consumption through the creation of a public of wealthy and cultivated consumers, and on the cultivation through the education of the wider public in Hamburg’s cultural traditions” (p. 3). Lichtwark wanted to change the Hamburg Art Museum from a private collection intended only for the elite community into a public educational institution, which would make artistic education available to the greater populace (p. 61). Lichtwark’s main concern was for the museum to function more as a civil school than a “storage facility for the second-rate paintings of private collectors (p. 62). Lichtwark’s ideas for the Hamburg Art Museum and the greater public were laid out in “three programs.” All three focused on the “creation of a new form of civic culture” (p. 61). Lichtwark’s first program was “The Tasks of the Hamburg Art Museum.” For this Lichtwark analyzed what the museum’s role was as a public educational institution. The second program was the “Art in the School” program, which outlined a wider-ranging program that allowed for the artistic education of the consumers, as he wanted to take in the culture of “everyday life.” The third program took the ideas from the first two and joined them to make a more local focus. This program revived local and regional cultures to create a more authentic community (p. 61).

Lichtwark believed that museums should be a site of Bildung to serve all people without any belief of their differences. He believed that museums should be what made citizens and created social identity and social citizenship. His legacy includes these changes in social ideals, but also in the definition that culture was a common property and the museums like the Hamburg Art Museum embodied social norms. Lichtwark saw the middle class as the custodian of culture, and the middle class must be educated to shape society. He wrote, “All progress lies in the fact that a single individual presents an elevated model toward which the masses strive” (p. 66) and this is a lasting part of his legacy.

The opinion of Alfred Lichtwark’s contemporaries is that the “cultural flowering” of Hamburg was directly tied to him. After his death in 1914, an era came to an end (p. 295). The lasting accomplishments of Lichtwark are still apparent today. His transformation of the Hamburg Art Museum from an elite institution to a more public one for the citizens, the expansion of cultural institutions and the growing public interest in local history all changed the cultural character of Hamburg in the 1800s.

The idea of provincial modernity comes about by the progress that Lichtwark made possible for Hamburg and its citizens. The province of Hamburg was revolutionized by Lichtwark’s development of the public’s education of the arts. Lichtwark changed Hamburg in a way that no one else could have. The social progress that he brought about is still alive today and that is what has made his programs so effective. His work in civil discourse on the culture of Germany and his duties to a more educated public were apparent as his main focus. Until his time as the director of the Hamburg Art Museum, Hamburg had never been an art center; it was only a place of art appreciation and application. But by 1905, Hamburg had emerged as the national center of the art education movement because of Lichtwark (p. 40). At the end of the 1890s, because of Lichtwark’s influence, a reform in favor of the arts was started in order to educate the general public. He focused on the wider consumers of art, the public, and set in motion a set of ideas that revolutionized the cultural movement in Hamburg, Germany.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)

Book Reviews

  1. William Weber (California State University, Long Beach), book review, in: American Historical Review 109:4(Oct. 2004).
    This review compares Jenkins book to Carolyn Kay, Art and the German Bourgeoisie: Alfred Lichtwark and Modern Painting in Hamburg, 1886–1914 (2002).. The review focuses on Lichtwark’s role in the book and in Germany; it just gives an overview of Jenkins’ views.
  2. Katherine B. Aaslestad, Department of History, West Virginia. review for H-German, H-Net Reviews, July, 2003. This review mainly gives an overview of Jenkins’ arguments. Jenkins is criticized for her lack of attention to the museum as a cultural institution in a study of historical memory, which I don’t necessarily agree with. Jenkins does go into depth about how museums affected the bourgeois class of Germany and still remain an important part of their culture today.

Related Books:

  1. Engin F. Esin, Cities Without Citizens: Modernity of the City as a Corporation. Black Rose Limited, 2003.
    This book describes the development of modern cities in Europe and North America. It can be compared to the development of Hamburg as a modern city and how its citizens changed with the modernization.
  2. David Harvey, Paris, The Capital of Modernity. Routledge, 2003.
    This book follows the same lines as Jenkins’ book but with the development of Paris. The development of modern life it describes in Paris can be compared to its development in Germany.

Web Sites

  1. Ingrid Lohman and Christine Mayer, "Origins of 18th Century Educational Theory and Practice in Rhetoric and Gender Anthropology," 1 page pdf abstract of a paper presented at a 2005 conference "Education and Culture in the Long 18th Century (1688-1832)" at Cambridge University. This paper discusses the development of culture and thinking in the 18th century. It also discusses the development of the bourgeoisie as a political force in the 18th century.
  2. German Wikipedia article on Alfred Lichtwark discusses the life of Alfred Lichtwark and the collection of art he developed. (German language)
  3. Sterling Fishman, "Alfred Lichtwark and the Founding of the German Art Education Movement," History of Education Quarterly, available on JStor
    Fishman discusses Lichtwark’s life and his influence on the art education of the middle class, with detailed information on his background and his legacy. He also discusses Lichtwark's ideas about changing art education in Hamburg.

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/13/06; last updated: 12/20/06
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