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PD Dr. Sonja Levsen (en)

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Dilthey Fellow


Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neueste Geschichte Westeuropas
Historisches Seminar
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

Belfortstr. 20, Rückgeb., R. 205

Tel. +49 / (0)761 / 203 97870
Sekretariat: +49 / (0)761 / 203 3421

E-Mail: sonja.levsen@geschichte.uni-freiburg.de



I am a historian of Modern Europe, with an emphasis on Germany, France and Britain, and particularly interested in the combination of comparative and transnational approaches. My last book, 'Autorität und Demokratie. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Erziehungswandels in Westdeutschland und Frankreich' analyses how shifting ways of conceptualizing democracy came to transform educational and parental practices in both countries. My research is guided by a strong interest in reframing German contemporary history from a European perspective and in understanding the respective relevance of national and transnational spaces in recent history. Thematically, I currently focus on the history of European democracies since 1945, exploring intersections of knowledge and democracy, and on the history of sexual violence, with a focus on children, knowledge production, and political responses to sexual violence.




PhD (2004,) University of Tübingen, Habilitation (2017), University of Freiburg. Interim professorships at the Universities of Munich (2018/19; 2020/21) and Freiburg (2016/17), Fellowship at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies (2011), Dilthey Fellowship of the VolkswagenStiftung (2011-today). The Dilthey Fellowship is annually awarded to ten researchers in the humanities at German Universities.

My research has received funding from large funding bodies including the German Research Foundation, the VolkswagenFoundation, the Max-Weber-Foundation, and several awards. I was a member of the Tübingen Research Center Experiences of War (2001-2007) and an Assistant Professor at the University of Freiburg (2007-2010). I was on maternity leave for several months in 2013/14, 2008/09 and 2007.


Selected Publications


In November 2019 my last book Autorität und Demokratie. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Erziehungswandels (Wallstein, 2019, 711p.) came out. Recent journal articles include “Authority and Democracy in Postwar France and Germany”, in Journal of Modern History (2017), “Sexualität und Politik um 1968. Eine transnationale Geschichte?”, in Journal of Modern European History (2019), as well as a special issue of Geschichte and Gesellschaft, focussing on Western Europe in the 1970s (2016). The edited collection Wo liegt die Bundesrepublik? Vergleichende Perspektiven auf die westdeutsche Geschichte (Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht 2016, ed. with Cornelius Torp) brought together chapters reinterpreting recent German History from comparative perspectives. War Volunteering in Modern Times (Palgrave Macmillan 2011, ed. with Christine Krüger) offers global perspectives on war and society since the French Revolution. My first book was Elite, Männlichkeit und Krieg. Tübinger und Cambridger Studenten, 1900-1929 (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2006); some of its results were published in Past & Present (2008) as “Constructing Elite Identities: University Students, Military Masculinity and the Consequences of the Great War in Britain and Germany”.

For a full list of publications see the German version of the website.


Current Research Projects


Why Europe, which Europe? A Debate on the Present and Future of European History as a Field of Research (2020-2022). With Joerg Requate (Kassel), and in Cooperation with the Max-Weber-Stiftung and the German Historical Institutes.

Between national spaces of historical enquiry on the one and global history on the other side: what are European history’s contributions to understanding the past – and the present? What, if any, are its methodological and heuristic characteristics? In which ways has the field developed within the last decade in research institutions all over Europe – and where do we want it to head within the near future? These questions, surprisingly, have never been discussed in a truly European perspective, between historians from all parts of Europe. EuropeDebate aims to kick off such a debate. https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/; https://twitter.com/DebateEuropean.

Beyond ‘Transnationalism`. Mapping the Spatial Contours of Political Activism in Europe’s Long 1970s with Kiran Patel, Munich. Funded by the VolkswagenStiftung and the University of Maastricht, 2018-2020.

Historians have been conceptualizing the period from the late 1960s onwards as a time of accelerating transnationalisation. For Europe, as the focus of this international project, a recurrent variant of the argument interprets the multiplication and intensification of transfers and entanglements since the 1960s as furthering processes of denationalisation and convergence. Very often, research of this kind focuses less on the precise nature and scope of “transnationalism”, but rather on the sheer fact that processes and networks transcended the boundaries of nations. Instead of normative overdrive or a rather positivistic approach to “transnationalism”, our project seeks to map the specific spatial contours of transnational actions, as well as the factors driving and limiting them. The results of two international workshops will be published as a special issue.



Awards, Prizes and Fellowships





Third place (Listenplatz 3) in the competition for the Professorship in Transnational History, University of Luxembourg.

Second place (Listenplatz 2) in the competition for the Professorship in Contemporary European History, LMU Munich

2017 Second place (Listenplatz 2) in the competition for the Professorship in Contemporary History, Gießen University
2011 Dilthey Fellowhip of the Volkswagen Foundation
2010 Fellowship at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies
2006 Prize for the best PhD in British History, awarded by the Arbeitskreis Deutsche England-Forschung
2006 Leopold-Lucas-Prize for the PhD-thesis
1995–2003 Scholarship of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (German Academic Scholarship Foundation)
2001 Prize for excellent results in the MA (University of Tübingen)
2000 Prize for the best Master thesis in History, Tübingen University
1998 Honorary Senior Scholar, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
1997–98 DAAD-Scholarship for Cambridge (UK)


Research Projects and External funding


2017 297 000 EUR by the VolkswagenFoundation for a second phase of the Dilthey-Fellowship, with a focus on (a) methodological issues of transnational European history and (b) first explorations into the history of sexual violence regarding children.
2011 400 000 EUR by the VolkswagenFoundation for the project “Authority and Democracy in France and Germany, 1945-1980”, 2016 another 60 000 EUR were granted.
2009 8 000 EUR Research Grant (Travel etc.) by the German Research Council (DFG)
2004 Successful proposal for a postdoctoral project on ‘War and play in history” within the Tübingen SFB Experiences of War, DFG-funding for four years
2001 Successful proposal for a PhD project on ‚Elites, Masculinity and War. British and German Students, 1900-1929‘ within the Tübingen SFB Experiences of War, DFG-funding for three years


Conference Organisation


2019 Beyond Transnationalism. Mapping Transnational Spaces of Political Activism in Europe’s 1970. International Workshops, organized with Kiran K. Patel (11/12 July Maastricht and 6/7 December (Freiburg)
2018 Warum Europa, welches Europa? Herausforderungen einer europäischen Geschichtsschreibung zwischen Globalisierung und Rückkehr der Nationalismen, Panel im Rahmen des 52. Deutschen Historikertags in Münster, September 2018, organized with Jörg Requate (Kassel)
2014 Die 1970er Jahre in Westeuropa – Ein verlorenes Jahrzehnt?, Panel im Rahmen des 50. Historikertages in Göttingen, September 2014, organized with Jörg Arnold (Freiburg)
2014 Die Bundesrepublik im Vergleich, Universität Freiburg, 20.-22. Februar 2014, organized with Cornelius Torp
2012 Making Moral Citizens. Democracy, Maturity and Authority in Postwar Western Europe, FRIAS Freiburg, 10.-11. Mai 2012, organized with Till van Rahden
2007 War Volunteering in Modern Times, Tagungshaus der Universität Tübingen, Blaubeuren, 6.-8. September 2007, organized with Christine G. Krüger





  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Stiftung-Bundespräsident-Theodor-Heuss-Haus
  • Elected Committee Member of the German Historical Association
  • German Association for British Studies
  • Comité Franco-Allemand des Historiens/Deutsch-französisches Historikerkomitee
  • Arbeitskreis Historische Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
  • Frankreich-Zentrum der Universität Freiburg



Teaching Experience


  • Courses, Seminars and Lectures at BA- and MA-Level, with a continuous focus on transnational and comparative history
  • Supervision of BA-dissertations and MA theses
  • Member of thesis committees at the Universities Freiburg and Nanterre (F)
  • PhD-supervision (two current)


Benutzerspezifische Werkzeuge