H. Glenn Penny

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline History
Professor of History, University of Iowa, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of History

Research project

German History Unbound (1760s-1960s)


While current news is replete with stories of migrants and refugees flowing into Germany, it seldom reminds us that Germany itself was long an emigrant nation, with German communities spread across Europe and the world. My book project German History Unbound explores the connections and affinities between those German communities. It asks how those bonds informed their actions and decisions, and how those, in turn, shaped German history.


Most histories of Germany privilege the rise of a cohesive German nationalism, which ultimately subsumed the idea of multiple German communities within a singular nation-state. While the nation-state became an important source of identity for many, it never completely eliminated alternative understandings of Germanness, which predated the founding of Imperial Germany in 1871, and persisted through the eras of Weimar democracy, National Socialism and beyond.


German History Unbound focuses on the many translocal (i.e. local-to-local) connections between German communities around the globe, and the flows of ideas, people, and things that animated myriad German places in many non-German lands from the 1760s through the 20th century. Those practices were never insulated from the changing fate of the German nation-state; but they were not wholly controlled by it either. German identities outside the national territory embraced a wide range of peoples and practices, and different kinds of networking activities. I examine how these networks were reinforced by, and in turn shaped, emigration, settlement patterns, and the circulation of German-made ideas and objects. This process looped back to the state, significantly affecting those Germans’ understandings of diaspora, migration, and the world.



The book thus makes four central arguments: (i) the polycentric nature of German history in the age of the Holy Roman Empire did not come to an end in the modern period, but created a template for re-articulating political diversity in a global setting; (ii) throughout this period, Germanness was often imagined as a conglomerate rather than a unitary category, which accommodated multiple forms of hybridity (i.e. mixes of culture, language, religions, etc.); (iii) as Germanophones migrated out of central Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, they took those characteristics with them, creating new hybridities, new multilingual German places, and more interconnections; (iv) polycentrism and inclusive notions of Germanness persisted through World War II, informing the attitudes and actions of many Germans in Europe and abroad in the postwar era.




H. Glenn Penny is Professor of History at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Iowa. He holds a Ph.D in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His main research interests include the history of anthropology, the relationships between Europeans and non-Europeans from the 18th century to the present, colonialism, empire, and Germans' interests in the wider world, particularly Latin America.



Selected publications


'From Migrant Knowledge to Fugitive Knowledge? German Migrants and Knowledge Production in Guatemala, 1880s-1945', Geschichte & Gesellschaft, vol. 43, no. 3, 2017, pp. 381-412.


'Material Connections: German Schools, Things, and Soft Power in Argentina and Chile from the 1880s through the Interwar Period', Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 59, no. 3, 2017, pp. 519-49.

Objects of Culture: Ethnology and Ethnographic Museums in Imperial Germany, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2002, paperback edition, 2015.

'Rethinking Germans Abroad', with S. Rinke (eds), Geschichte & Gesellschaft [Special Issue], vol. 41, no. 2, 2015.


Kindred by Choice: Germans and American Indians since 1800, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2013.







junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History of Science and Technology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Linguistics
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Anthropology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Psychology