Thomas Kühne is the Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University where he also holds the Strassler Colin Flug Chair in Holocaust History. He teaches classes on the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, the history of war and genocide in Europe and around the globe with foci on gender orders and memory cultures. His research explores the relation of war, genocide, and long-term traditions of political culture and political emotions in Europe, and the problem of locating the Holocaust and Nazi Germany in the continuities and discontinuities of the 20th century.
Thomas Kühne earned his Ph.D. from the University of Tübingen in 1992 and taught at the Universities of Konstanz, Tübingen and Weingarten in Germany thereafter. His initial scholarly work focused on political conflicts and consensus strategies in 19th and 20th century Germany. His dissertation on Prussian electoral politics in Imperial Germany (published 1994) won the German Bundestag Research Prize. Since then, Kühne has been especially interested in the history of war, genocide, and masculinities. His essay collection on the history of masculinities in Germany, Männergeschichte-Geschlechtergeschichte (Men’s History—Gender History, 1996) helped establishing this field in Central Europe and stimulated a broad range of innovative gender studies. In the 1990s, he also contributed to a new military history in Germany and co-edited (with Benjamin Ziemann, University of Sheffield, U.K.) the volume Was ist Militärgeschichte? (What is Military History, 2000). Awarded major grants from the German Research Foundation, he completed his habilitation thesis at the University of Bielefeld in 2003. Accepting an invitation for a fellowship from the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, he came to the United States in 2003 and moved to Clark the year after.
In 2010, he was awarded a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and spent another year as fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He has held visiting appointments at the Leibniz University of Hannover and at the Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam, both in Germany, and he has served on various editorial and academic boards, including those of the German Studies Association, the journal Central European History and Journal of Holocaust Research, and is currently a member of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
Kühne’s recent scholarly work explores the emotional and moral frameworks of collective violence and the production of collective identity through war and genocide with a focus on Nazi Germany. His 2006 book Kameradschaft suggests that the myth of comradeship, born in the First World War, shaped the experiences and actions of German WWII soldiers as well as war memory after 1945. Comradeship combined male bonding through criminal means with in-group “humanity.” It established a moral reference system that abandoned the idea of individual responsibility and enabled soldiers to carry out or support the Holocaust. A completely revised and expanded English version was published as The Rise and Fall of Comradeship with Cambridge University Press in 2017. Scrutinizing the entire Nazi society, Kühne’s book Belonging and Genocide. Hitler’s Community, 1918-1945 (Yale University Press, 2010) shows how the Germans switched to community-based violent ethics even before the Nazis came to power and how the Nazis used the human desire for community to build a genocidal society. While pointing to the ideological diversity of Germans under Hitler’s dictatorship, it yet argues that the Holocaust and Germany’s criminal warfare established a sense of complicity across the German nation and engendered a particular type of nation building – nation building through genocide.
Kühne’s current research projects include a historiographical book on perpetrators and bystanders of the Holocaust and other genocides.