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George Lachmann Mosse (September 20, 1918 – January 22, 1999) was an emigre from Nazi Germany first to Great Britain and then to the United States who taught history as a professor at the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Hebrew University. Best known for his studies of Nazism, he authored more than 25 books on topics as diverse as constitutional history, Protestant theology, and the history of masculinity. In 1966, he and Walter Laqueur founded The Journal of Contemporary History, which they co-edited.
Mosse was born in Berlin to a prominent, well-to-do German Jewish family. His maternal grandfather, Rudolf Mosse, founded what became Germany's largest advertising agency, and his media empire included the respected liberal newspaper Berliner Tageblatt. His father, Hans Lachmann-Mosse, commissioned the architect Erich Mendelsohn to redesign the iconic Mossehaus where the Tageblatt was published. In his autobiography, George Mosse described himself as a mischievous child given to pranks. He was educated at the noted Mommsen-Gymnasium in Berlin and from 1928 onwards at Schule Schloss Salem, a famously spartan boarding school that exposed the scions of rich and powerful families to a life devoid of privilege. The headmaster at Salem, Kurt Hahn, was an advocate of experiential education and required all pupils to engage in physically challenging outdoor activities. Although Mosse disliked the school's nationalistic ethos, he conceded that its emphasis on character building and leadership gave him "some backbone." He preferred individual sports, such as skiing, to team activities.
IIn 1933, with Hitler's rise to power, the Mosse family emigrated and separated. His mother, Felicia (1888-1972), and his sister, Hilde (1912-1982), relocated to Switzerland, while his father moved to France, where in 1939 he got a divorce, married Karola Strauch (the mother of Harvard physicist Karl Strauch), and subsequently emigrated to California. George Mosse moved to England, where he enrolled at the Quaker Bootham School in York. It was here, according to his autobiography, that he first became aware of his homosexuality. A struggling student, he failed several exams, but with the financial support of his parents he was admitted to study history at Downing College, Cambridge, in 1937. Here he first developed an interest in historical scholarship, attending lectures by G. M. Trevelyan and Helen Maude Cam. While he was at Cambridge, his hostility to fascism was deepened by the Spanish Civil War (although he later averred that he had only a superficial understanding of the conflict).
In 1939, his family relocated to the United States, and he continued his undergraduate studies at the Quaker Haverford College, earning a B.A. in 1941. He went on to graduate studies at Harvard University, where he benefited from a scholarship reserved for students born in Berlin-Charlottenburg. His 1946 Ph.D. dissertation on English constitutional history of the 16th and 17th centuries, supervised by Charles Howard McIlwain, was subsequently published as The Struggle for Sovereignty in England (1950).
MMosse's first academic appointment as an historian was at the University of Iowa, where he focused on religion in early modern Europe and published a concise study of the Reformation that became a widely used textbook. In 1955, he moved to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and began to lecture on modern history. His The Culture of Western Europe: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, an Introduction (1961), which summarizes these lectures, was also widely adopted as a textbook.
MMosse taught for more than thirty years at the University of Wisconsin, where he was named a John C. Bascom Professor of European History and a Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies, while concurrently holding the Koebner Professorship of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Beginning in 1969, Mosse spent one semester each year teaching at the Hebrew University. He also held appointments as a visiting professor at the University of Tel Aviv and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. After retiring from the University of Wisconsin, he taught at Cambridge University and Cornell University. He was named the first research historian in residence at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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