• historiography;
  • West Germany;
  • Japan;
  • national identity;
  • fascism;
  • Cold War;
  • transnational history


The defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 required historians in both countries to reevaluate the past to make sense of national catastrophe. Sebastian Conrad's The Quest for the Lost Nation analyzes this process comparatively in the context of allied military occupation and the Cold War to reveal how historians in both countries coped with a discredited national history and gradually salvaged a national identity. He pays special attention to the role of social, discursive, and transnational contexts that shaped this process to highlight the different courses that the politics of the past took in postwar Germany and Japan. The picture that emerges of German and Japanese historiography and the respective attempts to come to terms with the past is at odds with the conventional narrative that usually praises West German historians and society for having come to terms with their dark past, as opposed to postwar Japan, which is usually regarded as having fallen short by comparison. There was in fact far more critical historiographical engagement with the past in Japan than in West Germany in the 1950s. Reasons for the divergent evolution of the politics of the past in Germany and Japan should not be sought in the peculiarities of postwar national history but rather in an entangled transnational context of defeat, occupation, and the Cold War, whose effects played out differently in each country. These conclusions and others reveal some of the opportunities and special challenges of comparative transnational history.