Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Wirtschafts-Geschichte

The Society for Social and Economic History (1961 to present)

After World War II, it was evident that German social and economic history had lost its former leading role to the British, French, and U.S. professional world. At the 11th International Historians' Day in Stockholm 1960 Wilhelm Abel (1904-1985), Friedrich Lütge (1901-1968), Hermann Kellenbenz (1913-1990), Erich Maschke (1900-1982) und Herbert Hassinger (1910-1992) decided to establish an organization which, among other things, promotes international cooperation and represent the interests of the subject to the public and educational policymakers.

With the Society for Social and Economic History (GSWG), founded on February 18, 1961, in Frankfurt on Main; an internationally oriented association was finally established whose objectives are to this day to act as a mouthpiece and represent the interests of social and economic historians. The statutes of the GSWG state: "The objectives of the association are the academic fostering of social and economic history as well as the representation of the interests of the subject in public and towards decision-makers in the field of educational policy." [1]

Given the international orientation and in order not to exclude colleagues from Austria and Switzerland, the founders deliberately decided against including the term "German" in the name of the organization. By introducing "social history" to the name, the tradition of Germany's discipline since the 19th century was explicitly linked. This decision was not least due to Lütge's influence.

Friedrich Lütge, who had already been in charge of preparing the foundation, was elected chairman, and Hermann Kellenbenz was elected as vice-chairman. The first Executive Board included: Wolfgang Zorn (1922-2004) as secretary, Hans Mauersberg (1910-1989) as Treasurer, and Herbert Hassinger as assessor. The election was led by Herman Aubin (1885-1969).

Since its foundation, the GSWG has maintained contact with other associations, such as the Association of Historians (Historikerverband) and the Economic Historical Committee of the Association for Social Policy (Wirtschaftshistorischer Ausschuss des Vereins für Socialpolitik). Thus, the GSWG is in contact with colleagues from other countries and cultivates contacts between social and economic historians and representatives of neighboring disciplines. Besides, there is a close relationship with the Society for Agricultural History and representatives of the history of technology.

Since the founding of the GSWG, the membership lists contain the names of all leading economic and social historians (see also members of the GSWG Executive Board). In 1961, the year of its founding, GSWG had 56 members (of which eight were individual foreign members, ten years later 170 (of which 45 were individual foreign members) and in 1981 211 members (of which 51 were individual foreign members). As of May 1, 2015, the membership totalled 192 members. The Executive Board decides on the admission of new members. Especially in the first years after the founding, it was by no means a matter of course that applicants were accepted, especially since, according to Abel, the founding fathers "originally thought of a small working group composed of people working in economic history".[2]

Initially, every three years, since the 1970s every two years, the GSWG organizes workshops. "We want to learn from each other, want to discuss with each other after the presentations […], ask questions, and answer questions." [3] With these words, Friedrich Lütge opened the first workshop in 1963 – this credo has remained valid until today. While the first conference was still under a relatively narrow working title ("The economic situation in Germany and Austria around the turn of the 18th to the 19th century"), today topics from all eras or in diachronic comparison over several periods of time, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, are presented and discussed. The contributions are published in conference proceedings to reach a broader (professional) audience and point out research desiderata. 


Hermann Kellenbenz: Zwanzig Jahre Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte. in: id. (ed.): Wirtschaftsentwicklung und Umweltbeeinflussung (14.-20. Jahrhundert). Bericht der 9. Arbeitstagung der Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (30.3.-1.4.1981) (Beiträge zur Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte 20). Wiesbaden 1982, pp. 3-25.

Jörg Rode: Die Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (1961-1998) (Beiträge zur Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte 84). Stuttgart 1998.

[1] § Section 1 (2) of the Articles of Association of GSWG (Satzung der GSWG) which came into force on April 13, 2007.

[2] Jörg Rode: Die Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (1961-1998) (Beiträge zur Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte 84). Stuttgart 1998, pp. 23.

[3] Ebd., pp. 41.