Manuela Achilles

Assistant Professor of German and History
Director, Center for German Studies

(434) 924-7091

Nau 255
Office Hours: W 11:00am-12:00pm, and by appointment

Field & Specialties

German History and Culture
European and Environmental Studies
History and Theories of Fascism
Democracy Studies
Critical Theory
Cultural Studies
Historical Political Culture of Green Ideas and Practices


M.A. Free University of Berlin, 1996

M.A. University of Michigan, 1996

Ph.D. University of Michigan, 2005



Current Research

Combining the study of German culture and history with theoretical analyses, my research challenges the teleological approaches that still inform many standard interpretations of Germjan history.  Over the years, I have published a number of articles based on my dissertation research. In the process, my interpretation of Weimar democratic culture has evolved, and I am currently working to integrate this richer view consistently into my book manuscript, Invisible Fatherland: Constitutional Patriotism in Weimar Germany. Drawing on the work of both Detlev Peukert and Peter Fritzsche, Invisible Fatherland revisits a major paradigm of Weimar historiography: the assumption that Weimar democracy lacked the symbolic appeal necessary to win popular support and was thus doomed to collapse. My book challenges this assumption of inevitable doom – or “failure paradigm.” By reconsidering the symbolic politics and defining moments of the nascent Weimar democracy, Invisible Fatherland uncovers a largely forgotten, legally coded civic mode of national identification that transcended homogenizing notions of class, religion or race, and hence offered a pluralist alternative to the extremist politics the interwar years also engendered. In this context, the metaphor of the "invisible fatherland," coined by German Law Professor Gustav Radbruch in 1922, captures a major challenge faced by this particular mode of national belonging: seeking to rally the nation around constitutional principles and ideas, the proponents of Weimar democracy had to render abstract principles perceptible to the senses. I argue that this necessity to symbolically legitimate the republican nation-state inspired a labor of democratic representation that was no less compatible with German traditions than Nazi ideology. The Grundgesetz-patriotism of the Federal Republic, as well as the constitutional patriotisms proposed and advocated by Sternberger and Habermas, are clearly prefigured in the legally-coded democratic nationalism that developed under the Weimar Republic.


My second research interest revolves around the idiom and culture of Sustainability or Nachhaltigkeit. In the United States we sometimes struggle to imagine what it takes to become a more sustainable society. Germany is a frontrunner in environmental policy and practice. Together with Dana Elzey (of UVa’s School of Engineering), I published an edited volume that explores and contextualizes these policies and practices, with the aim of engendering a fruitful transatlantic discussion about the kinds interventions that may be transferable to the United States. The initial lecture series that produced this body of work was connected to the pilot undergraduate course Generation Green, which was cross-listed in the Department of Science, Technology & Society (School of Engineering) and the German Department (College of Arts and Sciences). My own contribution explores the German energy revolution with an eye to the country's decision to phase out nuclear power within the next decade. I expect to develop this essay into a book-length historical study of the German culture of sustainability.

Courses Taught

Teaching is an enjoyable and rewarding component of my academic work. “Neighbors and Enemies” is my signature course and probably my personal favorite. Cross-listed in the departments of German and History, the seminar explores the tension in Germany between a chauvinist belief in German racial or cultural superiority and moments of genuine openness to “strangers” (broadly defined). Drawing on a variety of materials – from history and philosophy to film and literature – this course challenges students to consider the construction and deconstruction of images of the “enemy” from different angles. My seminars on Germans and Jews, History and Fiction, and Germany and the Environment also practice the careful inter-disciplinarity that characterizes this course. My survey lecture courses include Modern German History, Nazi Germany, and Western Civilization.


Classes at UVa:


  • Germany After 1918 (HIEU)
  • Modern German History (HIEU)
  • Germany in the 20th Century (HIEU)
  • Postwar German Literature and Culture (HIEU and GETR)
  • Nazi Germany (HIEU and GETR)
  • Hitler in History and Fiction (HIEU and GETR)
  • Germans and Jews (HIEU and Jewish Studies)
  • Democracy and Violence in 20th Century Germany (HIEU)
  • Postwar German Literature and Culture (GETR)
  • Neighbors and Enemies (HIEU and GETR)
  • Western Civilization (1600 to the Present, HIEU)
  • Intro Sem Post 1700 Euro History (HIEU, various topics)
  • Generation Green: Germany and the Environment (German and STS)
  • Business German Topics: Umwelt und Energie (GERM)
  • German for Professionals (GERM)
  • German Crime Stories (Deutsche Krimis, GERM)
  • German Conversation (GERM)
  • Intermediate German Topics: German History (GERM)

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts