The introduction discusses the way that German and Austrian historians have written the history of the Holy Roman Empire in the two centuries since its dissolution. Prussian‐German nationalist historians and Austrian historians both underestimated the Reich: the former saw it as the dismal backdrop to the emergence of the Prussian‐German nation state in 1871; the latter as the long‐term context for the emergence of the Austrian state which was declared an empire in 1804. New approaches since 1945, often associated with the name of Karl Otmar von Aretin, have resulted in a more positive view of the Reich. The introduction concludes by stating how this work will present a new view of the early modern German polity, its political culture and sense of national identity, which builds on but transcends the existing literature.
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