Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Vejas G. Liulevicius

Committee Members

Denise Phillips, Monica Black, Adrian Del Caro


As the First World War ended, the German-Danish borderland of Schleswig-Holstein was in turmoil as activists across the cultural and political spectrum presented competing incompatible visions of Schleswig-Holstein’s future. These activists reflected the global moment of the post-war era, where countless communities in Europe’s borderlands had to grapple with the language of the liberal democrat U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. This dissertation examines Schleswig-Holstein from when the German Empire annexed the region in 1864 until the 1920 Schleswig Plebiscite (plebiscite) that returned part of the area to Denmark. Scholars view the plebiscite as a natural conclusion to the Schleswig Question, as inhabitants voted on a border that mirrored the distribution of language spoken. However, many scholars neglected the role of national indifference (local inhabitants rejecting national association) and Wilsonianism, the ideas associated with Woodrow Wilson, including self-determination and popular sovereignty, in the plebiscite's outcome.

Analysis of this region from a transnational and transatlantic perspective remedies this neglect. It uses newspapers, civic association and government records, and diaries and correspondence from German, Danish, and American archives to provide a complete picture of Schleswig-Holstein under the German Empire. Research into the diffusion of Wilsonian rhetoric into the Schleswigian community and the crucial role of the diaspora communities in the U.S. provides an improved picture of the Danish-German conflict. The revolutionary introduction of Wilsonian ideas in 1920 jolted many Schleswigers out of their preferred spectrum of national belonging as they tried to blend pre-war identities with the post-plebiscite Danish or German national tribe. In examining the long-nineteenth century through the lens of this German-Danish borderland, this work advances our comprehension of the complexities, especially concerning the sense of regional belonging involved in constructing German and Danish identity and the relationship between conflict and community formation.

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