Henk de Berg

Prof Henk de Berg

Professor of German, Head of Section

email : h.de.berg@sheffield.ac.uk

Born in Holland, I studied German and comparative literature in Leiden, at one of Europe's oldest universities, and Siegen (in North Rhine-Westphalia, near Bonn). I came to Sheffield in 1996, after having taught comparative literature at Leiden for several years.

My research interests, which used to be in literary history and literary theory (especially the sociology and psychology of literature), have in recent years shifted to intellectual history and social thought.

I was Head of the Department of Germanic Studies 2012-2015, and I am one of the two Directors (together with Prof Evgeny Dobrenko) of the Prokhorov Centre, a research centre devoted to the study of Central and Eastern European intellectual and cultural history.

Teaching Responsibilities

  • German intellectual history (e.g., Hegel, Marx, Freud, Oswald Spengler)
  • social thought (e.g., the "end of history", the future of liberal democracy, populism)
  • literary theory
  • 18th- to 21st-century German literature and culture

At postgraduate level, I teach a substantial part of the MA in Germanic Studies and I co-teach the School-wide modules "Approaches to Literary and Cultural Studies I and II". I offer MPhil and PhD supervision on any topic within my research areas. Watch these videos of me teaching MA classes:

Research Interests

My research, which draws both on classical thinkers such as Hegel and Freud and on contemporary thinkers and debates, represents a cross-over between German studies, literary and cultural theory, and the history of ideas. In the past, I worked mainly on the relationship between literary and social developments and on the use of critical theories as tools for literary criticism. Over the past few years, the focus of my research has shifted towards intellectual history and social thought. I am the author of three books: a study of the problems of literary historiography (which includes a case study of Young Germany's reception of Goethe); an introduction to Freud's theory and its use in literary and cultural studies (described by Peter Gay as "as good an introductory text as one can possibly hope for"), which received a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award and has been translated into three European languages as well as Chinese; and a comparative study of the concepts of the end of history and civil society in G.W.F. Hegel, Alexandre Kojève, and Francis Fukuyama. I have also co-edited six books on critical theory, including a Suhrkamp volume on the reception of Niklas Luhmann's sociology in the humanities. My most recent book is a reader on German philosophy (2012; edited with Duncan Large) which includes ca. 100 pages of editorial introductions and annotations.

I am currently working on the German thinker Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), author of the two-volume 'Der Untergang des Abendlandes' (The Decline of the West, 1918/22). Spengler addressed many issues that we still struggle with today: a lack of social cohesion and of solidarity, unfettered financial capitalism, populism. Spengler's own proposals, though, are deeply problematic. This is what makes him such a fascinating thinker: Spengler's work is both a diagnosis of the tensions of the modern world and a reflection of them. In addition to 'The Decline of the West', Spengler wrote many other books, pamphlets, and articles. I am currently preparing a selection of these writings in English, entitled 'Oswald Spengler's Selected Writings'.


I have given many lectures, both in Britain and abroad, on a variety of topics in social thought and the history of ideas. The most recent ones deal with:

  • Hegel's view of modern society
  • various aspects of Freudian psychoanalysis
  • the Frankfurt School
  • the Russian-born French philosopher Alexandre Kojève
  • Hermann Lübbe's and Odo Marquard's Kritik der Kulturkritik
  • the parallels between Western cultural criticism and Islamic fundamentalism