Obituary Peter Hertner, Professor of Economic and Social History at the Martin-Luther-Universität in Halle-Wittenberg (1942-2023)

Peter Hertner was born in 1942, in Ulm in Southern Germany. He studied in Heidelberg, Besançon, Basel, Strasbourg, Paris, and Marburg where he was awarded his diploma in economics in 1968, and he also obtained his PhD in 1971, with a dissertation on the economic and social history of Strasbourg, 1650-1715. He was an assistant professor at the Department of Social and Economic History in Marburg, from 1970 until 1977. From 1977 until 1981 he was a Junior Professor (Akademischer Rat) at the Institut für Geschichte der Technischen Hochschule in Darmstadt, under his mentor, Karl-Otmar Freiherr von Aretin, who held the chair on Contemporary History. He then joined the EUI in 1981, first as a research assistant in the HEC Department until 1986, and subsequently as a full professor until 1988, after he received his habilitation in Darmstadt in 1986, with a thesis on the German capital export to Italy and the development of the Italian economy, 1861-1894. While in Darmstadt, he studied at the University of Pavia, where he met Carlo Cipolla who then became the first professor of economic history when the HEC Department opened at the EUI in 1976-1977. Between 1981 and 1989 Hertner held various teaching positions in Italy, at the Università L’Orientale, Naples, the universities of Ancona and Genoa, and at the Bocconi Business School in Milan. He was named Director of the EUI library in 1988 until 1995 and remained as an external professor in the EUI history department. In April 1995, he was appointed Professor of Economic and Social History at the MartinLutherUniversität in Halle-Wittenberg, where he lived until his passing. He was a member of the editorial board and co-editor of Italian economic history journals, a member of the Scientific Board of the German Historical Institute in Rome, of the Comité pour l’histoire de l’electricité in Paris, of the Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte and of the European Association for Banking and Financial History (EABH) both in Frankfurt am Main.

Peter Herther’s research interests focused on multinational economic and financial history. His contribution to Italian economic history in the 19th and 20th centuries, to German and Italian business history (especially banking and electrical industry), and to the history of electric multinational companies in the pre-WWII period was outstanding. His ground-breaking work on the German capital in Italy is still fundamental reading in this field. Among his most relevant publications are: Stadtwirtschaft zwischen Reich und Frankreich. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Straßburgs 1650-1714, Köln/Wien, Böhlau, 1973; Il capitale tedesco in Italia dall’Unità alla Prima Guerra Mondiale. Banche miste e sviluppo economico italiano, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1984 and Global electrification. Multinational enterprise and international finance in the history of light and power, 1878-2007, co-edited with Wiliam J. Hausman and Mira Wilkins, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Will Hausman, Mira Wilkins, H. V. Nelles, and Peter Hertner at the 2006 Business History Conference Meeting in Toronto, Canada

Peter Hertner was passionate about archives. He was one of the first scholars to access the Banca Commerciale Italiana archives in Milan as early as in the ‘70 to support his original investigation on the presence of German capitals in Italy. He created an important network of European business, financial, and economic history scholars, many of whom became his close friends, like Giorgio Mori at the University of Florence.

In addition to his professional and intellectual skills, he possessed very attractive personal qualities. Peter Herner was a true gentleman, a sober person. He had a true jovial and caring personality. He was friendly, with a sophisticated sense of humor, and always willing to engage with his interlocutors with an open mind. He was a real European citizen and a true polyglot, with whom I spoke mainly in French using the “vous” pronoun. Back in the 1980s, the EUI consisted of a small community of four departments at the Badia Fiesolana. Peter supervised many researchers, some of whom, have subsequently become renowned scholars, like Luciano Segreto, Alberto Mario Banti, Giuseppa Di Gregorio, Rolf Petri, Barbara Curli, Ruggero Ranieri, Marco Doria, Dieter Ziegler, Roberto Di Quirico.

Although I was not an economic historian, Peter Hertner was a real mentor to me. I had the honor of being one of his first HEC thesis when he accepted to become my Ph.D. thesis internal supervisor. I subsequently became a library assistant in the HEC Department in 1985 and I vividly remember the day he happily surprised the library staff, becoming the library director in 1988 during Werner Maihofer’s presidency. Having worked in the library until my retirement in 2022, I may say that Peter Hertner has been an outstanding director, who set the premises for the extraordinary development of the EUI library. Indeed, Peter Hertner, who was familiar with the German Fach-Referent academic and library figure, understood the key role of subject specialists in developing library collections. He thus called me, together with three other former colleagues working for each of the four EUI departments, to take up such a position in the library staff. In this capacity, we worked closely with our new Director to maximize the potential of the library. We were greatly helped by Tommaso Giordano, a professional librarian Peter chose as inaugural deputy director, in 1989. Hertner and Giordano completed each other in the management of the library’s most fruitful period. Indeed, it was during those years that the EUI library became the top social science library in Italy, as well as one of the best in Europe, a pioneer institution in the shift towards digitalization. Thanks to the tireless support of then-President Emile Noël, Hertner also succeeded in expanding the library to the first floor of the Badia building.

After he left the library in 1995, I met him several times in different contexts. One was that of the Financial History Review (Oxford University Press), directed by his friend Philipp Cottrell at the EABH in Frankfurt), where he offered me to become the bibliographer (1992-2009), a position which allowed me to meet many members of the community of business and financial historians, including Youssef Cassis, who later joined the EUI History Department. I often met with Peter Hertner also at the EUI, at times in the library, which he never stopped regarding as “his” creature, at times in the Badia restaurant, to chat over lunch. Like many colleagues and researchers who had the luck to get to know him, I will deeply miss these encounters, and Peter’s warmth, kindness, and witty sense of humor.

Serge Noiret

Visiting Fellow in the History & Civilisation Department

European University Institute, Florence

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Serge Noiret (May 10, 2023). Obituary Peter Hertner, Professor of Economic and Social History at the Martin-Luther-Universität in Halle-Wittenberg (1942-2023). Digital & Public History. Retrieved July 18, 2024 from

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