Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena

PD Dr Martin Bemmann

October - December 2021

Martin Bemmann has been a lecturer at the University of Freiburg since 2013. Currently, he is working on a project which explores the relevance wood bases businesses had for the economic development of Europe, especially in East Central Europe. In addition, he is researching the emergence of scientific-technical cooperation in the framework of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance during the 1970s and 1980s.

Martin received his PhD in 2010 from the University of Freiburg for a study on German debates about forest decline in the twentieth century. In early 2021 he finished a second book project (‘Habilitation’) concerned with the establishment and development of international economic statistics between 1850 and 1950. In 2011 Martin was a visiting scholar at the University of East Anglia (UK). In 2012/13 he lectured at the University of Dresden. During the academic year 2016/17, he was a Junior Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). After serving as an acting professor for modern history at the University of Freiburg in the summer term 2021, Martin joined the Imre Kertész Kolleg as a fellow. In 2022 he will become a Simone-Veil-Fellow at the Project House Europe, Munich.

Research project at the Kolleg

Wood Based Businesses, Economic Development and Industrialisation in East Central Europe

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, wood was an important resource for industrialising economies as well as a distinctively European raw material. Both aspects turn the wood based businesses (i.e. those branches which produced, processed and traded wood and wood products) into a most interesting object for investigations of the European past. Until today, however, comprehensive historiographical explorations of this topic are lacking. My project aims to change this.

I intend to explore the emergence and development of a specific economic space which from the mid-nineteenth century onwards successively encompassed huge parts of the European continent and which was characterised by a complex division of labour between the many different wood based businesses. Put very simply, the well-forested regions in Scandinavia, East Central Europe and North Russia provided those amounts of round wood and wood products the industrialising and industrialised economies in Central and North Western Europe needed in ever-growing quantities. Three things are remarkable. First, Europe remained almost self-sufficient in regard to its wood consumption. Deliveries from other world regions, particularly the Asian and African colonies of the European empires, did play only a marginal role. Before the mid-twentieth century, trade in wood was not a globalised business. Second, despite the many political and economic ruptures Europe experienced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the economic space remained stable until the 1960s. Third, as Sweden and Finland reveal, it would be too simplistic to assume that the outlined division of labour between wood-delivering and wood-consuming countries marked a clear separation of resource extracting peripheries and industrialised centres. The wood based businesses could be a leading economic sector in a specific way to industrialisation. All of these three aspects are closely related to the biological characteristics of wood and to geographical and climatic particularities of Europe. To focus on the wood based businesses therefore enables to investigate Europe’s past from a new perspective and to explore the co-evolution of economic activities and their ecological contexts.

At the Imre Kertész Kolleg, I investigate the relevance of the wood based businesses for the economic development of East Central European regions as well as the importance these regions had for Europe’s industrialisation processes. The time frame of my investigation approximately spans from the 1850s to the 1960s.

Main Areas of Research

  • Economic, Environmental and Global History as well as the History of Knowledge
  • Relationship of ‘Economy’ and ‘Ecology’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • History of Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in global contexts
  • History of International Organisations
  • History of Globalisation Processes
  • History of European Integration Processes

Positions and memberships

  • European Society for Environmental History
  • Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte



Weltwirtschaftsstatistik. Internationale Wirtschaftsstatistik und die Geschichte der Globalisierung, 1850-1950, Freiburg 2020 [Manuscript, Publication in Preparation].

Beschädigte Vegetation und sterbender Wald. Zur Entstehung eines Umweltproblems in Deutschland, 1893-1970, Goettingen 2012.

Edited Volume

Ökologische Modernisierung. Zu Geschichte und Gegenwart eines Konzepts in Umweltpolitik und Sozialwissenschaften, Frankfurt/Main / New York 2014 [edited together with Birgit Metzger and Roderich von Detten]

Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals (selection)

Das Chaos beseitigen. Die internationale Standardisierung forst- und holzwirtschaftlicher Statistiken in den 1920er und 1930er Jahren und der Völkerbund, in: Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte 57 (2016), 545-587.

Im Zentrum des Markts. Zur Rolle Großbritanniens im internationalen Holzhandel der 1930er Jahre, in: Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte 99 (2012), 142-170.

„… kann von einer schonenden Behandlung keine Rede sein“. Zur forst- und landwirtschaftlichen Ausnutzung des Generalgouvernements Warschau durch die deutsche Besatzungsmacht, 1915-1918, in: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 55 (2007), 1-33.

Articles in Edited Volumes (selection)

Koloniale Ressource Holz [with Michael Mann], forthcoming in: Eva Brugger / Alexander Engel (eds.): Kolonialismus und Ökonomie, Berlin / Boston: De Gruyter 2022 [in preparation].

The League and the World. How and Why the League of Nations shaped the Statistical Image of the World Economy; forthcoming in: Aurora Almada e Santos / Yvette Santos (eds.): A Century of Internationalisms. The Promise and Legacies of the League of Nations, London / New York: Routledge 2022 [accepted].

When the World Economy Came into Being. The Supreme Economic Council and the Establishment of ‘World Economic Statistics’, forthcoming in: Eckart Conze / Laurence Badel / Axel Dröber (eds.): The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the Challenge of a New World Order, Oxford / New York: Berghahn 2022 [accepted].

Comparing Economic Activities on a Global Level in the 1920s and 1930s. Motives and Consequences, in: Willibald Steinmetz (ed.): The Force of Comparison. A New Perspective on Modern European History and the Contemporary World (New German Historical Perspectives, Bd. 11), Oxford / New York 2019, 242-265.

Cartels, Grossraumwirtschaft, and Statistical Knowledge. The Comité International du Bois, the Centre International du Sylviculture and the Challengeto Govern Europe’s Forest Resources in the 1930s and 1940s, in: Liesbeth van de Grift / Amalia Ribi Forclaz (eds.): Governing the Rural in Interwar Europe, New York / London 2018, 233-258.

Please find more information on Martin Bemmann's website at the University of Freiburg.