The Research Project Europe 1815-1914

Between Restoration and Revolution, National Constitutions and Global Law: 
an Alternative View on the European Century 1815-1914 (EReRe) 

Directed by Professors Bo Stråth (Department of World Cultures, Faculty of Arts)    and 
Martti Koskenniemi  (Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, Faculty of Law)     
University of Helsinki 
Sponsored by the European Research Council (advanced grant)
September 2009-August 2013

Download full pdf presentation of the project. The final report of the project can be found here.

Team EReRe
Europe between 1815 and 1914

Europe today teeters upon a  precipice, the apparent choice placed before its peoples one between  dissolution and a union subordinated to the demands of the bond markets.  Behind the strident political rhetoric that  accompanies this dilemma lies a profound failure of political imagination that emerges  from a deeply a-historical view of Europe's past.  There is an urgent need for a more realistic  history that rejects any teleological understanding of Europe as a  self-propelling project on a steady march towards a predetermined goal.  Instead, the fragility of European peace and  progress, so evident today, needs to be highlighted.  Recent attempts to look for historical  analogies to the EU in the American constitutional convention that met in  Philadelphia in 1787, or in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation that  collapsed in 1806, ring hollow, even as European states take hesitant steps  towards fiscal union.  They bypass  Europe's long experience of violent nation-building and global expansion.  Europe was not born anew in 1945.  The legacies of its past, and of the attempts  that Europeans have made to deal with that past, pervade the institutional  structures of contemporary Europe, and the mentalities that govern it.  Planning for the future must entail a  reckoning with this past, but such a reckoning must go beyond the conventional  pieties attached to that much repeated phrase, 'Never again!'  The dark ambiguities of the European  inheritance are no more exhausted by inquiry into the cataclysm of the early  twentieth century than its potential is defined by the achievements of the last  sixty years.  The conflicts of the  interwar years and the political order that emerged as a safeguard against  their return were alike deeply rooted in the political, legal and economic  regimes that had emerged in the nineteenth century.  In the late twentieth century it was common  to write European history as an epic of hubris, nemesis and redemption.  There was a crude narcissism in such  self-aggrandizement that betrayed the origins of this mode of thinking in the  triumphalist histories of earlier generations, and it carried with it the note  of special destiny that had characterized them.   But the idea that Europe continues to struggle with the creations and  failures of its moment of ascendancy is a powerful one, and it is in the spirit  of that struggle that this research project was conceived. 

The  EReRe Project was established at the University of Helsinki in 2009 with the  goal of providing an alternative view on the European Century, 1815-1914.  From the outset,  our assumption was that the century is  traversed by themes and tensions that in one way or another continue to dominate  ideas about European peace and progress today. These need to be highlighted so  as to enable an adequate historical understanding of the difficulties of the present  moment, including the nature of the alternatives faced by European  decision-makers today. We also insist that focus must reach beyond European  institutions, so as to grapple with the themes and tensions that traverse the  past two centuries both nationally as well as globally. The present situation  is an outcome of developments at all of the three levels: national, European  and global. They must all be captured in their inter-relatedness, and this must  be done realistically. By realistic we mean a view of the past as open towards  the future, fragile and contentious in its achievements, and contingent rather  than  deterministic in terms of outcome.