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.
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.