Historical Writing and Practices and Politics of Remembrance

A seminar series Oct-Dec 2006, Jan-March, 2007 in the framework of Bo Stråth's research seminar

Organiser: Bo Stråth, Henning Trüper, Niklas Olsen

Date: Oct - Dec 2006
                Mondays (9)11-13
            Place: Villa Schifanoia, Sala Triaria
            23 Oct - Villa La Fonte, sala A
            8 Dec - Villa Schifanoia, Europa


Programme (pdf)

This seminar series during the academic year 2006-2007 will investigate history production and memory politics and reflect on the connection between them. What is the political dimension of historiography and the historical dimension of politics? By "political dimension of historiography" we mean politics in a broad sense including the ethical and the rhetorical dimensions of history writing as well as networks of historians and professional practices of the craft. By "the historical dimension of politics" we mean the use of history and of memory construction (as well as oblivion and pacts of silence) in legitimisation of politics and policy-making. What history use creates what images of the past and what connections to legitimisation do such images have?

The focus of the seminar will during the autumn of 2006 be on Studies in the Production of Historical Writing (convenors Henning Trüper and Niklas Olsen) and during the spring of 2007 on Politics and Practices of Remembrance (convenor Gosia Pakier).

The final seminar of the autumn on 8 December will provide a link between the two semesters: a seminar in memoriam of Reinhart Koselleck.

Studies in the Production of Historical Writing

              Autumn (Oct-Dec) 2006             

Convenors: Henning Trüper and Niklas Olsen

The aim of the autumn part of the seminar is to explore historical approaches to the production of historical writing. Since around 1800, making things historical has been inextricably and complicatedly tied to scholarly writing about the past. Correspondingly, during this period, the history of historical writing has been established as an independent field.

To a certain extent, our perspective on historical writing implies a rupture with older debates on historiography. A common feature of most of those debates has been the attempt to work one's way towards a supposed core of historical writing, be it a "method", "theory", "paradigm", "ideology" or a set of particular social institutions, and to cast the history of historical writing in terms of changes in these core notions. These labels, it seems to us carry problematic implications of constancy, stability, and self-enclosed systemacity, and they have as such led to somewhat impoverished notions of historiography, which we hope to avoid.

We hold that the detailed analysis of historical writing as the result of scholarly work is suitable for the production of a more dynamic and less monolithic picture of "historical cultures", in which constantly changing practices and experiences can be accommodated easily, and are in fact the main interest. Rather than looking for a supposed core of historical writing, or drawing a distinction between a centre and a periphery of historiography, we propose a broader perspective on the processes in which historical writing is produced.

Attention should be paid, in our opinion, more broadly to the practices of everyday work in which historical texts emerge, to the ways such texts are interrelated with a broader field of historical culture and with a narrower field of the personal histories of their producers. The set-up of the seminar topics follows these trajectories.

Some of the seminars will transgress the conventional two hours model (11-13) and last for four hours (9-13 with a brief coffee break) with three-four presentations each time finished by a buffet lunch. The themes of these extended meetings will be:

(1) Historians at work: how does historical writing emerge in working practices?
                This seminar aims at a broad perspective of text production. It asks for the day-to-day routines of historical work, with an interest in all related practices, such as reading, note taking, writing up research, reviewing, editing, or translating. Historical writing is spun into webs of practices and produced in relation to standards of various kinds, only a slight part of which ever seem to be made explicit. There are everyday notions of reception, hermeneutics, epistemology, ethics, rhetoric, style and modes of explanations, as well as of the material proper for doing history. All of this informs the texts historians produce. It seems of high importance to observe how these notions origin, function and change over time. This perspective questions the possibility of a clear division between an "internal" set of epistemic activities constituting the essential part of historical writing, and a more contingent "external" set of social and cultural factor also contributing somehow. It is one of the aims of this workshop to explore alternatives to this type of account of historical writing.

(2) Historical culture and historical writing
                This seminar is an attempt to illuminate the practices of dealing with history within a society. We presume that a useful key to such dealings is the practice of historicisation, i.e., making the past historical (assuming that history is not simply everything that is past) in specific contexts. The focus would be on practices such as commemoration, establishing distinctions between private and public as well as relevant and irrelevant. This perspective includes 'popular' and literary images of history, history as an instrument in political discourse, history as an object e.g. in collections of artefacts, books, etc. Viewing 'historical culture' as a field of dynamic change, through analyzing these practices, we would like to ask how 'historical culture' originates, functions and changes - and why and how such cultures are maintained and abandoned. Central in the workshop will be to discuss what conceptual instruments are available or imaginable for studying historical culture as well as to investigate how 'historical culture' relates to practices of academic historical writing (presumably ranging from agreement over coexistence to conflict).

(3) Making historians: experiences, culture and self-fashioning
                The idea here would be to achieve a sort of comparative perspective on case examples of 19th and 20th century historians, or groups of historians, analysing the interplay of varying formative experiences, modes of group culture and modes of self-fashioning, and their importance for the writing of history. How can historical writing be a form of self-fashioning, of succumbing to and confirming group discipline, and of rewriting one's formative experiences? In an attempt to answer this question, the making of historians as writers could be represented as a sort of mutual interrelating of contingent individual life, social contexts and text. Historians would appear as focal points between institutional standards and arrangements, social powers, moral codes, emotional dispositions, ideological commitments, and aesthetic ideas. Which notion of authorship does this suggestion imply?

Europe's 'cultural heritage' reconsidered:                 rupture and continuity in European cultural orientations              An interdisciplinary seminar

Organisers: Bo Strath and Peter Wagner (SPS)
                Date: Oct 2005-Mar 2006
                Place & time: Seminario II (Badia Fiesolana), Thursday 11.00-13.00
                Registration: Liz Webb or Malgorzata Pakier


Was Du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast,
                erwirb es, um es zu besitzen.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I

For a long time the centre of attention in the analysis of European integration was placed on, first, market-making and, second, polity-building. But increasing emphasis has recently been given to the question of European cultural commonality. While 'European identity' or 'European cultural heritage' are the key terms of this debate, recent work in sociology and history questions the idea, which is implicit in these concepts, of stable cultural orientations persisting over long periods of time.
                In this light, the specific identity of Europe cannot be sought in any cultural heritage, ready for use in the present, but through a sequence of socio-historical transformations in which basic issues of self-understanding were ever newly interpreted. The research programme will analyse selected such transformations in European history - two founding ones, and two recent ones - as well as two transversal themes of the debate about the European heritage - the question of European liberty and the question of European unity - with a view to applying recent theoretical innovations in the social and historical sciences to the analysis of European society and history.

The main objective of the seminar is the elaboration of a more adequate understanding of the cultural specificity of Europe. In other words, we do sustain the idea that there is a European cultural specificity, but hold at the same time that it is most often misconceptualized and, as a consequence, not well grasped in its main components.

The current debate is divided between, on the one side, those scholars who try to identify a common identity of Europe, overcome from a common past, and, on the other side, those - mostly younger - scholars who insist on the diversity and plurality of cultural orientations and, moreover, ever shifting cultural practices within Europe. In our view, this is a rather barren debate, based more on theoretical presuppositions than actual historical or sociological insight.

Our own perspective would start out from the latter emphasis on cultural practices. Recent work in sociology and history as well as in anthropology and philosophy has convincingly questioned the idea of stable cultural orientations persisting over long periods of time - both in theoretical terms and on the basis of empirical investigations. However, much of the research work that is inspired by these insights now adopts a small-scale, short-term perspective and, thus, loses out of sight any form of persistence of cultural orientations.

The innovative move we are proposing is the application of the recent insights about the rooting of cultural orientations in experiences; in interpretations of those experiences; and in practices built on those interpretations to the analysis of large-scale, long-term phenomena such as, in our case, 'Europe'.

In the sociology of modernity as well as in modern history, it was long held that the modernity of Europe was brought about, and acquired its specificity, through one great rupture in European history, the beginning of modern times (Neuzeit), at best conceived as a succession of related, mono-directional ruptures. The emphasis, as is well known, was placed on the scientific, the democratic and the industrial revolutions, and the European global expansion, bringing in their sum the unique 'modern society' about, which allegedly became a model to follow across the world. In contrast, our seminar and research programme aim at a re-reading of European history as a sequence of transformations in which basic issues of self-understanding and self-interpretation were taken up and ever newly interpreted leading to a series of institutional sedimentations across European history, without though arriving at a single superior solution.
The seminar programme (pdf)

Geschichte, Erfahrung und Kontingenz  (pdf)
              30 Sept-1 Oct 2005

Liberalism in the European Politics: Identity, Practices, Prospects/
  Le libéralisme dans la politique européenne: identité, pratiques, prospective
              7-8 Oct 2005