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.

Historical Writing and Practices and Politics of Remembrance: I Studies in the Production of Historical Writing

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?