On the Margins of European History

Jitka Malečková

The idea of European history, which is closely tied up with the notoriously elusive concept of Europe, has meant and continues to mean different things to different groups and individuals, including historians, in different times and different places in Europe. As an historian from the Czech Republic and someone whose work focuses on the history of East Central Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, I approach European history from the perspective of these regions and reflect especially on the place the margins of Europe occupy in European history. Here I use the term margins in a geographical sense as areas on the edge of an ill-defined continent, but also to refer to what is left ‘outside the main body’ of European history.

Hierarchies

Viewed from Europe’s margins, European history is markedly hierarchical. Some events, figures, topics, and national histories are deemed to be worth historians’ attention more than others and serve as a basis against which other events, national histories, and topics are written about and evaluated. Not surprising, the same hierarchical approach has characterized analyses of Europe’s relations with the non-European world. Europe’s margins tend to be underrepresented in international research and publishing on European history, although clearly more so when it comes to some periods and topics of research than others. Ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, for example, have received substantial attention in recent decades and have given rise to remarkable works.1 But despite their potential to serve as prisms through which to approach European history (because they are related to national legislation and frameworks and totally ignore and transcend national borders at the same time), Europe’s regions are quite unevenly represented in the works dealing with these topics.2

Geographically, the uneven representation of various parts of Europe in European history is not limited to a single region (a conference focusing on 20th-century marriage patterns in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Latvia would not be considered to cover the history of Europe  any more than a book on Polish, Hungarian, Slovak, and Czech women’s movements would, while works limited to several West European countries might still be perceived as representing European history). Nor is this a one-sided process. It concerns both the ‘core’ and the ‘margins.’  Perhaps we should speak of various regions and themes being unevenly integrated into European history rather than being underrepresented.

On the one hand, it is hard to deny that most highly praised works on European history have been produced in Western European academia. It is nevertheless striking that even some excellent European history books published in Western Europe explicitly state that Eastern Europe lies outside their scope.3 ‘Eastern Europe’ is, furthermore, sometimes still depicted as an undifferentiated block or as a whole that can easily be represented by just one of its parts. Such perceptions, on the other hand, affect the way in which different historians and other people interested in history in Eastern Europe relate to Europe and see, or do not see, themselves as a part of European history. This is coupled with the legacy of the communist period. The consequences of the isolation from and rejection of foreign phenomena in official historical institutions throughout the region during the communist period can still occasionally be felt in the attitude that the mainstream historical establishment and historians have to ‘European’ trends, though this attitude varies in intensity between different countries and generations within these countries and from one historian to the next.

The political transformations and Euro-optimism of the 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium seemed to modify how European history was viewed in East Central Europe. Historical arguments began to be used to redefine the region’s relations with Europe. Respected Czech historians, for example, would emphasize how the Czechs had always been a part, or even at the vanguard, of European history and would argue that they therefore belong in Europe.4 The need to stress how integrated Czechs are into European history has, however, gradually diminished. The emphasis on Czechs’ Europeanness was clearly pragmatic and was happening at a time when Czechs and Slovaks, as well as other Central Europeans, were striving to join the European Union, while now they take their Europeanness for granted. But this does not mean that the decreasing emphasis on the European dimensions of East Central Europe’s past does not also reflect the current state of European history.

Inclusion

While nobody denies that the margins of Europe are a part of Europe, whether the two large empires that existed on Europe’s (south) eastern borders, the Ottoman Empire and Russia, are treated as parts of European history is a subject of debate. In both instances, however, European history can be made more inclusive not by adding another imperial, national, or regional tradition to what has become the standard perspective on European history, but by shifting the perspective and asking what European history or some aspects of it look like from the position of Europe’s margins, from Kiev or from Istanbul. Let’s take, for example, class, an undoubtedly important category of historical analysis. What class has meant in British history, leaving aside how this concept has changed even within British historiography, differs quite substantially from the understandings of class in communist and post-communist Eastern Europe or in the late Ottoman Empire. It is often assumed, nevertheless, that class has the same Western European-based meaning whenever it is used.

The Ottoman Empire is increasingly being considered a part of European history but its inclusion is occurring somewhat asymmetrically; it is happening in Ottoman studies more than in European history. There is no need to show here all the many ways in which the Ottoman Empire was entangled with Europe or to prove that the processes under way in the early modern and modern Ottoman Empire resembled those that were taking place in Europe at that time, although it might be useful for many historians of Europe to know about these parallels. Particularly worth noting is the fact that Pascal W. Firges and Tobias P. Graf refer to in their introduction to Well-Connected Domains: Towards an Entangled Ottoman History. They write that the Ottoman Empire was ‘not exclusively a European, but also a world empire, which had political, economic, and religious interests well beyond its borders in the West, North, South, and East.’5 In other words, Ottoman history can be seen as a link between European history and world history. Similarly, the Russian Empire was both inside and outside Europe. In the 19th century Russia was turning its attention eastward and swallowing vast Asian areas inhabited by Muslim populations thus connecting European history with Asian history. The inclusion of two world empires on the margins of Europe, therefore, naturally integrates European history into world history more broadly without necessarily ‘provincializing’ it in the process.

Of course, even leaving aside the Ottoman and Russian Empires, Europe is and has always been connected to world or global history in myriad ways. For many, however, this connection means in the first place either modernization or colonialism together with the processes that led to it and that followed de-colonization. In other words, the very connection between Europe and the world around it embodies hierarchy, one in which Europe has tended to be the benchmark against which comparisons and evaluations are made.

Comparative History

Nevertheless, I believe that comparative history is one way to make European history less hierarchical. This may not seem immediately obvious because one of the main criticisms of comparative history is that it generates hierarchies and creates standards against which others are evaluated, such as the ranking implied in modernization theory. Comparative history has been criticized also for resting on national history, for comparing national cases and thus essentializing nations and confirming the divisions between them. Comparative history has, as a result, been all but supplanted by various forms of transnational history, histoire croisée and Transfergeschichte, which have yielded new approaches and often noteworthy results.

While the criticism is valid and reflects the problems of many comparative works, the more recent and successful examples of comparative history have overcome these limitations.6 They show that it is not necessary to compare national units and that the focus can instead be on subnational objects of comparison or on supranational ones, such as empires or global interconnections. For instance, a comparison that was made of how representatives of three ethnic groups and two generations in a small Romanian village remember two distinct events in the 1940s highlighted the discrepancy that exists between the local population’s understanding of events and the way they are interpreted by national historiography and politicians.7  Focusing on how intimate life – sex, sentiment, and childrearing – figured in imperial rule enabled Ann Stoler to compare the North American experience with European colonial empires.8 These types of comparisons have little to do with the tradition of comparative history that produces models and typologies, an approach that is perhaps closer to the hearts of historical sociologists, but that sometimes seems too reductionist to historians with leanings towards cultural history or literary studies. Less rigid ‘soft comparisons’ could serve as an inspiration for a new concept of comparative studies in European history.

Comparative history of this kind can offer European history a tool with which to solve at least some of its current problems. First, when a comparison sets out from the presumption of equality between the compared cases, instead of comparing a ‘model’ case with others that are expected to have followed the same path or pattern, then it becomes possible to include regional, national, or subnational areas and themes into European history on an equal footing. Philippa Levine has, in this context, spoken about comparisons ‘of’ instead of comparison ‘to’, the latter implying a hierarchy among the compared cases.9 Second, it can overcome the biases of national historiographies and their master narratives for the very reason that a comparison with other national traditions exposes their prejudices. It has been argued that historians are too affected by their historical upbringing and the closeness of their own national history to be impartial towards other cases.10 Leaving aside the increasing number of studies that do not compare national histories, however, it is possible, even if not very common, to compare two cases where neither one is the historian’s own national history, or to do joint comparative research projects.11 Historians are becoming less resistant to joining forces with their colleagues from other countries to write articles and books, and comparative history is one of the most important areas in which such collaboration is not only fruitful but often indispensable. Thomas Welskopp notes that comparative history requires the historian to do archival research – or work with primary sources – for every case that the historian plans to include in his or her comparison, which limits the number of cases that can be compared.12 However, whether comparing national master narratives or villages in different cultural-linguistic areas, working with an international team means that even larger comparative projects can be carried out.13 Third, comparative history, for a long time associated with research based on the nation as the unit of analysis, can in fact work against this focus. It has the potential to challenge borders and highlight not just the ways in which national histories are distinct but also how they are interconnected. At the same time, since national histories continue to play an important role across Europe, they cannot be excluded from comparisons. Comparative history can deconstruct the idea of uniqueness and Sonderweg showing that some phenomena are regional or even broader, rather than specific to one nation.  Finally, comparative history can learn from postcolonial studies, which use comparative methods to analyze the functioning of imperial structures. While this type of research has been conducted on the imperial networks of Europe’s colonial powers, the parts of Europe that were not directly engaged in the colonial enterprise should also be included in this framework. This has already been suggested, for instance, in studies of colonialism without colonies14 and postcolonial comparative history could inspire the study of empires in Europe as well. Comparative history in itself does not automatically ‘do’ any of this work, but it can be put at the service of European history.

There can never be a perfect European history. But there are ways to improve how European history is practiced so that it can speak to more people inside and outside Europe than it does at present and it can help find answers to some of their questions, while at the same time inspiring new questions.

Cite this article as:

Jitka Malečková: On the Margins of European History, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds.), Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, November 22, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/342.

  1. Among the numerous examples see, e.g. Margaret R. Hunt, Women in Eighteenth-Century Europe, Harlow 2010; Luisa Passerini, Love and the Idea of Europe, New York, Oxford 2009. []
  2. I have argued elsewhere that comprehensive works on European history include either Eastern Europe (and sometimes the Ottoman Empire) or a gender perspective, but seldom both, resulting in a history of a rather ‘small Europe’. Jitka Malečková, Gender, History and ‘Small Europe’, in: European History Quarterly 40.4 (2010), pp. 685–700. []
  3. Olwen Hufton, The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe 1500–1800, London 1995: 26. []
  4. Jiří Rak, České evropanství: České národní dějiny v evropském kontextu / Czech Europeanism: The Czech National history in the European Context, Prague 2006; Dušan Třeštík, Češi a dějiny v postmoderním očistci, Prague 2005. []
  5. Pascal Firges / Tobias P. Graf / Christian Roth / Gülay Tulasoğlu (eds.), Well-Connected Domains: Towards an Entangled Ottoman History, Leiden 2014: 26. []
  6. On the processes and practices of comparing see Angelika Epple / Walter Erhart / Johannes Grave (eds.), Practices of Comparing: Towards a New Understanding of a Fundamental Human Practice, Bielefeld 2020, https://doi.org/10.17302/9783839451663. []
  7. Maria Bucur, Remembering Wartime Violence in Twentieth-Century Transylvania: A Few Thoughts on Comparative History, in: Hungarian Studies 21.1/2 (2007), pp. 101-110. []
  8. Ann Laura Stoler, Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies, in: The Journal of American History 88.3 (2001), pp. 829-865. []
  9. Philippa Levine, Is Comparative History Possible?, in: History and Theory 53.3 (2014), pp. 331-347. []
  10. See Thomas Welskopp, Comparative History, in: Institute of European History (IEG) (ed.), European History Online (EGO), Mainz 2010-12-03, http://www.ieg-ego.eu/welskoppt-2010-en URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-20100921414 [2020-08-10]. []
  11. See Rogers Brubaker / Margit Feischmidt / Jon Fox / Liana Grancea, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town,  Princeton 2008. Although Brubaker is not a historian, the volume can serve as an example of these points. []
  12. Welskopp 2010. []
  13. This is the case of some of the chapters in the book edited by Berger and Lorenz. See Gernot Heiss / Árpád von Klimó / Pavel Kolář / Dušan Kováč, Habsburg’s Difficult Legacy: Comparing and Relating Austrian, Czech, Magyar and Slovak National Historical Master Narratives, in: Stefan Berger / Chris Lorenz (eds.), Contested Nation: Ethnicity, Class, Religion and Gender in National Histories, Houndmills 2008, pp. 367-404. []
  14. Barbara Lüthi / Francesca Falk / Patricia Purtschert, Colonialism without Colonies: Examining Blank Spaces in Colonial Studies, in: National Identities 18. 1 (2016), pp. 1-9: 1. []

European History as a Nationalist and Post-Nationalist Project

Pasi Ihalainen

European history in Finland

Finland is rather exceptional in that, for decades, history students in major universities were allowed to choose between the disciplines of Finnish (national) and General (European/World) History as their major or in some cases Cultural, Economic, Intellectual, Political or Social History instead. Such a selection has been removed recently with the integration of the master’s programmes of Finnish and General History in most universities. It is hoped that this integration will lead to an increased internationalisation and Europeanisation of all academic history teaching and research, supporting the development of comparative, transnational and global perspectives. It remains to be seen, however, whether the merging of national and international history might actually support a neo-nationalist turn to nation-state-centred history, reflecting current right populist tendencies in public discourse. Concentration on the nation state remains mainstream in historical research in practically every European country, and there are signs that students are favouring national over international history again after years when many prioritised the European over the Finnish.

Paradoxically, the first Finnish chair in General History was created in the Imperial Alexander University of Helsinki in 1863 for Georg Zacharias Forsman and was soon passed on to Zachris Topelius, a sympathiser of the House of Romanov and the imperial interests of Russia.1 The geopolitical idea was to support teaching the history of the Russian Empire to the Finns who, after separation from Sweden, had started to construct their national past. Inspired by the national romantic trends of the time, Finns often found historic moments defining Finnish national identity in heroic wars on the Swedish side. For example defining episodes included fighting against Catholics under Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years’ War, or defending the motherland against Russians in the Finnish War (1808–1809), a side episode in the Napoleonic Wars.

In research and teaching, however, the holders of the chair turned General History not to one promoting Russian imperial history but to a nationalistic project integrating Finnish history to that of Scandinavia and Western Europe and using historical arguments to defend Finnish autonomy against Russification.2 General History had a revival during the Cold War when historians aimed at explaining Finnish policies during the Second World War,3 relating the history of the Finnish nation to that of broader Western Europe,4 or explaining Lenin’s strategy in recognising Finnish independence.5 Contributions to the history of common Western European phenomena were believed to win international visibility for Finnish historical research.6 This often led to a focus on the intellectual history of great powers.7

Courses on the construction of Europe, funded by the European Commission at the time of negotiations on Finnish membership (1995), were another temporary phase. The global turn has remained modest due to the minor role which Finns played in the Swedish colonial projects and the generally held conception of Finland as an object, rather than subject, of colonialism. Some historians have wished to contribute to the comparative history of political cultures and political key concepts in Europe, drawing benefit from the paradox that as speakers of a non-Indo-European language, in a country long governed in foreign languages, Finnish historians need to command several foreign languages. Finnish historians also launched an organisation called Historians without Borders (https://www.historianswithoutborders.fi/en/), which aims at constructive discussions between parties in conflicts in which divergent interpretations of the past are an issue.

Nationalist and internationalist historiography

There are divisions between ‘nationalists’ and ‘internationalists’ among historians in every country. In a recent history of the Finnish Historical Society – a society that was founded in 1875 but until 1962 was dedicated to scholars of Finnish history only8 – historical research not actively engaged in constructing the master narrative of the Finnish nation has been left to the margins.9 This reflects the dominant way of prioritising the national to the inter- and transnational in a small nation state, despite the existence of a tradition of research contributing to European history. Even if I identify myself as a reasonably patriotic Finn, I still consider European history a timely post-nationalist antidote to nation-state-centredness. It not only helps the historian to understand the common and peculiar features of individual nation states better but also challenges methodological nationalism and narratives of national exceptionalism.

Historiography from any country provides examples of a historical phenomenon or development in a nation state being presented as unique simply because parallel and entangled phenomena elsewhere have been ignored. Methodological nationalism has been characteristic of practically every doctoral dissertation I have examined in Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. Thinking outside the national box and established interpretations in the national narrative is obviously difficult for PhD candidates and perhaps might even be considered unpatriotic by their audiences. Whenever working on a comparative topic in the history of political discourse and studying parallel debates in several countries, one often encounters research carried out in national isolation. One may consequently feel obliged to ask challenging questions rising from other national contexts and to point to comparisons that might have deepened the understanding of the national case and created a better international understanding of common European history as well.

National histories are rarely entirely understandable without European comparisons and the consideration of transnational interaction unless we historians wish to continue to carry on the construction of separate nation states in the 21st century. Concentration on the national continues to dominate historical research everywhere and there is no denying the legitimacy of nation state as a unit of historical analysis. There is some variation, however, as to how much conflicting interpretations of national history and historiographic interventions by foreigners are tolerated. Historians from Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands are more used to foreigners writing their history, which of course does not mean that the outsiders are always considered competent to do that.  Historians from smaller states may be particularly critical if the foreign historian does not include sufficient admiration towards the studied country and join its established narratives. Even if we are all foreigners to the distant past, and coming from outside the history-cultural socialisation of the country may help in thinking outside the box of the national, there are still ‘natives’ who may be offended by such intrusions. Any historian, native or foreign, dealing with delicate or central issues of national history with established interpretations and challenging them with cross-national comparisons runs the risk of being questioned, rejected, or simply ignored.

Narratives of Nordic exceptionalism

Let me take up three examples from Nordic history which, despite the outspoken international orientation of the Scandinavian societies and academia, continues to focus mainly on the histories of respective nation states. Nordic history would benefit from comparative history within and beyond Scandinavian. Since the Second World War, Nordic history has tended to avoid potentially unpleasant comparisons with German history due to both methodological nationalism and for ideological reasons.10 Furthermore, Scandinavian historians may remain surprisingly unaware of relevant research carried out in a neighbouring Nordic country. Concentration on the nation state easily produces narratives of particularity. This leads to the consensual disregard of findings of European history that do not fit the established national paradigms – whether studies of the welfare state, democracy or violent national conflicts, for instance.

In all Nordic countries, the welfare state has become the universal concept dominating every aspect of social life. Explaining the welfare state as a product of mid-twentieth-century cooperation between social democrats and liberals or agrarians and later on even conservatives has not sufficed for some Nordic historians. There has been a political need to emphasise the indigenous structural nature of the Nordic welfare states, the favourite explanatory factor being Lutheranism that created ethics supportive of welfare states. The extreme interpretation, reinforced by an American liberal fan of the Nordic model, presents Luther as a revolutionary, democrat, socialist and feminist, and Nordic social democracy and welfare states as Lutheranism put into practice in a secular form.11 A close reading and contextualisation of Luther’s original writings and comparisons with other Lutheran countries – not least Germany – would have helped in relativizing such claims supportive of self-sufficient attitudes among Scandinavians and Finns. There is no doubt that Lutheranism has played a major role in the formation of Nordic national identities, education, culture, and social practices,12 but excessive claims on Nordic welfare states as simply secularised Lutheranism are an example of the need for twentieth-century European history as a context.

Another concept shared by all Scandinavians is democracy. Every Nordic political party supports democracy, even though the exact meaning of democracy varies significantly from party to party. Democracy often appears as a synonym for the established political system based on a strong sovereign nation state executing the will of the people. As the Danish Jeppe Nevers (2018) has shown, Nordic critics of European integration have typically emphasised national democracy and sovereignty as opposed to any transnational democracy developed within the European Union – similar to British brexiteers. Illustrative also is the provocation in calling a leading right populist party ‘Sweden Democrats’. The use of ‘Democrats’ is an attempt to take over a central universalist concept of Swedish national identity by redefining it in ways that challenge the dominant tolerant, multicultural and social democratic understanding of Swedishness.

Historians and political scientists have demonstrated how the narratives of Denmark and Sweden as birthplaces of democracy and parliamentarism developed since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First conservatives maintained these narratives to counter reform as foreign innovation and later reformists took over the narratives to redefine their demands as the mere restoration of a golden past of democracy and parliamentarism. Once the reformists won and universal and equal suffrage was introduced in Sweden in the aftermath of the First World War, and as Sweden was defined as the safe haven of democracy by all major parties as a reaction to Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the narrative of native democracy became mainstream.13

During the struggles for universal suffrage, the political scientist Fredrik Lagerroth14 interpreted the Age of Liberty (1719–1772) – when the Diet played a major role in Swedish politics – as the revival of ancient Swedish democracy and the anticipation of modern parliamentary democracy. This narrative was echoed in Anglophone accounts of the Swedish Age of Liberty most famously by Michael Roberts15 which was received as reinforcement of the validity of the narrative of pioneering Swedish democracy.16 European comparisons, however, point at the contingent nature of democracy in the Nordic countries, demonstrating the typically early modern nature of the Swedish eighteenth-century estate representation and the dependency of Nordic democratisation on the common European experiences of the First World War as well as on transnational connections, not least to Germany and Russia.17 European history is needed to relativize our historical arguments about the natural, self-evident and unproblematic rise of Nordic democracy. It helps to understand the entangled and transnational character of our democracies, in the past, today, and in the future.

Civil wars have frequently caused the deepest scars in national historical consciousness. Finland’s Civil War of 1918 between Whites who defended a republican constitution with strong executive powers, allying with Imperial Germany, and Reds who, after having lost a parliamentary majority, launched a socialist revolution with support from Bolshevik Russia,  is not an exception. Parliamentary government based on broad suffrage since 1906 consequently failed and 30,000 casualties during the war and post-war terror created lasting bitterness. In the interwar era and until the 1960s, a White narrative dominated, associating the Red rebellion with Russian Bolshevism. Since the 1960s, at first popular authors, and later historians, constructed an alternative narrative sympathetic to the socio-economic demands of the socialists. This narrative often ended up with emphasis on an exceptionally repressive bourgeoisie opposed by a moderate reformist labour movement.18 Since the 1970s, a national consensus has been constructed in cultural products and mainstream historiography around this latter narrative.

Challenging this dominant narrative is difficult. Suggestions have been made – on the basis of comparative research considering transnational entanglements – that many of the Finnish non-socialist parties were reformist in comparison to their German and Swedish counterparts and that violent revolutionary rhetoric took over the Finnish Social Democratic Party during 1917 in ways that cannot be found in Britain, Germany or Sweden. While transfers from Petrograd are obvious,19 denial may follow.20 Some historians continue to emphasise Finnish social confrontations unavoidably leading to a civil war, denying the role of polarised, transnational and entangled discourses in deepening the conflict. We need European history with consideration of the national and transnational dynamics of political discourse in 1917 to better understand why the Finnish parliamentary system – called the most democratic in Europe before the First World War including women’s suffrage – failed. Comparative European history also helps to explain how the Finnish system recovered, gradually developing towards a stable polity.

Challenges and possibilities of comparative and transnational history

Comparative history also has its blind spots. The choice of the objects of comparisons can easily determine the conclusions. For example, it seems to be the rule in German historiography that Germany is compared with other great European nations while comparisons with the culturally much closer Scandinavian countries may be considered irrelevant. Finland appears as a progressive nation when compared to Russia, the Baltic States, or Eastern Central Europe21 but is seen as on the fringes of Western civilisation when compared to ‘Protestant’, ‘constitutional’ and ‘parliamentary’ Northwestern Europe.22 Volumes consisting of separate national narratives by ‘natives’ unwilling to analyse similar sources from other countries or consider points of transnational interaction hardly constitute proper comparative history if only the editors attempt to carry out comparisons. Much remains to be done among historians to relativize an isolated nation state as the dominant unit of analysis. In order to write European history we must be ready to treat our home country as an interesting case among others, to learn several languages, to read parallel sources from countries of comparison and to question national narratives, no matter how painful that may be. Such critical review of national historiographies is needed in the present-day world of revived discourses of national exceptionalism.

One possibility to write comparative and transnational European history might be to focus on parliaments as predominantly national institutions that have encountered similar challenges at about the same time in history. They have dealt with reform needs with rather similar procedures and produced exceptionally coherent, structured, comparable extensive sources. As institutions in which multi-sited and transnational political discourses have intersected in same space and time, parliaments constitute ideal fora for the analysis of transformations in ideologically charged political concepts such as the people, nation, sovereignty, representation, democracy, parliamentarism, politician and internationalism, as well as a significant variety of policy questions common to most European states.

Computer-assisted analyses of the corpora of digitised parliamentary records can be used to locate ideological confrontations, some of which may previously have gone unnoticed. Quantitative analyses of extensive digital datasets can document temporal evolution and enable the selection of cases for qualitative, contextual, content analysis. They help to detect patterns and anomalies and enable the formulation of new research questions. Contextualising close reading of micro-level cases needs to focus on the dynamic relationship between intra- and extra-parliamentary political discourses in national contexts and to consider cross-national transfers. Digitisation and such amalgamation of national histories now enable contextually sensitive big data analyses of the long-term history of transnational European political discourse.

August 2020

Cite this article as:

Pasi Ihalainen: European History as a Nationalist and Post-Nationalist Project, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds.), Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, November 15, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/358.

  1. Matti Klinge, Topelius, Zachris (1818-1898), in: Finnish Literature Society (ed.), Studia Biographica 4, Helsinki 1997, http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:sks-kbg-002854. []
  2. Vesa Vares, Danielson-Kalmari, Johan Richard (1853-1933), in: Finnish Literature Society (ed.), Studia Biographica 4, Helsinki 2003, http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:sks-kbg-003177. []
  3. Eino Jutikkala, Korhonen, Arvi (1890-1967), in: Finnish Literature Society (ed.), Studia Biographica 4, Helsinki 2001, http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:sks-kbg-007003. []
  4. Aira Kemiläinen, Nationalism: Problems Concerning the Word, the Concept and Classification, Jyväskylä 1964. []
  5. Timo Vihavainen, Polvinen, Tuomo (1931-), in: Finnish Literature Society (ed.), Studia Biographica 4, Helsinki 2006, http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:sks-kbg-007646. []
  6. Marjatta Hietala, Kemiläinen, Aira (1919-2006), in: Finnish Literature Society (ed.), Studia Biographica 4, Helsinki 2004, http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:sks-kbg-008531. []
  7. Sisko Haikala, ‘Britische Freiheit’ und das Englandbild in der öffentlichen deutschen Diskussion im ausgehenden 18. Jahrhundert, Jyväskylä 1985; Markku Peltonen, Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought: 1570 to 1640, Helsinki 1992. []
  8. Petri Karonen (ed.), Tiede ja yhteiskunta. Suomen Historiallinen Seura ja historiantutkimus 1800-luvulta 2010-luvulle, Helsinki 2019. []
  9. Pertti Haapala, Kirja meistä, in: Historiallinen aikakauskirja 116.1 (2020), pp. 116–118. []
  10. Peter Baldwin, Comparing and Generalizing: Why All History Is Comparative, Yet No History Is Sociology, in: Deborah Cohen / Maura O’Connor (eds.), Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective, New York & London 2004, pp. 1-22. []
  11. Robert H. Nelson, Lutheranism and the Nordic Spirit of Social Democracy: A Different Protestant Ethic, Aarhus 2017; cf. Pasi Ihalainen, Review of Lutheranism and the Nordic Spirit of Social Democracy: A Different Protestant Ethic by Robert H. Nelson, in: Scandia 84.2 (2018), pp. 120-122. []
  12. Pasi Ihalainen, Protestant Nations Redefined: Changing Perceptions of National Identity in the Rhetoric of English, Dutch and Swedish Public Churches, 1685–1772, Leiden 2005; Kaius Sinnemäki / Anneli Portman / Jouni Tilli / Robert H. Nelson (eds.), On the Legacy of Lutheranism in Finland: Societal Perspectives, Helsinki 2019; Pasi Ihalainen, Towards a Religion of Popular Sovereignty, Democracy and Equality: The Lutheran Sermon as a Nexus of Traditional and Modern Discourses on Political Values and a Collective Identity, in: Kaius Sinnemäki / Anneli Portman / Jouni Tilli / Robert H. Nelson (eds.), On the Legacy of Lutheranism in Finland: Societal Perspectives, Helsinki 2019, pp. 292–308. []
  13. Jussi Kurunmäki, ‘Nordic Democracy’ in 1935: On the Finnish and Swedish Rhetoric of Democracy, in: Jussi Kurunmäki / Johan Strang (eds.), Rhetorics of Nordic Democracy, Helsinki 2010, pp. 37-82; Pasi Ihalainen, The 18th-Century Traditions of Representation in a New Age of Revolution: History Politics in the Swedish and Finnish Parliaments, 1917–1919, in: Scandinavian Journal of History 40.1 (2015), pp. 70–96; Uffe Jakobsen / Jussi Kurunmäki, Formation of Parliamentarism in the Nordic Countries from the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War, in: Pasi Ihalainen / Cornelia Ilie / Kari Palonen (eds.), Parliament and Parliamentarism: A Comparative History of a European Concept, New York 2016, pp. 97-114; Jussi Kurunmäki / Irène Herrmann, Birthplaces of Democracy: The Rhetoric of Democratic Tradition in Switzerland and Sweden, in: Jussi Kurunmäki / Jeppe Nevers / Henk te Velde (eds.), Democracy in Modern Europe: A Conceptual History, New York 2018, pp. 82-112. []
  14. Fredrik Lagerroth, Frihetstidens författning: en studie i den svenska konstitutionalismens historia, Stockholm 1915. []
  15. Michael Roberts, The Age of Liberty: Sweden 1719−1772, Cambridge 1986. []
  16. Marie-Christine Skuncke / Henrika Tandefelt (eds.), Riksdag, kaffehus, predikstol. Frihetstidens politiska kultur 1766–1772, Stockholm 2003. []
  17. Pasi Ihalainen, Agents of the People: Democracy and Popular Sovereignty in British and Swedish Parliamentary and Public Debates, 1734–1800, Leiden 2010; Pasi Ihalainen, The Springs of Democracy: National and Transnational Debates on Constitutional Reform in the British, German, Swedish and Finnish Parliaments, 1917–1919, Helsinki 2017; Michael Jonas, Scandinavia and the Great Powers in the First World War, London 2019. []
  18. Risto Alapuro, State and Revolution in Finland, Berkeley 1988. []
  19. Ihalainen 2017; Lasse Lehtinen / Risto Volanen, 1918: Kuinka vallankumous levisi Suomeen, Helsinki 2018; Pasi Ihalainen, Diskurssit osana sisällissotaan johtanutta poliittista prosessia, in: Historiallinen aikakauskirja 117.1 (2019), pp. 95−98. []
  20. Antti Kujala, Neljän maan parlamenttihistorian vertailua, in: Historiallinen aikakauskirja 116.4 (2018), pp. 485−487. []
  21. Risto Alapuro, State and Revolution in Finland, Berkeley 1988. []
  22. Ihalainen 2005; Ihalainen 2010; Ihalainen 2017. []

Provincializing Europe, De-centering Europe, Hybridizing Europe …

Alexander Semyonov

Since 2003 each year I have taught a class on the history of the Russian Empire in St Petersburg. Every year I ask my students, fresh from the high school classes of history, a question at the beginning of my course: do you think that Russia in its past or some periods of its history belonged to Europe? Answers to this question have changed in the course of my teaching career. In 2014, for the first time, the nays prevailed over the ayes. By 2015, only three students answered ‘yes’ to the posed question. They were two exchange students from the US and one exchange student from China.

Of course, the question I put before my students is an intellectual provocation. It serves as an entry point to the discussion of metanarratives of history, including the history of progress, modernization, and transition from empire to nation. Students delve into the vernacular translations of those metanarratives in the Russian historiographic tradition that go by names like Europeanization, reform, and revolution. Unpacking the question itself, students face the problem of how to use historically rooted categories as tools of analysis, whether it is possible to speak of Europe and Russia as unchanging entities, and how the history of the semantic change of concepts and contestation around the meaning of those concepts, are part of history itself.

Finally, students in my course are invited to ponder the question of an overlap between the categories of analysis of an historian and categories of practice. Production of historical knowledge is nested at the crossing of professional intellectual debates, societal concerns, and politics. Today the evolving political reality of the European Union (EU) powerfully shapes the perception of what European history is inside the EU and in the outside world. It informs the perception of the spatial scale and the perception of the scope of European history. Early on, the narrative of European history was identified as a tool for constructing the nascent identity of the evolving European political space at the close of the 20th century.1 But the post-World War II European identity was largely founded on the ultra-modernist temporal concept of Europe as a break with its past and with the central idea of preventing the repetition of the devastating 20th century wars on the European continent. The eastward EU expansion changed that. Gradually, the spatial concept of European polity replaced the temporal concept of Europe. In the 21st century, the space and history came back together in the narrative of European identity.

The Problem of Nativism

The growing shift to nativism in Russia (some say that Russia pioneered this turn in the world today) has resulted in a dramatic recasting of the historical narrative, making it autarkic and centered on the history of the Russian state, the Russian nation, and the Russian Orthodox Church. There are many elaborate intellectual traditions in the history of Russian political thought to tap into for this reconfiguration of the Russian historical narrative.2 Fundamentally, Russian politics today is defined by different versions of nativism (from Eurasianism to Russian nationalism), a conservative discourse on state sovereignty for domestic and, importantly, external consumption (modeled on the post-Napoleonic European system of great powers, which aligns well with Russia’s regional hegemon ambitions), and the liberal oppositional politics which sets Russia on a course to become a normal European nation-state. If one looks at the concept of Europe employed in present-day Russian nativism and liberalism, one finds a surprising similarity: a homological and homogenous European historical experience is posited as either an axiomatic destination or as an alien threat. The valence of value judgment in these political visions does not change the historical reference.  Europe remains unchangeable through the past and in different contexts that one might define. This situation has two corollaries. First, for historians in Russia, reflection on the practice of European history and on the relationship between Russian and European histories is intertwined with adjacent political discourses that employ Europe as their central reference. Second, contemporary professional historians should be on the alert when the epistemic logic of their categories of analysis reproduce the logic of categories of political practice. The professional core of historical discipline is constituted by the predisposition to historicize key concepts of social and political discourse. That is to say, to de-essentialize concepts (in this case, Europe) in order to provide for a gap between the past ‘as an alien country’ and the present world that retains many pasts’ futures.

The Challenges of Global History

The professional historiographic debate about the category of Europe and the framework of European history has recently been subjected to critiques that are coming from two dynamically developing fields of historical inquiry: global history and new imperial history. I base the following remarks on my experience as a member of the Ab Imperio journal collective since 2000.  At Ab Imperio we have been developing the field of new imperial history for Northern Eurasia and engaging in dialogue with the critical strand of the field of global history. The critique of the concept of European history from these two fields (and those fields include a diversity of viewpoints) is similar as it aims to deconstruct the concept and the narrative of European history as a normative model and as a privileged scale of historical experience. Let us take those two aspects separately and then look at the openings for a refined vision of European history.

The current evolution of the field of global history may be called a critical reflection on the recent failures of globalization since the end of the Cold War as a normative perspective and an historic process. It is interesting to note, retrospectively, that the growth of global history as the history of globalization overlapped with the discussion of a comparative history of Europe as a framework for shaping the narrative about a new European identity. Both intellectual developments were situated in the context of the presumed ‘end of history’ associated with the end of the Cold War. From the ‘end of history’ viewpoint the inevitable globalization of the world dovetailed with the inclusion of Central and East-Central Europe in a consolidated and enlarged EU. History never ends, though, and an end in sight also means a promise of a new beginning. But the crisis of a normative vision makes the critical work of an historian to de-familiarize purported links between the past and the present especially relevant. In his authoritative What is Global History?, Sebastian Conrad presents a powerful argument against this essentializing thinking and the normative visions of the global history as the history of globalization.  Conrad suggests ways to limit the claims of global history, to engage in methodological reflection on global history as an approach, and to offer what I would call a constructivist take on global history:

‘In some ways, what I say about global history, distinguishing it from older variants of world history, seems to be similar to the New Imperial History in distinction from older (and structural) variants of imperial history. So, essentially, three points. First, yes, global historians do not take “the globe” simply as something that is “out there,” as a structure, as you would say, but, in fact, they use “global” as a perspective. Second, because this structure is not simply there, it very much depends upon the positionality of the historians. It does, in other words, make a difference from where you look. The world will look very different depending on from where you write. And even in one society there will be conflicting ways of thinking about what the world actually is, and what it looks like. This dimension is also crucial. The world, then, is not an objective scale that we can touch but, in fact, it depends on our views. And the third dimension, what you just mentioned concerns the temporality, or the long-termism that you have mentioned. Just as in the imperial history, I see a danger of essentialism that is linked to the long-termism that is present in some versions of global history. This happens when historians stipulate particular entities as lasting for centuries and even millennia, as if they were simply given. A good example is the concept of “China,” that is usually seen as continuous across centuries. But historical actors did not necessarily experience the different dynasties, with their sometimes very different geographies, consistently as “China.”‘3

The critical phase in the development of global history produced a refinement of the analytical purchase of this new avenue for historical inquiry.  Global history was conceived as a way to systematically contextualize and deconstruct the national history paradigm as the basic container of historical experience and Eurocentrism as both the privileged point of origin of world history in a diffusionist perspective and as the epistemological hegemony of the modern discipline of history. From a post-colonial studies perspective, national history and the universalism of historical categories were the twins strengthened by Eurocentrism. From a global history perspective, the paradigm of multiple civilizations and the claim of autonomous epistemological power becomes another version of centrism, exhibiting the same features of essentialization of the historical life-world and epistemic hegemony.

The new analytical language developed in this constructivist version of global history helps redefine the framework of European history as one of the possible scales for historical inquiry along with imperial history, national history, regional history, and local history. Ceasing to be an object of analysis and becoming a scale of analysis, modern European history needs to be more thoroughly integrated and taught together with other histories, rather than as a separate field juxtaposed to national history. The majority of Russian university history programs follow the 19th century and Soviet-era blueprint that structures the historical curriculum on the opposition of ‘universal history’ (which, by and large, means the history of Western Europe and North America) to Russian history (actually called ‘History of the Fatherland’). Introducing a course on European history will not problematize this taxonomy, but instead will reinforce the division. Offering a course on comparative history, or global history of empires, or revolutions in world history with Europe being one of the scales for exploration of connected processes might help decenter the foundational boundary between one’s own and others’ histories that was set at the birth of the modern historical profession.

The Challenge of New Imperial History

If European history was significantly modified and became one of the scales of historical inquiry in the recent accounts of global history, it almost disappeared in the revisionist accounts of new imperial history. To clarify the argument one needs to explain the differentiation between the old and new imperial history. Empire started to attract a new and heightened interest of historians with the advent of a new global dis-order and emergence of claims of global and regional hegemony. The break-up of the Soviet Union, seen by some as the last empire, and the formation of the EU prompted historians to revisit questions of supranational sovereignties and imperial politics of the management of difference. True, the burst of the concept of empire center-stage was in part underpinned by the search for a relevant, if not usable, past. This current in historical thinking about empire (new and old at the same time) largely followed the structuralist conception, like in the model of center-periphery, or in the definition of a multinational continental empire. The center-periphery model often got subsumed under the division of the European imperial metropole and the overseas colonial periphery, even though, as Dominic Lieven reminds us, Ireland and Scotland were not exactly overseas in the British Empire.4 The definition of multinational continental empire followed the structural precepts of center and periphery although not in terms of geographic division.  Ethnicity came to play the role of the boundary between the center and the periphery, even though religion, and not ethnicity, was the fundamental marker of difference for much of the history of those empires and the modernizers of the Hapsburg and Russian empires struggled hard to arrive at a more or less clear definition of the dominant nationality (German and Russian).5

The new imperial history, written in different versions and on varying historical material, questions the structuralist precepts behind the analytical model of empire.6 This perspective strives to avoid the redundant and universal definition of empire as a large and powerful state and aims to explore diversity, filled with multiple voices and agencies in differing contexts. Like the recent turn in global history, new imperial history does not take empire as a durable and self-evident form of historical experience.  It stresses the dangers of empire-realism and emphasizes historic transformations and imaginaries that underpinned the making of the world of hierarchy asymmetry, entanglement, and diversity. The theoretical reflection shifts the definition of empire from being an object of analysis to a context-setting category that allows the historian to move up or down the temporal and spatial scales of historical analysis. New accounts of imperial pasts produced new interpretations by combining center and periphery in a single analytical perspective, treating empire and nation as political claims and imaginary categories, rather than as opposites, and pointing to contestation as the central element in global history.7 Thus, the new imperial history adds a fourth ‘C’ (contestation) to the standard three Cs of the global history – comparison, connection, causality.

Consequently, the turn to new imperial history blurs the boundary of European history in two senses. First, this perspective approaches the imperial experience as a continuum treating the metropole of a colonial empire in Europe as part of the continuum. Second and following from the first, the new perspective challenges the notion that a nation-state is a container of historical experience that was born and first realized on the European continent. In their pioneering work on world history written through the prism of empire, Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper demonstrate the analytical purchase of expanding the scale of analysis geographically by considering European and non-European empires together and chronologically by seeing continuous patterns of politics of diversity in pre-modern and modern empires.8 Cooper and Burbank stress the political history of imperial sovereignty and politics of difference, insisting on the prevalence of imperial pragmatism over epistemological power and ideology. Krishan Kumar, on the other hand, in Visions of Empire, argues that the centrality of cultural frames and political languages shaped the universalism and pluralism of imperial spaces.9 Kumar shifts the focus on political imaginaries and deconstructs the opposition between nation and empire that is so central to the structuralist accounts of histories of empires and the concept of transition from empire to nation. In Kumar’s argument, and in the work of other historians, empire and nation appear to be co-existing political claims and the language of the rationalization of social reality.10

Collaborative Frameworks as an Important Goal 

If Europe becomes one of the possible scales of historical analysis considered through the lens of global history, then the new imperial history casts Europe as an especially promising locus to explore hybrid and overlapping historical forms.11 An expanded and inclusive patchwork of European history allows the historian to see multiple forms of imperial control. From the Russian Empire and other Eurasian empires, through Central European empires, and on to internal colonialism and overseas empires, using the tools of new imperial history, historians can illuminate imperial contestation, interaction, and entanglement. Reframed by imperial history, European history can lead to rethinking the modern teleology of transition from empire to nation, the latter being claimed as the ultimate end of history for the alleged lack of conceivable alternatives. Finally, by historicizing and deconstructing Europe as a normative model of modern history, we can think in a new way about analytical categories of social sciences and history including state, nation, class, and race.  By paying attention to the fact that these categories were not born in Europe, but in the process of reflection on the mixed, shifting, and elusive boundaries of Europe as a telos of modern history, we can understand these categories in new ways and eschew the trap between Eurocentrism and other centrisms and native epistemologies.12 I have to add to this that hybrid historical forms are not inherently good or bad, like all intellectual constructs, they should be applied with caution.  But it is also clear that the world we live in is becoming more and more complex and mixed, notwithstanding the growing rebellion of present-day populists against complex forms. 

If this argument about the analytical promise of the exploration of hybrid historical forms in the locus of European history is correct, then we need more collaborative frameworks in historical research and education. All too often universities prefer to globalize the campus rather than expose students and faculty to a different cultural experience. In addition, even well-funded universities fail to hire and cultivate sufficient faculty in the humanities for the tasks required by globally and imperially entangled European and non-European history, especially with the cuts in the humanities of recent days. Finally, the expectation to provide training in national history looms large over chairs of history departments and local job markets are likely to favor specialists, who do not need to travel abroad for archival research.

The breathtaking development of online education and MOOCs seemed to promise exposure to the world without leaving home. I would argue, however, that they are phony alternatives to international collaboration. The online formats often reproduce asymmetries in the production of knowledge: the students are on the periphery while the European and North American centers of knowledge are the producers and educators. Likely to be in English, they reproduce and extend linguistic hegemony.

What I have in mind is joint ventures, like the joint doctoral program ‘Global Histories of Empire’ between the HSE University and the University of Turin. Students are enrolled in both campuses of the program, meet for specialized courses and summer schools, travel back and forth, and are taught by faculty from both universities. The language of instruction is English, but other languages, including Italian and Russian, are spoken in different tracks of the program. This program is bilateral at the moment. The idea, however, is to move to a consortium that would link faculty specializing in different regions and periods of history in a collaboration to develop a jointly taught curriculum. Even this bilateral collaboration, however, made a difference by expanding the areas of training at my department of history in St. Petersburg in the fields of Latin American, European, and Mediterranean history. The joint work of faculty from different historiographic traditions requires them to reflect on meta-historical frameworks as a way to professionally communicate and collaborate effectively. More collaborative efforts of this type would enable the pooling and sharing of resources but more important, would further the noble dream of developing inclusive and diverse representations of the past.

Cite this article as:

Alexander Semyonov: Provincializing Europe, De-centering Europe, Hybridizing Europe …, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds.), Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, November 8, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/321.

  1. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt, European History as Comparative History, in: Ab Imperio 1 (2004), pp. 111-126: 114, 118. []
  2. The most interesting historically revisionist accounts of nativist traditions (Slavophilism and Eurasianism) associated with the critique of modernity are: Ilya Gerasimov / Sergey Glebov / Marina Mogilner, The Postimperial Meets the Postcolonial: Russian Historical Experience and the Postcolonial Moment, in: Ab Imperio 2 (2013), pp. 97-135; Sergey Glebov, From Empire to Eurasia: Politics, Scholarship, and Ideology in Russian Eurasianism, 1920s–1930s, DeKalb 2017. []
  3. Alexander Semyonov, ‘Global History is More Than the History of Globalization’: Interview with Sebastian Conrad, in: Ab Imperio 1 (2017), pp. 23-43: 32; Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History?, Princeton 2016. []
  4. Dominic Lieven, Empire: the Russian Empire and Its Rivals from the Sixteenth Century to the Present, London 2003. []
  5. See a more developed argument about the limitations of the structuralist approach to empire in Ilya Gerasimov/ Jan Kusber/ Alexander Semyonov (eds.), Empire Speaks Out: Languages of Rationalization and Self-Description in the Russian Empire, Leiden 2009, pp. 1-32. []
  6. Stephen Howe, Introduction: New Imperial Histories, in: Idem (ed.), The New Imperial Histories Reader, London 2010, pp. 1-20. []
  7. On this, see Alexander Semyonov, How Five Empires Shaped the World and How this Process Shaped those Empires, in: Ab Imperio 4 (2017), pp. 27-51. []
  8. Jane Burbank/ Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, Princeton 2010; see also: Ilya Gerasimov/ Marina Mogilner/ Alexander Semyonov, The Challenge and Serendipity: Writing World History through the Prism of Empire: Interview with Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, in: Ab Imperio 2 (2010), pp. 38-39. []
  9. Krishan Kumar, Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the World, Princeton 2017. []
  10. Pieter Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History, Cambridge 2016. []
  11. A more developed argument about the importance of exploration of hybrid historical forms and the critique of the standard conception of hybridity coming from the field of post-colonial studies is given in: Ilya Gerasimov/ Sergey Glebov/ Marina Mogilner, Hybridity: Marxism and the Problem of Language of the Imperial Situation, in: Ab Imperio 1 (2016), pp. 27-68. []
  12. See George Steinmetz (ed.), Sociology and Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline, Durham 2013; for the argument of how sociology, the allegedly most nation-centered social science discipline, was born in the imperial entanglement and over the reflection on imperial mixture. I have learned about the alternative between ‘provincializing Europe’ and ‘positionality of historical perspective’ in thinking about Eurocentrism of modern social sciences from the research by my colleague: Marina Mogilner, Homo Imperii: A History of Physical Anthropology in Russia, Lincoln 2013. []

The Quest for (a Utopian?) European History

Efi Avdela

It is certainly not fortuitous that we are again invited to discuss the present and future of contemporary European history as a field of research at this moment. 1 The last ten years have been marked by successive global crises – first financial, then refugee and most recently medical – that have made the notion of ‘Europe’ as a common ground for social policies, unified politics and economic exchange fragile. This is a thorny issue because any discussion about imagined geographies has political, institutional, and epistemological implications depending on the position from which any answer is formed. From a Greek perspective, one cannot disassociate the question of ‘Which Europe?’ from ‘Which Greece in which Europe?’

A debate with a history of its own

In fact, the discussion to which the editors invite us about European history versus national history on the one hand and global history on the other itself has a long history. After World War I, the quest for a comparative history of Europe was put forward as a precondition for overcoming a positivist national and often nationalist history2. More recently, since the 1990s, scholarly journals and edited volumes debated whether it is possible to write a European history. At first this was prompted by the optimistic belief in a unified greater Europe that accompanied the fall of the Berlin wall, and then at the level of the European Union through repeated attempts to construct a history of the ‘Europeans’.3 The debate was reinvigorated with the critique of Eurocentric approaches to history by imperial and postcolonial scholars, and the challenges posed by transnational and global historians.

The most recent contributions have repeatedly highlighted the problems and limits of European history as it has been traditionally practiced.  It has been critiqued as essentialist, Eurocentric, limited to a Western ‘small Europe’4, as a simple compiling of closed national narratives that are based on ‘historical fictions of autonomy’5 and as ‘methodological nationalism’6. In this context, according to the editors, European history currently faces two overriding obstacles: to incorporate the various European historiographies and to face the competitive institutional and public challenge of global history.7 Their voice echoes recent scholarship, advocating that the reinvention of European history depends on it being critical, plural, inclusive, open to the world, integrating all parts of Europe as well as other parts of the world, and preoccupied ‘with transnational exchanges and historical spaces’8, while acknowledging internal asymmetries and dependencies. This discussion has been comprehensive in its visualisation of what form a new European history should take, although it has said little in relation to how this can be achieved in present day Europe, however this is conceived. I argue that the issue is primarily political, not technical or epistemological, and that therefore there are very few ‘practical ways’ to overcome this challenge.

Up to now the above discussion was largely based on the consensus that there is as much need to go beyond national history as there is to go beyond Eurocentrism. The repudiation of national history has its own long history. In most recent times, it was a way out of the fierce debates and the bitter splits of the international historical community in the 1980s and 1990s related to the linguistic turn. At the same time, it was energized by the growth of imperial and postcolonial history that put forward critiques of Eurocentrism and the need to study metropoles and their colonies together. Dramatic titles in books and articles emphasized the urgent need to go beyond national history and the difficulties in achieving this goal.9 The spread of transnational and global histories, focusing on interconnections beyond national borders, made this need seem self-evident. This ‘swelling interest in overcoming national history’, according to Q. Edward Wang, has benefited the advance of global history and was accompanied by the realisation that European historiographies were persistently Eurocentric and a desire to leave this behind.10 Yet, while all participants admit that ‘Europe’ and ‘European history’ are constructs, ‘national history’ is seldom problematized. It is presented as both homogeneous and introverted, its meaning and form are taken for granted, and historians are pictured as longing to free themselves from its shackles.

Reconsidering ‘Eurocentrism’ from a Greek perspective

In what follows, I make three inter-related points from a Greek perspective:

1. The desire to go beyond national history is not equally relevant to all European historiographies. On the one hand, ‘small’ language-speaking European historians are obliged to open their national history to the wider world whenever they want to address an English-speaking audience. On the other hand, as I shall try to show below, ‘small’ or ‘peripheral’ European cases can demonstrate that there can be a European, transnational and/or global national history. We also need, however, to explain further what ‘Europanising’ national histories means11 and how this is connected to relations of power on both an academic and an institutional level.

2. The need to go against the ‘epistemic trap of Eurocentrism’12, which has gained extra prominence in the wake of the postcolonial critique and exemplified by the much-cited Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference13, does not engage all parts of Europe equally. It concerns only a small number of Western European historiographies, which need to come to grips with their colonial and imperial pasts. The majority of European historiographies, construed in this debate as ‘peripheral’, are striving to overcome their marginalisation and become visible by elaborating the historical consequences of their ‘peripheral’ positions.

3. The practical obstacles in ‘interweaving European historiographies’ are both shaped and closely linked to economic, political, and historiographic hierarchies and imbalances of power within Europe. Historiographic power at the European level is defined by the asymmetries of its distribution. There are multiple reasons that explain this, ranging from differences in the formation of contemporary historiographies and diverse and historically contingent meanings of Europe, to the structural inequalities in material resources, language skills, and research funding of the different countries within Europe. One only needs to look at the difficulties faced by non-native-English-speaking historians publishing in English and the indifference shown towards non-Western contributions to European historiographies as proof of the above observations. As a result, much of European history written in ‘small’ languages remains unknown to most European historians.14

1. Going beyond national history and decentering models

In Greece, research in European history is hosted in the academy and is closely related to teaching. Most history departments have at least one specialist in European history. Usually they teach and research the medieval or early modern periods, but there are also some scholars of nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. As elsewhere15, historians occupying these posts frequently specialize in one European language-state-people (outside of the Greeks and Greece), teaching a variety of generalized European history courses. Currently, historians teaching contemporary European history specialize in United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, or France. As researchers they face unique difficulties, operating in a context where history largely remains Greece-centered both within the academy and the public domain. If they want to make their research results known to the Greek public and publish in Greek, they frequently do not have interlocutors. Publishing in non-Greek languages, they normally face competition from established historical and linguistic communities.

During the last thirty years, Greek historiography – especially more contemporary history – has developed and diversified, becoming more outward facing with more publications in non-Greek languages, especially English. The growing number of Greek historians willing to integrate the Greek case into various international historiographic debates through their research has had two main consequences. First, it has encouraged them to be more outward looking in their writing of history – to ‘Europeanise’ or/and ‘globalise’ it – when publishing in English. However, the geographical references of each case depend on the specific research being conducted as well as the historically changing place accorded to Greece in particular mental maps. Whether Greece is considered part of Ottoman, Balkan, Southern or Southeastern European, or European history is a matter of historiographic politics, but also a consequence of politics in the sense of the changing position of the country in geopolitical hierarchies.

For example, if I want to publish an article in English on the foundations of the Greek juvenile justice mechanism in the 1940s, I might wish to integrate this case into the historiography of juvenile justice in Europe and beyond. In doing so, I would identify the influences from abroad that have shaped Greek protagonists and the way in which these influences modified local debates and legislative measures, comparing these forms and practices internationally. I might also explain why what Western Eurocentrism – still prevalent in historiography – would characterise as ‘delay’ in the Greek case is, in fact, a consequence of many factors that need to be contextualised and historicised. Finally, I might argue that the inclusion of the Greek case into the history of juvenile justice could alter the established narrative.

This is not solely a Greek predicament. In order to counterbalance the widespread evolutionism and exceptionalism of much of European historiography, historians of ‘small’ or ‘peripheral’ European cases have to convince their English-speaking audience that what is needed is the de-centering of the ‘model’.16 This later viewpoint can have positive effects for both European history and national historiographies.

The second consequence of this growing ‘internationalisation’ of Greek historiography is the realisation that a European, transnational, or even global ‘national’ history is possible. I will give two examples from the Greek case, one from an earlier period outside of the periodisation assigned by the editors, the other focused on the twentieth century. My point here is that all national histories are not the same.

The year 2021 will coincide with the celebration of the bicentennial of the Greek revolution, resulting in the foundation of the Greek state. The formation of the Greek state and the process of its construction constitutes the core of the predominant Greek national and nationalistic historiography. 1821, however, was a European transnational event.  It unsettled the Holy Alliance; it generated a strong Philhellenic movement across Europe; and it involved the diplomatic, financial, and military intervention of the great European powers. But it was also a global event. It shook the Ottoman Empire and was part of the Age of Revolutions in Europe, South America, and beyond. Finally, it became an integral part of the ideologies of romanticism and nationalism. Of the celebratory activities planned for next year, conferences and collective volumes promoting the European and the global dimensions of the Greek revolution have been proposed as central components in the innovation of national historiography. They will form an important counterpart to both official and public histories of national reawakening and triumph, providing an opportunity to further open up Greek history, ‘globalizing’ and ‘Europeanising’ while underlining its connections with other parts of the world.

The same inextricable links between Greek, European, and global histories are applicable to the most important military and political events of the Greek twentieth century: the Balkan Wars; the Asia Minor expedition and the ensuing Greco-Turkish war; the Second World War; the Holocaust; the Civil War; and the 1967 military junta. For instance, the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949 – fought on European soil – marked the beginning of the Cold War and involved British and American military intervention. Integrating this into a European history questions the traditional argument that the Cold War remained ‘cold’ in Europe while ‘hot’ in other parts of the world.

2. Greek history as European history

Greek historians increasingly strive to have their contemporary national history recognized as ‘European’ because it is not traditionally viewed as such. In the dominant mental maps of European historiographies, and in spite ‘the fundamental importance [that] archaic and classical Greece plays as an arsenal and sounding board for the Western tale’17, contemporary Greece is (during different historical periods) part of the ‘Levante,’ the ‘Balkans,’ the margin of Europe, the ‘South,’ or one of the ‘PIGS,’ but not necessarily ‘European’.18This is not only the product of the way others view Greek history, but also the consequence of constructing a national historiography, which in Greece – as elsewhere – was heavily conditioned by the particular exigencies of nation-building and changing forms of nationalism.

Historians of other ‘marginal’ regions of Europe might consider Greece an exception in respect to the lack of integration of Southeastern European historiographies.19 This is hardly the case. More Greek historians are participating in collective volumes dedicated to European history or other fields of research than in the past, but this participation remains the exception.

I still remember my frustration in the early 2000s when I read A History of European Women’s Work (2002), by Deborah Simonton. At that time, there were several publications in English written by Greek historians concerning women’s work in Greece in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Simonton’s book made no mention of Greece. As she explained, her aim was to identify distinct patterns in various European countries ‘while locating trends which held across Europe,’ however, she concentrated solely on ‘the story of women’s work primarily in Western Europe’20: namely, United Kingdom, France, Germany plus some mentions of Italy, the Netherlands and a few others. Why Portugal was included and not Spain to this day remains a mystery to me.

Five years later, the collected volume on European women edited by the same historian went much further.21 In her introduction, she recognized all the pitfalls and the restrictions of adopting a purely Western European historical perspective.  However, with a similar phraseology to her previous work, she noted that the volume primarily focussed on Western Europe because there was more research and it was more convenient. In this volume, there are several mentions of Greece, yet all – but one – references are to non-Greek historians.

This comes as no surprise to the participants of this debate, since the need to overcome Eurocentrism, evolutionism, and internal marginalisations is clearly advocated by the editors. Others have repeatedly made similar remarks.22 Of course, inclusion is not an issue of justice or injustice. It is mainly a matter of relevance.  It depends on the criteria used when choices of inclusion are made.  It also depends on whether each national historiography on a specific theme has particularly relevant or unique cases and arguments in relation to the designated debate. Thus, who sets the terms of the historiographic debates also sets the terms of visibility – and this is of utmost importance.

We must acknowledge that Eurocentrism, in the sense of Western Europe as the centre of the world, is still prevalent in much of ‘European’ historiography. We are still far from ‘focusing on the role of Europe’s ‘smaller nations’ and (re)integrating their histories into the study of wider events, trends and institutions’.23

3. Asymmetries, hierarchies and their consequences

One crucial reason for this persistence relates to ‘asymmetric processes, the formation and development of dependencies … within Europe’,24 as well as globally. The historically shaped political and economic hierarchies and imbalances of power within Europe have important effects on the unequal visibility of the various European historiographies, accentuated by language barriers and funding discrepancies. ‘Small-language’ European contemporary historians face a double bind: on the one hand they want to write in their native language in order to express themselves fluently, helping to shape a strong national historiographical community.25  On the other hand, they have to write in English to contribute to historiographic debates in their specific field of historical study and provide their research with a greater readership. The language in which we write, however, directly impacts the way we conceive and express our analysis and the comparative terms we use to relate our research to others. The epistemological and historiographic consequences in writing history in languages other than our own – most often in English, but also in other languages, depending on your linguistic skills – are rarely discussed. Nor are the potential losses of European historiographies addressed from not engaging with the often untranslatable insights, formulations, and concepts employed by ‘small-language’ historians.

The implications of ‘anglicisation’ are even more wide reaching. Writing scholarly articles in a non-native language is one challenge, publishing a book in a foreign language, however, is a separate issue. Not all academic institutions are capable of providing funds to cover the costs of translation, meaning researchers are often faced with the option of personally underwriting them or attempting to write directly in English – a time consuming endeavour at the expense of potential research. All this, before trying to find an editor interested in publishing the work. This is how ‘hierarchies of academic, linguistic, editorial and political power’ are constructed26 and why, as many acknowledge, ‘the majority of [non-Anglophone] publications … [fail] to appear in English and to receive the attention they deserve.27

The emergence of global history has accentuated the issues relating to ‘small-language’ European historiographies. This is most visible in editorial policies. Publishers have more ‘interest in bringing in the non-West ‘other’ for correcting Eurocentrism’28 than adding another European case with unproven originality.29 Consequently, often writers’ only hope is the occasional series dedicated to the history of the relevant region or country.

As the editors attest, there are other important factors relating to these inequalities. The historical context in which each historiography has developed, the local needs to deconstruct national myths, and influence ‘public histories’ shape the possibilities and highlight the difficulties of proposing new methodologies, attempting to set historical questions with wider relevance, and increasing visibility.

The main question is already set: How to achieve a pluralistic approach of European history within and beyond (which?) Europe.30 The answer is also set: by changing perspective, admitting and combating dependencies and inequalities, deconstructing conceptualisations taken for granted, and promoting networking and exchanges.  Existing networks attest to the richness but also the limits of these integrating efforts.31 It is essential that we keep trying and doing our best. At some point, however, must we not admit that this quest is a project too good to be true?  

Cite this article as:

Efi Avdela: The Quest for (a Utopian?) European History, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds.), Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, November 2, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/301.

  1. For our discussions and their suggestions in earlier drafts of this paper, many thanks to Akis Papataxiarchis, Rika Benveniste, Tonia Kiousopoulou, and Dimitra Lampropoulou. []
  2. Marc Bloch, 1928, Pour une histoire comparée des sociétés européennes, in: Revue de synthèse historique 46 (1928),  pp. 15-50. []
  3. Hélène Ahrweiler/ Maurice Aymard (eds.), Les Européens, Paris 2000. []
  4. Jitka Malečková, Gender, History and ‘Small Europe’, in: European History Quarterly 40.4 (2010), pp. 685-700. []
  5. Michael Geyer,  Historical Fictions of Autonomy and the Europeanization of National History, in: Central European History 22 (1989) pp. 316-342. []
  6. Andreas Wimmer / Nina Glick-Schiller, Methodological Nationalism and Beyond: Nation-State Building, Migration and the Social Sciences, in: Global Networks 2.4 (2002), pp. 301-334. []
  7. Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate, Why Europe, Which Europe? Present Challenges and Future Avenues for Doing European History, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds)., Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on the Present and Future of Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, October 15, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/86. []
  8. Laurence Cole / Philipp Ther, Introduction: Current Challenges of Writing European History, in: European History Quarterly 40.4 (2010), pp. 581-892: 586. []
  9. Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China, Chicago, 1995; Antoinette Burton, On the Inadequacy and the Indispensability of the Nation, in: Idem. (ed.), After the Imperial Turn: Thinking With and Through the Nation, Durham 2003, pp. 1-23. []
  10. Edward Q. Wang, Toward a Multidirectional Future of Historiography: Globality, Interdisciplinarity and Posthumanity, in: History and Theory 59.2 (2020), pp. 283–302. []
  11. Levsen – Requate 2020. []
  12. Levsen – Requate 2020. []
  13. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, New Delhi 2000. []
  14. Wang 2020: 294. []
  15. Lynn Hunt, Is European History Passé?, in: Perspectives on History 40.8 (2002), pp. 1–6. []
  16. Fabio Giomi / Stefano Petrungaro (eds.), Voluntary Associations in Yugoslavia (1918-1941) / Le fait associatif en Yougoslavie (1918-1941), Special issue, European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire 26.1 (2019); Dan Diner, Cataclysms: A History of the Twentieth Century from Europe’s Edge, Madison 2008. []
  17. Diner 2008: 8; see also Mark Mazower, Democracy’s Cradle, Rocking the World, in: The New York Times, June 29, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/opinion/30mazower.html (last access 23/7/2020). []
  18. Wang 2020: 291; Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, New York 1997. []
  19. Malečková 2010: 689. []
  20. Deborah Simonton, A History of European Women’s Work: 1700 to the Present, London 2002: 6. []
  21. Deborah Simonton (ed.), The Routledge History of Women in Europe Since 1700, London 1997. []
  22. Patricia Clavin, Time, Manner, Place: Writing Modern European History in Global, Transnational and International Contexts, in: European History Quarterly 40.4 (2010) pp. 624-640; Jörn Leonhard, Comparison, Transfer and Entanglement, or: How to Write Modern European History today?, in: Journal of Modern European History 14.2 (2016), pp. 149-163: 154; Malečková 2010. []
  23. Clavin 2010: 632. []
  24. Levsen – Requate 2020, points 6-8. []
  25. Ann Curthoys, We’ve Just Started Making National Histories, and You Want Us to Stop Already?, in: Antoinette Burton (ed.), After the Imperial Turn: Thinking with and through the Nation, Durham NC  2003, pp. 84-85. []
  26. Giulia Calvi, Global Trends: Gender Studies in Europe and the US, in: European History Quarterly 40.4 (2010), pp. 641-655: 643. []
  27. Wang 2020: 294; also, Dominic Sachsenmaier, World History as Ecumenical History?, in: Journal of World History, 18.4 (2007), pp. 465-489, cited by Calvi 2010: 642. []
  28. Wang 2020: 294. []
  29. Malečkova 2010: 693. []
  30. Levsen – Requate 2020. []
  31. COST Action Who Cares in Europe?, https://whocaresineurope.eu/ (last access 25/7/2020). []

The Crisis of European History

Martin Conway

The idea that Europe is in crisis constitutes one of the most widely repeated phrases of our age. Of course not everybody shares the same understanding of the crisis; but the sense that Europe – as an entity, as a set of institutions, or perhaps more profoundly as a culture bounded by certain core values – is in crisis is an assumption which it has become difficult to avoid, and still more to refute.

Historians, of course, are not particularly enamoured of languages of crisis. We have seen them before: in feudal Europe, in the seventeenth century, in the late ancien régime, and most profoundly in the first half of the twentieth century. Such precedents relativize the present-day language of crisis, and give us reason to consider what is at stake behind its widespread use. Languages of crisis are never objective, and they are often resorted to by those who have a stake in the existing regime. This seems particularly so in the current circumstances. The present-day sense of crisis is rooted in shifts in power from west to east within Europe, in the changing structures of the European economy, in the volatile electoral behaviour of voters, and in the erosion of the liberal value structures of the post-Christian society of the second half of the twentieth century. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the language of crisis is voiced primarily by those who feel threatened by these changes: the political elites of a Western-oriented Europe, those social groups rendered vulnerable by forms of neo-liberalism and globalisation, and an intelligentsia accustomed to the defence of a pluralist and western model of society. Crisis in this context is the language of losers, or more specifically of those who fear that they have something to lose.

Historians are not neutral in this process. By their social background, intellectual formation, and historical studies, they are inclined to regard the Europe of the present-day – or more exactly what was until recently the present-day – as the product of long- and short-term processes which possessed an underlying historical rationale. The European Union, the social-market economy, and the emancipatory logics of an increasingly plural but united model of society, are all aspects of the Europe in which most historians came of age, and which tacitly or explicitly they tend to regard as the consequence of Europe’s long and contested process of modernisation. Many contemporary European historians are in this respect believers in a soft teleology. The united democratic Europe which emerged in the 1990s might not have constituted, in Francis Fukuyama’s formula, the end of history, but to many it seemed that it had long been the direction in which Europe was headed.

History and Europe became, in this sense, mutually reinforcing constructions in the final decades of the twentieth century. Europe was the product of history; but, equally, contemporary history acquired a purpose and a sense of direction through Europe. This latter process went much deeper than some simple partisanship for Europe on the part of historians, though there was (and remains) an element of that as well.1 More importantly, Europe became the prism through which many historians approached their subject matter. As is often the case, there was a strong generational element to this historiographical trend. Europe became the new home of a predominantly younger cohort of historians, for whom the ‘other’ against which they chose to define themselves was the national-oriented historiographies (and historians) that had flourished in the decades immediately following the Second World War. As the manifesto which launched this debate well indicates, the wish to define the project of European history against the mentality of the Sonderweg remains a defining element of the project of European history.

Europe as a subject and a methodology

This discovery of Europe – a point that would in truth have hardly come as a surprise to historians of earlier centuries of European history – became the new focus for the writing of much contemporary history. Multi-volume histories of Europe flourished, of which the five-volume Storia d’Europa published by Einaudi from 1993, with the collaboration of a stellar and for once genuinely international team of historians, was perhaps the most imposing achievement. Significantly too, it started from the present-day, with the publication of the first volume as L’Europa oggi.2 Europe, it suggested, was best understood from the vantage point of the present, which provided the template by which to examine the Europes of the past.

Europe served a dual purpose in such studies. It was both a subject, and a methodology, seeking to identify the ways in which larger processes which one might identify as European emerged at different points in the history of the continent. This historiographical trend, to which Kiran Klaus Patel and I made our own modest contribution,3 drew its energy from the intuitive sense that Europe was not just a useful framework for studying historical problems, but also a means of rethinking contemporary European history, outside of national parameters. What was interesting, for us at least, in the study of Europeanisation was the way in which it changed chronologies, and made new sense of processes of political, social and cultural change which were in danger of becoming overly familiar. By focusing on the changing dynamics of the European, we could identify how different forms and definitions of Europe had waxed and waned across the modern history of Europe. This mentality might have been Europeanist; but it was also emphatically historical. In an era when the ascendancy of the EU risked diminishing other chronologies, it provided a means of indicating that other Europes had existed, and would no doubt do so in the future.

A rallying-call for a generation

This approach provided a rallying-call and a legitimation for what constituted the first (modern) generation of European historians. The policies of research councils, the proliferation of schemes of academic mobility, and the professional and personal trajectories of a more transnational cohort of younger historians, all contributed to the flourishing from the 1990s to the 2010s of a Europe-minded history which mixed together ingredients derived from different historical methodologies to privilege the hitherto neglected importance of the European.

That this process should have coincided with the zenith of more institutional projects of European integration, most notably the expansion of the EU into post-Communist east-central Europe was far from accidental: where grant-giving bodies lead, historians tend to follow. But the more profound logics of this Europeanization of contemporary history lay not only in the perceived obsolescence of the much-abused national templates but also of other ways of writing history. National paradigms were not the only ways of writing history in and of Europe which flourished in the twentieth century. The ascendancy of a European methodology was also the consequence of the decline of a distinguished Marxist tradition of historical writing as well as of the confessional mindsets of an older religious history.

As these older stage-sets of European historical writing fell away, so it was the European which came to seem more essential, and simply more visible. But, as the opening manifesto of this debate rightly makes clear, the definition of the European was always problematic. It rested on mental maps of the shape of Europe and also of its frontiers which carried within them assumptions which at their most benign were essentialist and often verged on the colonial. The reasons for this were of course much larger than the practice of history. The definition after 1945 of a smaller and more homogenous Western Europe excluded territories such as the Near East and Turkey, as well as those on the southern littoral of the Mediterranean, which in previous eras would have been unproblematically regarded as part of a European zone. Above all, the collapse of the Cold War division of Europe in 1989 sucked the former Socialist states of the east into a unified but western-led Europe, the centre of which lay somewhere between Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin.

A tacit Franco-German axis

The project of writing European history was complicit in these larger changes. The post-1945 project of contemporary history had long rested on a tacit Franco-German axis, in which British and Italian scholars also played a notable but supporting role. This implicit hierarchy was abruptly rendered much more explicit by the reconfiguration of the universities and research institutes of east-central Europe that occurred after 1989. As an older generation of historians from the Socialist era were marginalised, so they were replaced by historians from the west, or by those of a younger generation who succeeded in re-tooling their methodologies for a post-socialist era. The imbalance which this created in east-west historical relations was evident in the ambitious projects of European history which flourished in the new landscape of the 1990s. Though continent-wide in their scope, these were directed in large part from the major scientific and academic institutions of Western Europe, who supplied much of the funding and personnel, and also the methodologies and agendas.

That this Western ascendancy should over time have been challenged by the emergence of more national schools of historical writing within east-central Europe was not surprising. But, at the same time, the definition of European history was also destabilised by the resurgence of the global. Much of the writing about European history in the final decades of the twentieth century was remarkable for the way it established a distance between Europe and the non-European world. It acknowledged the importance of the European imperial experience (as well as its crimes and abuses), but also defined it as a process that happened outside of Europe, and which belonged to the pre-1945 past. In the project of writing the contemporary history of Europe after the Second World War, empire was a problem inherited, wrestled with, but then resolved through the retrospective rationales of decolonisation.4

From the 1990s onwards, however, these separate histories of Europe and of empire converged, or more simply collided. Again this was a process which had origins wider than the writing of history: the engagement of European powers in quasi-imperial interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, as well as the emergence after 9/11 of Islamic-inspired violence within European cities brought the interconnectedness of Europe and projects of empire, past and present, to the fore of contemporary politics. But it also reflected the emergence of new forms of global historical writing – perhaps most influentially the work of Jürgen Osterhammel – which located modern structures of European imperialism in much more complex and continuing narratives of interaction between Europe and the other areas of the globe.5

The resurgence of the global

The idea of writing a history of Europe separate from these larger stories came to seem myopic, or even a deliberate evasion of a shameful past.6 Dipesh Chakrabarty’s highly influential concept of ‘provincializing Europe’ – as expounded in his book of the same title, first published in 20007 – serves as an encapsulation of this new orthodoxy. In the manner of the imperial statues which remain a prominent element of the topography of many European towns and cities, Europe must be pulled down from its privileged plinth, and studied on an equal level with other areas of the world. This also implied a need to study the history of Europe in a new way. The inward-facing mentalities that had long taken precedence in the writing of histories of Europe needed to be replaced by an outward-facing history of Europe, which studied European societies – emphatically in the plural – through their multiple interactions with the non-European world. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there has been a shift of historiographical focus from the European to the global. The prism of a global history of Europe offers an agenda better attuned to our times, but also to the scholarly recognition that the contemporary history of Europe for too long ignored the ways in which Europe was shaped profoundly by forces that emanated beyond the continent. So much we unreflectively thought of as European has turned out not to be distinctively European at all.

This new approach is demonstrated most strikingly by the success of the collective volume a Histoire mondiale de la France, published by Seuil in 2017.8 In truth, this volume might seem to be the fruit of a very French conception of global history, as indicated by the fact that nearly all of its 122 contributors are French, and all but a small number are employed in French academic institutions. But perhaps what is most interesting is the way in which the book, for all of its apparent radicalism, is a reconceptualization of a very traditional national enterprise. Taking its inspiration from the universal ambitions of Michelet’s history of France, its purpose is to provide ‘une histoire mondiale de la France’, rather than ‘une histoire de la France mondiale’. The word order is significant. The volume is intended as a study of France open to the world, rather than of how the world has made (or unmade) France. Perhaps most significantly, there is no place in the Histoire mondiale for Europe, which one searches for in vain in the titles of its many brief chapters. Europe, it seems, has no explanatory force for approaching the history of France, thereby demonstrating rather starkly the decline of the European paradigm for the writing of history, at least as seen from Paris.

A need to re-think the history of Europe

This effacement of Europe, crushed between the global and the national, serves as a demonstration of the need to re-assert, but also to re-think, the history of Europe. This is no easy task. Vacuous plaidoyers for a European history floating above national agendas risk becoming the formulae of inaugural professorial speeches which display all too visibly their historical and political vintage. Times have changed, and the embattled and defensive priorities of the contemporary European Union no longer have the same historical legitimacy as once did the federating ambitions of Mitterrand, Kohl, and Delors.9 The academic and scientific landscape too has changed. The drive, so visible in the two decades following 1989, to create transnational research teams of historians, spanning the diversity of Europe’s academic cultures, has lost energy over the last decade, and has been replaced by the more individual and rooted projects supported, ironically enough, by the European Research Council. This has been accompanied by a decline in mobility within the European historical profession. In difficult times, historians – and especially those understandably enough in search of a post – tend to stick close to home, reinforcing the distinctively national character of academic cultures. Indeed, it is striking that the system of higher education and research which has most markedly opened itself up in recent decades to historians from Europe (and elsewhere), namely that of the United Kingdom, is the one that is becoming, in formal terms, the least European.

And yet, as historians well know, crises are never the end of the matter. There remains a need for a historiography which asks questions about the contemporary history of Europe, rather than providing answers; and which is willing to confront its complexities and diversity, rather than seeking to elevate a particular definition of Europe. Above all, it is a history which needs to read the messy contemporary history of Europe forwards rather than backwards. We have had too many examples of the writing of European history which knew where they were going to end up; now we need a history of Europe that has no idea as to where it – and we – are going.

July 2020

Cite this article as:

Martin Conway: The Crisis of European History, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds.), Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, October 26, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/142.

  1. Students of lost causes might wish to consider the Historians for Europe manifesto signed by 307 British historians (including myself) ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/25/vote-to-leave-eu-will-condemn-britain-to-irrelevance-say-historians. []
  2. Perry Anderson, et al, L’Europa oggi, Turin 1993. []
  3. Martin Conway / Kiran Patel (ed.), Europeanization in the Twentieth Century. Historical Approaches, New York 2010. []
  4. Todd Shepard, The Invention of Decolonization. The Algerian War and the Remaking of France, Ithaca, London 2006. []
  5. Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World. A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, Princeton 2014. []
  6. Robert Gildea, Empires of the Mind: The Colonial Past and the Politics of the Present, Cambridge 2019. []
  7. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton 2000. []
  8. Patrick Boucheron / Nicolas Delalande / Florian Mazel / Yann Potin / Pierre Singaravélou, Histoire mondiale de la France. Paris 2017. []
  9. I have written about this in Martin Conway, Writing European Unification Backwards, in: Contemporanea 23 (2020), pp. 103-107. []

Why Europe, Which Europe? Present Challenges and Future Avenues for Doing European History

Sonja Levsen and Jörg Requate

What is the current status of European history as a field of research, and what are its challenges at present? Why should we research European history at all, and how should we do it? Surprisingly, there has not yet been a Europe-wide debate on these issues. Despite many demands for a transnationalisation of historical perspectives, historiographical debates in Europe are still predominantly framed within national contexts. This also concerns debates about the methods and topics of European history. Up until now, these have only taken place within national or narrow transnational contexts, with few partners, and so by no means encompass ‘all’ of Europe. But the questions historians put to European history, the challenges they perceive, and their diagnoses of the current state of research and future potential of the field differ, not least, along the boundaries of established national historiographies. While scholars of European history in Brexit Great Britain, for example, possibly share some concerns and approaches with their colleagues in Hungary or Finland, there are also many, possibly more, concerns and approaches that separate them.

We would like, therefore, to invite historians from within the diversity of European and non-European historiographies to enter into a new discussion on European history as a field of research: on the status quo of European history, its goals and its future, its relationship to both national historiographies and global history. The project, then, is about discussing the opportunities, limits, and challenges of European history. Above all, however, it is about doing so in a new way: by expanding the debate and inviting a pluralistic approach within and beyond Europe.

European history as a discipline has become increasingly self-reflective. A few years ago, many optimistically viewed it as ‘the’ means to break out of national history. The upswing in transnational and global histories has since made it clear, however, that European history needs more than just the aim of transcending borders to legitimise itself. We see this challenge as productive, because it lays the foundation for a reflective choice of space and scale in designing research projects. It prevents a naive, seemingly natural focus on areas within Europe, or on areas which have been defined according to European perspectives. European history must define more precisely its place in relation to national and global history. In politics, voices propagating a return to nationalism have become stronger for some time. Today’s political climate, then, also raises questions about the task and potential of European history.

So what is European history? There are a number of uses of the term ‘European History’ which mean very different things. At US universities, for example, ‘European History’ as a term includes scholars specialising in French or Italian history. In this case, ‘European’ refers to the geographical area in which a research project or research focus is located, even if the project takes a nation-state perspective. At the same time, there is a long tradition of writing European history, which focuses on Europe as a whole (with more or less clearly defined borders) and seeks to create grand narratives. This debate is not about ‘European History’ in either of these two forms.  Rather European history, for us, is about what could be called ‘doing European History’: empirical research that transcends the nation-state in various ways – e.g. projects which are conceived in a transnational, comparative, trans-local way and which at the same time are located in Europe in one way or another. In order to provide some coherence, the debate will focus on research into contemporary European history, broadly conceived, and particularly on the period since the late 19th century. In our view, some of the challenges identified below are particularly relevant to research on the 20th century.

We would like to open the debate by putting forward eight propositions:

1. European history’s position within the various national historiographies appears to be as varied as it is unclear. To ask for its place in these historiographies respectively forms an important basis for fruitful dialogue.

In the early 2000s, turning the focus to Europe appeared to German historians as a quasi-natural response to calls for an expansion and correction of the historiography that had hitherto been focused on the nation-state.1 The historiographical debate in Germany reflected the growing public interest in Europe, and was driven by the assumption that the same or similar considerations held true for other national historiographies in Europe. But while a number of papers on Europeanising German History were published,2 no comparable papers on Europeanising British History, on l’européanisation de l’historiographie française, or – as far as we can see – on Poland, Hungary or Portugal came into print. Since the end of the 20th century, however, these historiographies have also undergone processes of transnationalisation, sometimes more pronounced, sometimes less. In many of these cases, however, methodologies that overcame national borders were not primarily interested in neighbouring European countries. For many years, for instance, British historians have focused mainly on Atlantic and post-imperial relational histories.3 Although a lively interest in ‘European’ (signifying continental European) history developed in Britain, it remained largely separate from British history. Within French historiography, the broadening of historical perspectives has often meant focusing on the Mediterranean region, and for Portuguese historiography, the reappraisal of the history of transatlantic relations with South America has become central.

The first step, then, would be to investigate which geographical areas have come under scrutiny in different historiographies, and which areas have been left out and to ask what the reasons for these choices could be. How do institutional structures and established mental maps shape the spaces of investigation of historians? What are the different conceptions of European history to be found in the respective national historiographies, and to what extent does European history interact in each case with national history?

2. We need a dialogue about the mental maps of historiographies within Europe and empirical research that interrogates their implications.

Historians have often discussed what is meant by Europe and asked how to define its borders. In answer to this, a social-constructivist concept of Europe has proven to be helpful: an approach to Europe as something that is in a permanent process of construction and reconstruction. Particularly in the case of Turkey and Russia, but also for North Africa, we can observe how central the debate on their belonging or their relationship to Europe has been for self-perceptions. However, analysing discursive constructions of spaces and their consequences applies to Europe as a whole and the question of its borders, but also particularly to the mental maps, the concepts of political and cultural spaces within Europe.4 Notions of Eastern or Central Europe have changed radically numerous times since the 19th century. Western Europe, too, has taken on many different contours and connotations. The concept of Western Europe commonly adopted in German historiography has found little resonance among British European historians. All of these constructions of geographically named, but conceptually meant spaces within Europe, indicate that Europe is far from uniform and highlights the central role that debates on different concepts of Europe may play for European history.

Dipesh Chakrabarty’s call to ‘provincialise Europe’ hit a nerve; it became a figure of speech.5 The author, however, was not interested in Europe as a region or its history, but in the emancipation of historiography from interpretations that take ‘European’ developments as a benchmark, not least by adopting European terminology. That was an important point. The popular concept of provincialising Europe has, however, developed a life of its own, and has come to suggest a unity that does not exist. Here in particular, a dialogue with non-European historians would be necessary and fruitful. But the debate can also be taken up within Europe. A challenge and a great potential for European history is what could be described as ‘internal provincialisations’.6 These would include the deconstruction of ‘normal’ and ‘special paths’ and of implicit teleologies, as well as a critique of narrative structures based on notions of a norm and deviation from that norm. An assumed ‘Western’ development in European history often functioned as an implicit norm and ‘deviant’ pathways of development were characterised as deficient, backward, or delayed. Self-positioning of countries or regions in Europe and the demarcation of European regions became the basis for powerful historiographic narratives, the deconstruction of which is one of the core tasks of current and future empirical research. The refutation of the theory of a German Sonderweg or ‘special path’ is one example of the immense heuristic gain of such deconstructions. Many comparably powerful patterns of interpretation, however, are still deeply rooted in Spanish, German, Greek or Polish historiography – as well as in the respective public spheres. An intensive dialogue between these historiographies would provide an opportunity to emancipate ourselves from such narratives and to generate new questions.

3. Interlinking historiographies would boost innovative research.

The ‘pluralising Europeanisation’ of historical debate can only be understood as part of the necessary process to internationalise historical scholarship, a process which does not end at the borders of Europe. It would, though, be an important step towards such internationalisation. A recent goal envisaged for global history is to interweave historiographies: scholars, it has been said, should interweave ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ historiography.7 As desirable as this is, we have to recognise that it is by no means possible to speak simply of a ‘European’ historiography. For many topics, periods, and research areas, more than a superficial weaving and interweaving of the many national historiographies within Europe is still a distant goal. Very often ‘European history’ has taken the form of edited collections, in which national case studies stand next to each other, but interact to a very limited extent.

Barriers to dialogue exist between Eastern and Western European history, as has already been widely discussed. But such limitations also apply to those historiographies that appear from an outside view to be closely interwoven and are often grouped together as ‘Western European’ perspectives: French, British, German history. Interpretative approaches from national contexts – such as ‘After the Boom’, a term coined by Anselm Doering-Manteuffel and Lutz Raphael within the German context, or the concept of ‘vingt décisives’ introduced to the debate by Jean-François Sirinelli for France – are hardly ever received and applied beyond national borders.8 This is true even when claims made by such interpretations reach beyond national boundaries. Thus the decade of the 1970s, which historians have flagged as an epoch of ‘transnationalisation’, continues to be debated primarily within national discourses. Even large projects of ‘European’ historiography such as the project ‘Écrire une nouvelle histoire de l’Europe’ remain clearly anchored in one nation; they are shaped by historians from a specific historiographical context, which brings with it its specific questions, patterns of interpretation, and methodological approaches.9 True, there are some fields of research in which transnational communication and cooperation have become more intense: the late 19th century, the First World War, and more recent fields of research such as the history of migration. Research on the First World War, in particular, shows the innovative potential of an intensified exchange of historiographies. Dutch universities have developed as places of productive interweaving of different historiographical traditions, as has the European University Institute in Florence.

However, the 20th century, in particular, is still shaped to an astonishing degree by national narratives of research. This applies especially to the historical phase following 1945, in which transnational developments have increased massively on many different levels. Even the dialogue between German and French historians remains limited; Spanish, Greek or Swedish historiography coexist with little connection. The United Kingdom holds an ambivalent position. On the one hand, its universities are key points of interaction and networking since the British academic labour market has been relatively open up to now.  At the same time, however, ‘British History’ itself remains largely cut off from the historiographical debates beyond its borders.

4. The methodological diversity of European historiography offers an important laboratory for analysing more accurately the relevance of the nation as well as transnational interdependencies in empirical studies.

Exploring the relevance of national, transnational and subnational, local and regional spaces and their interrelationships is, especially for the second half of the 20th century, a desideratum that has remained largely unfulfilled. We need the combination of comparative and transnational perspectives both for a precise assessment of the importance of national path dependencies and especially where transnational processes have crossed these paths. Between the grand narratives on the one hand and empirically dense descriptive histories on the other, comparison and histoire croisée in particular seem suitable methods to arrive at conclusions of a ‘middle range’, because they offer an important point of friction for established national narratives.10

European history could enable balanced, detailed and differentiated comparisons and analyses of transfer, interweaving and exchange processes between the different historiographies. In many fields, such research is still lacking. In this context, the study of the history of border regions has proven to be especially fruitful for multi-perspective interpretations. Thus, European history provides a virtually inexhaustible laboratory of possible constellations of investigation with which to pinpoint precisely similarities and differences, convergences and divergences. It could allow scholars to deconstruct national histories empirically. By no means does the nation-state have to be the primary object of investigation. Cities and regions – including cross-border ones – form, as repeatedly shown, equally meaningful objects of comparison or regions for investigation.

A dialogue on spatial categories, methodological instruments, concepts and variants of a European history would bring national historiographies, with their respective methodological trends and questions, into play and thus help to critically reflect on these trends and questions and their national characteristics. This would create a basis for broader and more closely-knit research cooperation across national borders.

5. European and global history are variants of transnational history with many common features. Instead of binary oppositions of ‘European’ versus ‘global’, it is important to ask about the relevance and the contours of transnational spaces, depending on the issue at hand, and to select and delimit spaces of investigation accordingly.

As a subject for research, the integration of European societies with other world regions was long overlooked; here there have rightly been calls for new approaches. Today, awareness of the epistemic trap of Eurocentrism has increased considerably. Nevertheless, the resulting pragmatic and conceptual challenges for research are still considerable.

The same can, however, be said of the state of research on entanglements within Europe. For many topics, themes and epochs of modern history, it is hardly better, if at all. Empirically, the ‘national container’ has often remained the dominant frame of investigation. For key phenomena of the 20th century, such as Second Wave Feminism, neither the European integration of movements, their interactions, transfers, similarities and differences, nor those that transcend Europe’s borders have been sufficiently investigated. The pragmatic challenges remain considerable, particularly in view of the plurality of languages.

Not least for linguistic reasons, British historiography has proved better at investigating ‘global’ relationships – especially within the region of the former Empire – than it is at researching the no less significant integration, relations, differences, and similarities with the European continent. The British ‘New Imperial History’ has achieved something that still remains a distant goal for British European history: the investigation of the repercussions of transnational interdependencies on British society.

A polarity of ‘European’ versus ‘global’ arises in current debates, although many practitioners of global history repeatedly distance themselves from this. This polarity reifies borders rather than overcoming them, and creates secondary exoticisms in some cases. Transnational history can focus on a range of fruitful geographical areas, each of them coming with their own heuristic gains and losses. The significance of influences and interdependencies within Europe as well as beyond its borders will have to be worked out and determined precisely for different regions, phenomena and developments. Thinking within boxes, binaries or ‘containers’ of any kind is not helpful for this study.

6. European contemporary history as a field of research must be aware that it stands in a specific political context. This challenge should be taken up by historians in a conscious and purposeful way.

With some reason, European history has in the past been under the latent suspicion of being used to legitimise European unification. Some studies looked for commonalities and convergences or even assumed these unquestioningly. European history, however, must generate questions, not presuppose answers. Investigations into the extent of convergence as well as into existing or growing differences between European societies must be carried out with an open mind, be empirically founded, and argued in a differentiated manner. The desire to leave the nation-states behind, both politically and in academic debate, must not tempt us to underestimate the significance of the nation-state.

Without doubt, historical scholarship should counter the suspicion that it serves to legitimise the project of European unification. This does not mean, however, that European historians should abstain from taking political positions. Especially in times when there are strong political currents that maintain that Europe is the problem and the nation-state the solution, it seems both scientifically and politically necessary to deconstruct old and new national myths while also deconstructing European unification myths. There are many ways of doing this, of which transnational-European perspectives are just one variant, but nevertheless an important one.  At the same time, this also means that a European-oriented historiography must emancipate itself from questions of possible political interest or disinterest in Europe. Moreover, it should not mirror political or social cycles without thoughtful deliberation.

As mentioned above, however, there is also an associative proximity between the preoccupation with European history and a suspected Eurocentric perspective on history as a whole. This can be countered by pointing out that Europe should be seen as one of the world regions whose research is on an equal footing with others and is in an ongoing dialogue with them.11 Eurocentrism is to be distinguished from an engagement with European history. Questions concerning asymmetric processes, the formation and development of interdependencies do not only arise between Europe and the global world, but also within Europe.

The political context of history is not independent of the place where and when history is written. What political implications do historians in different European societies perceive in their choice of research spaces? What about the implications for those who research European history outside of Europe? How do cycles of public interest and academic interest interact? National public spheres and historical research are related in many ways. Discussing the diversity of these territorial constraints would create an important basis for the dynamic development of European history as a field of research.

Finally, the last two propositions concern questions of research structures.

7. New and different research infrastructures are needed to promote the Europeanisation and internationalisation of historical studies.

National research funding programmes continue to target primarily relatively closed academic labour markets in each individual country. They are not designed to promote transnational, European research collaborations. Cooperation programmes exist, but their scope is very limited. The funding opportunities through EU programmes are relatively small compared to national programmes and the EU bureaucratic hurdles are relatively high. The EU ‘Societal Challenges’ programme offers just a few opportunities for the whole field of humanities and cultural studies and is designed to produce directly applicable results. The ERC (European Research Council) and Marie Curie programmes support basic research, but not primarily cross-border collaborations and thus contribute little to Europeanisation in the sense of an interweaving of historiographies. Language barriers, and nation-specific career paths, hinder more extensive mobility and cooperation.

8. We need a change in the publishing world, and we need to address the issue of linguistic boundaries and the associated limits to dialogue.

The eighth and last point relates to the market for scientific books and journals, which is at present still very national in scope. The English language transcends language barriers to a certain extent, resulting in a whole range of journals and forums with a European focus. However, the book and journal markets are still largely shaped by national cultures, which are decisive for the formation of disciplinary cultures and interpretations of history. The resulting discourses remain largely bound by national and linguistic borders. Without being a panacea, increased open-access in publishing could improve the situation just as much as an intentional and systematic internationalisation of the review culture. The digitisation of communication has so far contributed disappointingly little to the internationalisation of historiographical debates. Creative and innovative solutions need to be sought in this field with new determination, if historiography wants to meet the challenges of the present. New and more effective answers must be found to the question of language barriers and to the limitations on dialogue that accompany them.  This is an important challenge, especially for doing European history.

Certainly, the arguments formulated here are to a certain extent attributable to our German perspective and also in other respects to our own research priorities. We have tried to address conceptual, methodological, research pragmatic, structural and, last but not least, political issues. Our goal for the course of this debate is not to ‘defend’ these points in any way. Rather, they are intended to provide an initial impetus for debate, which will generate its own questions, themes, theses, focal points and controversies.

Cite this article as:

Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate, Why Europe, Which Europe? Present Challenges and Future Avenues for Doing European History, in: Sonja Levsen / Jörg Requate (eds.), Why Europe, Which Europe? A Debate on Contemporary European History as a Field of Research, October 15, 2020, https://europedebate.hypotheses.org/86.

  1. Cf. especially Konrad Jarausch / Thomas Lindenberger (eds.), Conflicted Memories. Europeanizing Contemporary Histories, New York, Oxford 2007. []
  2. E.g. Ute Frevert, Europeanizing German history, in: GHI Bulletin 36 (2005), pp. 9-24. []
  3. Cf. e.g. J.G.A. Pocock, British History. A Plea for a New Subject, in: The Journal of Modern History 47.4 (1975), pp. 601-621; J.G.A. Pocock, The New British History in Atlantic Perspective. An Antipodean Commentary, in: American Historical Review 104.2 (1999), pp. 490-500; James Vernon, The History of Britain is Dead. Long Live a Global History of Britain, in: History Australia 13.1 (2016), pp. 19-34; Robert Aldrich / Stuart Ward, Ends of Empire. Decolonizing the Nation in British and French Historiography, in: Stefan Berger / Chris Lorenz (eds.), Nationalizing the Past. Historians as Nation Builders in Modern Europe, Basingstoke 2000, pp. 259-281; Roquinaldo Ferreira, Taking Stock: Portuguese Imperial Historiography. Twelve years after the e-JPH Debate, in: e-JPH. E-Journal of Portuguese History 14 (2016), http://www.scielo.mec.pt/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1645-64322016000100004. []
  4. Cf. e.g. Frithjof Benjamin Schenk, Mental Maps. Die kognitive Kartierung des Kontinents als Forschungsgegenstand der europäischen Geschichte, in: Europäische Geschichte Online (EGO), ed. by the Leibniz-Institut für Europäische Geschichte (IEG), Mainz 2013-06-05. URL: http://www.ieg-ego.eu/schenkf-2013-de URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-2013052237 [2020-03-09]; Martin Schulze Wessel, Die Mitte liegt westwärts. Mitteleuropa in tschechischer Diskussion, in: Bohemia 29 (1988), pp. 325-344. []
  5. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, New Jersey 2000; for criticism e.g. Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History, Berkeley 2005. []
  6. Jörn Leonhard, Comparison, Transfer and Entaglement or How to Write Modern European History today, in: Journal of Modern European History 14.2 (2016), pp. 149-163; Lars Jensen, Provincialising Scandinavia, in: KULT. Postkolonial Temaserie 7 (2010), pp. 7-21. []
  7. Margit Pernau / Monica Juneja, Lost in Translation? Transcending Boundaries in Comparative History, in: Heinz-Gerhard Haupt / Jürgen Kocka (eds.), Comparative and Transnational History. Central European Approaches and New Perspectives, New York 2010, pp. 105-129. []
  8. Anselm Doering-Manteuffel / Lutz Raphael, Nach dem Boom. Perspektiven auf die Zeitgeschichte seit 1970, Göttingen 2008; Jean-François Sirinelli, Les vingt décisives, 1965-1985. Le passé proche de notre avenir, Paris 2007. []
  9. http://labex-ehne.fr/; other important digital projects on European history are e.g. European History Online, http://ieg-ego.eu/; Themenportal Europäische Geschichte, https://www.europa.clio-online.de/. []
  10. Michael Werner / Bénédicte Zimmermann, Vergleich, Transfer, Verflechtung. Der Ansatz der Histoire croisée und die Herausforderung des Transnationalen, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 28.4 (2002), pp. 607–636. []
  11. For area studies see e.g. Birgit Schäbler (ed.), Area Studies und die Welt. Weltregionen und neue Globalgeschichte, Wien 2007. []