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Posts Tagged ‘Historical Semantics’

The journal Traverse: Zeitschrift für Geschichte has just published a special issue on the topic of Temporal Experiences: Acceleration and Plural Temporalities (Zeiterfahrungen: Beschleunigung und plurale Temporalitäten). The table of contents may be found here.

In it, I have published a contribution on the concept of acceleration under the title:

Beschleunigung im langen 19. Jahrhundert: Einheit und Vielfalt einer Epochenkategorie

[Acceleration in the Long 19th Century: Unity and Plurality of a Temporal Category]

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The essay starts by contrasting the influential theories of acceleration formulated by Reinhart Koselleck and Hartmut Rosa. On this basis, it argues for a new approach to the history of acceleration based in the methodical tradition of Historical Semantics.

From this point of view, the usual interpretation of acceleration as the distinguishing and dominant temporal mode of the modern era is left behind in favor of a more empirical approach. Taking German debates on the topic during the 19th century as a case study, the article shows how acceleration was not a singular phenomenon (defining the modern era) at all. Rather, it could have many different meanings according to the perspective and interests of various groups as well as the changing historical contexts. In this manner, the article argues for a differentiated focus on the ways in which ‘modern’ people interpreted their own temporality instead of the sweeping, but ultimately oversimplified identification of modernity as the ‘era of acceleration’.

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Summer break is coming to an end and soon the winter term will start again. As usual, I will be offering an intensive ‘Seminar’ course as well as a smaller ‘Übung’ or reading course.

The Fourth Estate: Press and Politics in Germany and France (1789-1914)

Whereas the constitutive role of the press in any well-functioning democracy stands beyond doubt today, at the same time its power in modern ‘mediocracies’ is often the target of criticism. The origins of this tension lie in the 19th century – when the press developed an unprecedented importance to political processes. In this seminar, these developments are traced from a comparative viewpoint, focusing on the French and German cases.

The Power of Language: Introduction to Historical Semantics

Since the emergence of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in the 1970s a variety of new theoretical and methodological approaches in the field of historiography have stressed the role of language not only as an indicator, but also as a factor in historical processes. This reading course offers an introduction to the different theoretical research models developped in this context as well as to their empirical results.

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Next week, 24 and 25 September, I’ll be participating in a workshop held in Marburg, titled:

Aristokratismus. Historische und literarische Semantik von ‘Adel’ zwischen Kulturkritik der Jahrhundertwende und Nationalsozialismus (1890-1945).

Aristocratism. Historical and Literary Semantics of ‘Aristocracy’ between Cultural Criticism of the Turn of the Century and National Socialism (1890-1945)

The workshop is part of a DFG-funded research project on the same theme and is organized by Prof. Dr. Eckart Conze, PD Dr. Jochen Strobel, Daniel Thiel und Jan de Vries.

My paper pursues a diachronic comparison of German discourses of cultural criticism around 1800 and around 1900, focussing on the differences in the use of semantics of aristocracy in these contexts. Thus, the paper offers an empirical case study using a model distinguishing between four dimensions of change in the history of cultural criticism I formulated last year on a conference in Heidelberg (soon to be published in its proceedings).

The Call for Papers for the Marburg workshop may be found here.

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Next week, I will be presenting a paper at an academic workshop organized by Juri Auderset, Andreas Behr, Philipp Müller and Aline Steinbrecher at the University of Fribourg (CH). The workshop’s topic is “Zeiterfahrung. Untersuchungen über Beschleunigung und Entschleunigung von Geschichte” (Temporal Experience: Studies on Acceleration and Deceleration in History). It’s ultimate goal is to prepare a special issue of the journal Traverse: Zeitschrift für Geschichte in 2016.

The topic of my paper is the variety of discourses of acceleration in nineteenth century germany. Considering the influential views of accelleration formulated by Hartmut Rosa and Reinhart Koselleck in terms of attempts at a general temporal theory of modernization, the paper points to the method of Historical Semantics as a way to more fruitfully  consider the plurality of experiences and discourses of temporality in this period. Instead of searching for a single, specific temporality of the modern era, the paper argues for a differentiated view of the pluriform ways in which contemporaries experienced the temporal nature of their own present.

See here for the call for fapers and here for the workshop’s program.

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An article I wrote for the Contributions to the History of Concepts has been published in volume 9, number 1 of this journal.

The article traces the uses of the concept of zeitgeist in early nineteenth-century European political discourse. To explain the concept’s explosive takeoff in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, two perspectives are combined. On the one hand, the concept is shown to be a key element in the new, “temporalized” discourses of cultural reflection emerging during this time. On the other, its pragmatic value as a linguistic tool in concrete political constellations is outlined on the basis of case studies from French, British and German political discourse. Developing this two-sided perspective, the article sheds light on an important aspect of early nineteenth-century political discourse while also pointing to some general considerations concering the relationship between semantic and pragmatic analyses of historical language use.

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Some of my writing has been made available online through the Freidoks server at Freiburg University.

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On May 15th to 17th of next year, I will be attending a conference titled “Declines and Falls: Perspectives in European History and Historiography” organized at the Central European University in Budapest.

My presentation – which draws upon my dissertation research – will address the complex interrelations between the concepts of progress and decadence in the long eighteenth century. Often, these two concepts are understood as mutually exclusive counter-concepts, epitomizing a forward-looking ‘Enlightenment theory of progress’ on the one hand and the backward and ultimately futile ‘complaints’ of conservatives and reactionaries on the other.

A closer look at the semantic structure of debates about the development of civilization in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries reveals, however, that to contemporaries, these concepts were not usually counter-concepts at all. Rather, they were regularly understood as linked, or even interdependent. To understand this paradox, my paper addresses the various ways in which ‘the culture/civilization as a whole’ was conceptualized in these discourses.

Joining the analysis of the semantic structure of contemporary narratives of cultural decline with their pragmatic interpretation as speech acts in public interaction, I identify three different types of interpretation of the ‘whole’ in which ostensibly monistic claims about civilization in toto were linked to a differentiated understanding of its plural nature. In this way, the common view of narratives of progress and decadence as mutually exclusive discourses – at worst resulting in a general narrative of modern intellectual history as an eternal struggle between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment – may make way for a more detailed understanding of the complexities of the debates about the character and development of civilization that have been so very important to public discourses of self-reflection in the modern age.

Update: a conference report has been published on the CEU website.

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