The Research Project Europe 1815-1914

P.O. Box 24
Unioninkatu 40
FI-00014 University of Helsinki




The programme is continuously updated. New events might be advertised with short notice. External participants are welcome but preferably on a regular basis. Since the number of seats is limited pre-registration with project coordinator Minna Vainio (erere-info[at] is requested.

April 2010
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14 April
Elias Palti, “The Problem of ‘Misplaced Ideas’ Revisted: Beyond the ‘History of Ideas’ in Latin America, introduced by Francisco Ortega. Reading seminar

Francisco Ortega presented two essays that he felt spoke to a concern ever present in his own work – the problem of how to write the intellectual history of 'peripheral' areas from the periphery itself. In the work of Palti and Trouillot he found cogent attempts to explore the problems that some traditional practices in the history of ideas could present for historians seeking to present a narrative that did not remain bound to a metropolitan European perspective. In the case of Trouillot, this took the form of an interrogation of the problematic place of what he termed 'North Atlantic Universals' in shaping narratives of modernity. Presented as universals, words such as 'development', 'progress' and 'democracy', effectively denied their local and historically specific origins, obscuring the 'others' that such conceptual schema necessarily presupposed. Palti meanwhile, through a careful critique of the work of Roberto Schwarz, argued for a shift in the intellectual history of Latin America from a history of ideas, that might or might not 'fit' the local situation, to a history of linguistic practices. For Ortega, these articles were suggestive of the possibilities that the linguistic turn could open up for historians, both in terms of escaping hackneyed debates about the 'world-historical significance' of non-canonical and, particularly, extra-European writers, and in so far as it would allow a more nuanced and interconnected history the mutual relations between European and extra-European modernity. Nevertheless, he argued, these essays remained only a starting point for future reflection on such problems. In the discussion that followed, the issue of how one might produce such anti-teleological narratives was considered in some detail, this being an issue that has emerged as central to the project as a whole.

20 April
Arif  Dirlik, Postmodern Histories: the Past as Legacies and Project and Aleksei Miller and Alfred Reiber, Imperial Rule, introduced by Adrian Brisku. Reading seminar

Adrian Brisku presented two essays by Arif Dirlik that he felt were important to clarify and understand the critical dimension of the Research Project Europe 1815-1914. The readings presented an account of culturalist and culture-based interpretatons (such as much of what passes under the rubric of post-colonialism) as insufficient and disingenuous critiques of Eurocentrism and posited an urgent return to annalyses grounded on a clear understanding of the political economy. Furthermore, Dirlik argues, a re-assessment of the intellectual and political riches of localized social movements (or place-based movements) will shed light on the processes of globalization from below and might in turn inform a more proactive agenda that points to alternative and more democratic futures.

Brisku began the discussion by constrasting Dirlik´s notion of radical history with our project's key concept of 'alternative history.' An animated discussion ensued which, in many ways, constituted a continuation of our last seminar and engaged with several questions which have been present in previous discussions: How can a research project whose main focus is Europe avoid the pitfalls of eurocentrism? If theory is always present in all historical interpretation and if theory is always embedded in historical narratives, what then is the proper relation between theory and history?

Does a focus on concepts, intellectual history and culture inevitably lead to the naiveté of culturalism, as described by Dirlik?

26-28 April
Opening Conference
Revising the Imaginations of Europe and the World: Coming to Terms with Teleologies and Assessing Cosmopolitanism as a joint venture with the network on Between Cosmopolitanism and Empire: Europe, Human Rights, Sovereignty, Birkbeck College, London

The conference Revisiting the Imaginations of Europe and the World: Coming to Terms with Teleologies and Assessing Cosmopolitanism took place from the 26th to the 28th of April 2010, bringing together some 50 international scholars from the disciplines of history, law, sociology and philosophy.

The aim of the conference was twofold: first, to engage with the idea of cosmopolitanism as a value that helped shaped European self-perception in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; second, to explore the current explanatory parameters of the term in a critical way.

Participant's presentations were organised around three themes: 1) The Cosmopolitan Mindset; 2) Refiguring Europe from Without; and 3) Semantic Fields of Refiguring the European Self. Particular emphasis was placed on two key issues relevant to assessing cosmopolitanism past and present: the relationship between Europe's cosmopolitan ideologies and European expansion, on the one hand, and implicitly or explicitly teleological understandings of Europe, on the other.

Professors Martti Koskenniemi from the Erere project (University of Helsinki) and Gerard Delanty (University of Sussex) gave the meeting's two keynote addresses. Their respectively more critical and affirming perspectives on cosmopolitanism from its conceptual origins to the present underscored the need for general reflection on the uses and abuses of the term. Specific papers then took up the challenge implicit in the organizers' choice of topic: namely, how to underscore the conceptual fluidity of the term without losing sight of specific historical, legal and political entanglements within European self-understanding?

The issue of how cosmopolitanism bears on contemporary political realities was taken up by the final panel of the conference, where Professors Matthew Craven (SOAS), Gerard Delanty, and Patrick Hanafin (Birkbeck) raised fundamental methodological questions regarding cosmopolitanism as norm and as object of research: What conceptual presuppositions inform current research? How varied are the meanings of 'cosmopolitanism' today? In what does the strength of the term 'cosmopolitanism' consist? Or should it be discarded and replaced by more suitable terminology?

Given the fluidity of the concept, are there other related concepts, such as 'teleology', hospitality, or solidarity that should receive more attention? Or, given the fluidity of all language, should our focus be more on what 'cosmopolitanisms' are united against?