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 (minna.vainio[at] is requested.

April 2011
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6 April
Constructing the Past, Making the Future:
Political Agents and Legal Systems in the 19th Century

Seminar organized by Liliana Obregón and Martti KoskenniemiInput for the discussions will be provided through papers by:
Anthony Carty, University of Hong Kong,
Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, University of Texas- Austin
Kaius Touri, Helsinki University
Isabel DiVanna, University of Cambridge
Outline, Programme and speakers (pdf)
Report (pdf)
Venue: Tieteiden Talo, Kirkkokatu 6, room:312

On April 6, 2011 the Research Project Europe held the workshop "Constructing the Past, Making the Future, Political Agents and Legal Systems in the NineteenthCentury" organized by Martti Koskenniemi and Liliana Obregón. The workshop discussion revolved around the presentations of four speakers: Anthony Carty, Sir Y K Pao Chair in Public Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Hong Kong, presently on leave of absence as the Chair of Public Law from the University of Aberdeen; Kaius Tuori, Senior Researcher at the Center of Excellence in Global Governance Research and adjunct professor of Legal history and Roman law at the University of Helsinki; Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History at the University of Texas-Austin and Isabel DiVanna, professor of history at Clare College, University of Cambridge, UK. The purpose of the workshop was to examine the emergence of a historical consciousness and the construction of the past as fundamental technologies in the making of new polities and legal systems in the nineteenth century. The workshop also looked at transatlantic borrowings past traditional geographical boundaries.

Based on his book Was Ireland Conquered? Carty opened the workshop by speaking about Ireland´s forgotten nineteenth century political and legal history. Carty´s historical research showed how the British treated Ireland from an international law approach through the 'standard of civilization' which implied a view of the Irish people as a subordinate and barbaric ethnic group. From this perspective, the Irish question is the beginning or part of British nineteenth century plantation economy, where Ireland was seen as a colony and not as a part of Europe. Thus, Irish national identity was in part built as a reaction to their image as ethnically different and foreign to the British people. Carty concluded by asking the question of why international law histories forget traumatic and difficult events of Europe´s past. Consequently, several other questions came up by the discussants such as: what is the particular mechanism for forgetting imbedded in the narrative of international law? Is liberal contractualism or a progress narrative on the economy responsible for this particular type of forgetting? What has to be pushed out of memory for an international agreement to be made? Why is it important for international law to forget some events and remember others? When do different memories of history become literature? Is legal discourse a way of covering up something that nobody wants to remember: i.e. the Irish viewed and treated as Hottentots?

The workshop continued with Tuori´s presentation on the concept of 'primitive law' in the nineteenth century and how it was combined with ideas of progress and evolution. Tuori highlighted the fact that 'primitives' were both idealized as having a paradisiac past but also seen as contrary to the progress of the present, and thus being problematic. Tuori also described how lawyers in the nineteenth century reasoned like anthropologists. They were interested in answering the question "where do we come from?" With the rapid reception of Savigny´s historical school histories of origins became important together with the idea of an indigenous legal culture. This way of thinking about primitive law had many consequences, but in particular Tuori presented the relation with respect to property and ownership. The ensuing discussion brought up questions such as: how were these narratives coming together in different locations? Was this a general project of legal anthropology and colonialism or a very specific European history? Why was there an enchantment with the primitivism and non European civilizations in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and a disenchantment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?

As background for Cañizares-Esguerra´s presentation, workshop participants read his article "Typology in the Atlantic: Early Modern Readings of Colonization," (2009). Cañizares-Esguerra highlighted how historians secular readings of sources have left out Christian typologies used to understand political debates from the seventeenth century to as late as the Anglo American and Spanish American wars of independence. Typological reading was a way of interpreting the future from the past, as a prophetic history, also called "pronósticos" or prefigurations. This type of reading also informed the creation of legal instruments and political actors. For example, the "requerimiento" used in the Spanish conquest is a typological reading of Deuteronomy 20. Simon Bolivar´s rise as independence leader was read as that of Simón Macabeo. Priests in Spanish and British America were often commissioned to write sermons, using the Old Testmaent as a pretext, that showed loyalty to the new states. As a consequence of this analysis, Cañizares-Esguerra encouraged workshop participants to have a conceptual openness to think about a typological framework as a way of new experiences being reimagined as something in the past. This questions on historical time, methodological problems as well as (misleading) historiography. The main question left by Cañizares-Esguerra was if our secular readings are really secular? Or rather, should we be reading these nineteenth century texts as secular (through Aristotle, for example) rather than as derived from Christian typological thinking?

DiVanna spoke on her work-in-progress "Reading Comte across the Atlantic: intellectual exchanges between France and Brazil and the question of slavery." By looking at the particular case of slavery in relation to the reception of Comtean positivism in Brazil by the medical doctor Luis Pereira Barreto (1840-1923) DiVanna presented the many faces of positivism in late nineteenth century Brazil. Indeed, Barreto sought to apply Comte's principles to Brazilian society and politics but the results were not orthodox, rather Barreto´s positivism responded to his particular context. Looking at positivism as a model for the future in Brazil, DiVanna asked the question of its role in transforming the polity through two major problems: slavery and the naturalization act. The issue of slavery and abolition implieda a certain conception of history and a conception of science that was particular of the nineteenth century. Questions put forth by the discussion included connection of positivism with industrialism, positivism as recreating a theological cult of man, instability of positivism but its initial atractiveness, forgetting positivism...

Koskenniemi closed the session by concluding the relevance of this workshop for bringing forth the dark and understudied side of the nineteenth centuryfor the ERERE collective project. Koskenniemi remarked how Carty brought forth the side of nineteenth century racism and imperial arrogance even among Europeans, a presence we clearly know of but that needs further research. Tuori reminded the project participants of the the dark side of primitive in law, though sometimes thought as admirable, it was rejected by a similar attitude of imperial arrogance and racism that we saw in Carty´s example. The question, for the ERERE project, then, is how to think about these attitudes and their consequences for law and power in more complex terms than simplifying them as racism. In addition, Koskenniemi remarked that Cañizares-Esguerra´s story was one of complete darkness, in the sense that we are not able to perceive these typologies in nineteenth century texts if we are not carefully aware of them in contextual readings. Finally, DiVanna´s work showed us how positivism was different in different places. Koskenniemi concluded that we need a clearer articulation of the role that the dark side plays in this history since the current understanding of the European Union is that the nineteenth century was a century of progress. Participants added that engaging with the dark side implies an effort of forgetting and remembering, and that any kind of remembering implies a forgetting. It was also noted that politics seem to be more theological than we think, where certain concepts become sacred categories that can not be interrogated and registers that seems to be secular are still religious. Finally, the challenge was summarized as how to connect the dark side with the bright side in each of our individual projects as well as in our broader understanding of the nineteenth century.

11-13 April
Constitutions and the Legitimisation of Power
Working Group, second meeting

Organised by Kelly L. Grotke and Markus J. Prutsch
Helsinki 11-13 April, 2011

The second and final meeting of the EReRe working group "Constitutions and the Legitimisation of Power", organised by Kelly L. Grotke and Markus J. Prutsch, convened in Helsinki on the 11th to 13th of April. Once again, an international group of distinguished constitutional scholars from the fields of history, law and political science gathered to discuss and debate the significance of constitutional initiatives, reforms and conflicts during the 19thcentury. The group was also pleased to welcome several new participants to the project.

Martti Koskenniemi, Markus Prutsch and Kelly Grotke. Picture by Fouad-Philippe Saadé.

Kelly L. Grotke and Markus J. Prutsch began the proceedings with a general assessment of the project to date, emphasising its critical goals. As the project is now moving towards publication, this meeting would serve as the last collective opportunity for intensive reflection and discussion on specific contributions and on the intellectual aims of the project itself. The organisers were very pleased with the participants' continuingly high level of engagement and with the progress that had been made both individually and collectively since the last meeting in May of 2010.

Martti Koskenniemi then gave opening remarks, restating the need for more critical encounter with constitutional developments during this period, as well as an increased awareness of the multiple ways in which constitutions were conceived and used as instruments of power. This was then followed by the new members' presentations and discussion of their contributions.

On the following day, the organisers adopted a more intimate format for discussion, dividing for four hours into small groups according to the five thematic fields mentioned in the working group statement. This allowed for an extraordinarily intensive and stimulating encounter with the project's aims and objectives, which was highly appreciated by all involved.

The final day consisted of presentations from each small group on the results of their meeting the previous day with an aim of strengthening the ties between the individual contributions and thus helping to make the envisaged publication not only a collection of articles, but a coherent volume standing on common ground. Both participants and organisers left the meeting with a sense of satisfaction about what had been achieved as well as a feeling of optimism regarding the publication issuing from this collaborative effort.