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.

January 2010
28 29 30 31 1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

18 Jan
Markus Prutsch work in Progress presentation

Plebiscitary Monocracy: Reflections on the foundations, nature and long-term implications of 'modern Caesarism' – Progress report.

Markus Prutsch's engaging presentation of his work to date on the interwoven problems of nineteenth-century 'plebiscitary monocracy' and 'modern Caesarism' elicited warm discussion of the conceptual parameters within which these phenomena might be placed. Inclined to place 'Caesarism' at the crossroads of democratic and monocratic politics, Prutsch asked why it was that this, and other related forms of rule assumed such a central space in the politics of the revolutionary era. To this end, he proposed to focus his research upon three questions. Firstly, to what extent did it constitute a 'new' phenomenon in nineteenth-century Europe? Secondly, in what ways did it capture the hopes and fears of contemporaries? Finally, how far can it legitimately be seen as a precursor to twentieth-century totalitarianism?

Prutsch had directed the initial stages of his research towards an understanding of the long tradition of contested thought about the nature of political rule in Europe from ancient times, through to the eighteenth-century, and it was this that formed the subject of the substantive remainder of his presentation. Discussion, however, concentrated rather upon what could be done to focus the project more sharply upon a problem that Prutsch had himself raised: namely, the origins of the modern dualism of democracy and dictatorship. Numerous suggestions were offered as to how to call this dualism into question, with particular emphasis being placed upon the idea that the linked ideas of monocracy and charismatic rule were perhaps better placed in a broader context than that offered by the 'Caesarist' tradition alone. Looking beyond the Bonapartes, examples raised included Garibaldi, Bolivar, presidential systems or managerial structures. In casting a wider net, it was suggested, Prutsch could avoid the trap of reducing nineteenth-century experience to a pale shadow of twentieth-century totalitarianism.

17-19 Francisco Ortega work in progress presentation

Francisco Ortega's presentation on the early Latin American history produced vigorous discussions. Ortega's long-term exposé from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century showed that "colony" was originally a relatively unproblematic and nonpolitical word but was later transformed to a sociopolitical concept of considerable centrality to Latin America. In the latter half of the eighteenth century the concept underwent rapid and dramatic changes. Then, in the political crisis of the Spanish empire triggered by Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808, the concept became the lens through which Latin American elites perceived and communicated about their political experience. Through a study of the shifts in the meaning of the concept of colony, its political significance and the concepts with which it competed to designate the Spanish Americas before and after independence, Ortega casts new light on the process of imperial dismantlement and state-formation in early nineteenth century Latin America.

The seminar discussed at length the links between Europe and Latin America. Particular interest was raised by the potential of Ortega's project to undermine the idea of two distinct cultural spheres isolated from each other. Throughout the discussion the fruitfulness of collaboration between different parts of the EReRe research program became evident. Particularly rich synergies were seen between the study of constitutional issues, the socio-economic dimension and the Latin experience. As an empirical focal point the Latin American debt crisis of 1822-1825 was suggested as an intensely condensed situation that brought these three elements together.

20 Jan
Liliana Obregón work in progress presentation

In today's talk, Liliana Obregón presented the draft of what will become the first chapter of her study on the rise of international law in 19th century Latin America. Her paper, entitled "Civilization and International Law", stresses language issues and the concept of "civilization" in particular, whose use and meaning in the South American context is analysed with reference to several late 18th and 19th century writers, including Jeremy Bentham, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, Simón Bolivar, Jose Maria Samper and Manuel Atanasio Fuentes. Given that her research is at an early stage and still developing, Liliana expressed her wish to establish closer links to other dimensions of the overarching research project, among them constitutional and economic ones.

In the lively debate following Liliana's presentation, the value of an approach addressing the history of international law at the beginning rather than in the middle and end of the 19th century, thus at a period in which the discipline had not yet been institutionalised and professionalised, was underlined. Questions raised in the discussion addressed, among other things: whether it would be useful to apply a perhaps less monolithic idea of civilization than the one appearing in her present text; in what ways the concept of civilization became politicised, like that of "colony"; and to what extent the language of "international law" was intermingled with that of domestic "private" and "public law" in the debates of the period.

These issues finally led to a more general debate about Europe's dealings with the rest of the world, relationships between "centre" and "periphery", and the meaning and character of "(state) power" in the 19th century.

22 Jan
14-16 Kelly Grotke work in progress presentation

Kelly Grotke presented her work in progress as a chapter structured around the problem of universal history. The purpose of the chapter is to analyze the meaning of universal history, in order to make explicit the idea's own history, and in doing so bring out some of the more curious aspects of the interrelation of history, philosophy, science and religion in the West. Her starting point is the ethical and descriptive conceptions of universality from the eighteenth century and their ties to natural law. In particular, Grotke concentrated on describing the relevance of the "Four Ages" or "Four Monarchies" conception of history as marking Europe´s centrality in the idea of universal history.

The discussion centered on the importance of Grotke´s work as being central for the project´s understanding of the nineteenth century. However, suggestions were made for Grotke to look outside of the German debates and to advance more concretely into the nineteenth century. It was also suggested that instead of seeing natural law as "rising and falling", she look at its inherent relation to positive law or as positive law being another form of natural law in the nineteenth century. Another important observation was for Grotke´s project not to be limited to describing a process of construction of method but rather to shift to tailoring out political aspects by going into specific contexts. It was suggested that she choose specific places and moments so that she can look into the particular projects of the people who were participating in the discussions on universal
history. Several participants thought that by taking these suggestions into account it would be possible for Grotke to broaden her philosophical perspective of necessary coherence and to engage more keenly in the complexities and contradictions as a way of challenging the teleologies by which the nineteenth century has generally been studied and understood.

28 Jan
14-16 Adrian Brisku work in progress presentation

Adrian Brisku began his presentation by summarizing the basic framework of his project, a comparative analysis of the Russian and Ottoman empires during the nineteenth century. Brisku's intention is to analyze both in terms of the following four aspects: 1) cultural politics; 2) legal and political structures (including constitutions and private law); 3) socio-economic issues (with a focus on public debt); and lastly, the geopolitical and international context. The point of such a comparison, he emphasized, is to see whether an analysis of the Russian and Ottoman examples might provide a basis for a critical re-assessment of the idea of a "western European liberal trajectory." Brisku then moved on to discuss his chapter draft, which focused on cultural politics and notions of identity in the Ottoman and Russian examples. In both cases, he observed, there is a marked competition among secular, ethnic, and religious notions of identity, and his chapter draft included several interesting case studies to illustrate this point. Because the notion of common identity is so closely tied to the construction of a common past and the projection of a common future, the competition over identity in the Ottoman and Russian cases provides a particularly rich store of material through which to challenge normative trajectories of national, legal, or economic development in the nineteenth century.

The group's discussion of Brisku's project centered on the problem of how to make such a broad comparative project more manageable, and how not to sacrifice either breadth or depth in the process. Several participants raised concerns over the danger of diluting the focus of the monograph's argument by appearing to have too many objectives, or by under-theorizing either the basis for the comparison itself or the four main categories of analysis. Other members of the group disputed the notion of a normative European liberal trajectory, at least in any simplified form, and urged caution against setting up an argument using questionable or at least debatable premises – an issue that allowed for the group in general to reflect on the project's goals. In the end, it was suggested that focusing on particular crucial debates within each empire would advance the comparative goal, while allowing enough detail to satisfy the requirement of sufficient depth of analysis.