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.

May 2010
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11 May
14-16 Ernst Cassirer, "Fundamental Forms and Tendencies of Historical Knowledge" from The Problem of Knowledge: Philosophy, Science & History since Hegel, introduced by Kelly Grotke. Reading seminar.

Kelly Grotke presented Ernst Cassirer’s reflections on problem of historical knowledge in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in part as a way in to the interlinked philosophical problems of time and method with which her work is concerned, and in part with the intention of rescuing Cassirer’s thought from an undeserved neglect.  Too facilely dismissed as a straightforwardly neo-Kantian thinker, and sidelined in most accounts of early twentieth-century philosophy by the preponderant interest in his great rival, Heidegger, Cassirer nevertheless sheds light on a number of issues surrounding the writing of history in the nineteenth century that have become obscured in more recent treatments of the subject.  Not the least of these, Grotke argued, is his attention to the problem of method, and the nature of the kind of knowledge produced by historical research.  Cassirer depicted the historian’s activity as task-oriented and open-ended, by contrast to the systematizing tendency of much philosophical reflection.  Tension between the two, between the particularising and universalising moments in the writing of history, decisively shaped nineteenth-century debates on the subject.

This raised a great number of questions concerning the transformation of historical writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  What role did debates about reason, agency and culture play in the shift?  What were the stakes, as well socio-cultural as intellectual, in such discussions?  Would approaches to discourse analysis drawn from the works of thinkers such as Michel Foucault provide more satisfactory tools in answering these questions, or had the problems that Cassirer raised become lost in the contemporary fascination with the relations between discursive and power structures?  These are problems to which the group will no doubt return in the future.

18 May
Jörn Leonhardt, Universität Freiburg, “Nations and Empires in 19th Century Europe”, Place: P518, Porthania

Jörn Leonhardt (University of Freiburg) presented a synopsis of his current collaborative project with Ulrike von Hirschhausen, Empires – Chancen und Krisen multiethnischer Großreiche in Europa: Britisches Empire, Habsburg, Russisches und Osmanisches Reich im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert. An analysis of empires is important and timely, he argued, because traditional nation-state theory is ill-equipped to handle the complexities of diffuse, multi-ethnic political systems, and has a pronounced tendency to view the nation-state in normative-teleological terms through its assumption of a specific form toward which political organization tends.

Leonhardt presented a comparative overview of the Habsburg, British, Ottoman and Russian empires, focusing on four specific research themes based on the preliminary results of his project, which he supported with specific examples drawn from each of the imperial contexts: 1) mapping and classifying, whereby empires borrowed techniques from nation-states but used them as "means for their own strategies") ; 2) mediating and representing - here, he discussed the iconographies and rituals of imperial monarchies, and the complex ways in which "symbolic inclusion" could become "a catalyst for exclusion" ; 3) ruling and bargaining, through which he described the push for new measures of imperial integration to balance the centrifugal forces arising in the face of increasing international conflict ; and 4) defending and fighting, which led his discussion up through World War I and the "crisis of integration and loyalty" it presented for imperial powers.

Leonhardt concluded his remarks by underscoring the "ever-changing spectrum of situational self-images" within imperial contexts, arguing again for a distinct treatment of empires. In the ensuing discussion, participants pressed Leonhardt on his methodology and the problem of an "histoire totale", the "center-periphery" dynamics of empire, and on the ways in which ethnicity was variously conceived within different imperial locations.

20 May
Paul McHugh, University of Cambridge, Seminar,
Place: P545, Porthania

In anticipation of next week's meeting of the working group "Constitutions and Legitimisation of Power", Paul McHugh, University Reader at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, who has published extensively in the field of common-law aboriginal rights, constitutional imperial and colonial history and historiography, gave an account of the various means and uses of "legalism" within the British imperial system. In his presentation, McHugh focused on what he calls "Albion's Century", that is the period of 1757 to 1857, in which the "British imperial exercise" reached its peak. In taking New Zealand in the 1830s as a case study of particular interest, he demonstrated the actual establishment, functioning and changes of the imperial legal order in respect to both the white settlers' community and the indigenous population, i.e. the Maoris.

The discussion following McHugh's presentation revolved around questions concerning the formative influence of the British common law tradition for the particular "legalism(s)" in the colonies, the role the concept of "civilisation" played in the colonial context, and possible legal (re-)transfers from the colonies to the homeland. Moreover, changes in the understanding of political representation and the extent to which national emancipation efforts of the colonies were fostered by the ambition of the settlers to acquire full legislative jurisdiction over native affairs were other issues brought up in the debate. The seminar concluded with a critical evaluation of the teleological dimensions and legacy of British imperialism in Oceania, as well as of the strategies of the indigenous population to make practical use of 19th-century historical experiences in contemporary politics.

27-28 May
First Meeting of the Working Group Constitutions and the Legitimisation of Power, Helsinki

The first meeting of the Working Group (WG) 'Constitutions and the Legitimisation of Power' was held on the 27th and 28th of May 2010, bringing together 25 scholars from the disciplines of history and law. Participants presented their initial draft papers on various key constitutional issues during the 19th century, and lively discussions followed on specific contributions as well as on the overall framework and aims of the working group.

The principal aim of this meeting was to initiate a critical and collaborative re-evaluation of the nature and role of constitutions in the nineteenth century, with the aim of producing an edited volume. Both organizers and participants were optimistic about the effort from the outset: even at this early stage, connections among the work of individual contributors were surfacing, and engagement with the working group's statement in general afforded a thematic unity to the proceedings that added to rather than detracted from the individual contributions. As hoped, reactions from participants to the statement itself ranged from critical to supportive, which advanced rather than curtailed the general intellectual discussion and debate.

The workshop was organised around five sub-themes: constitutions as anti-revolutionary devices; constitutions as instruments of imperialism; constitutions as promoters of nationalism; constitutions as justification for new modes of production; and constitutions as legal and political texts.

In their opening statements, Kelly Grotke and Markus J. Prutsch welcomed everybody, and also called attention to the polemical intent of the group's organizing document. As Grotke underscored, the intention behind the language was to stimulate critical and reflective perspectives in each of the contributors' papers, and to invite participants to think explicitly beyond the view of the constitutional form as an inevitable and rational legal expression of a coherent and unitary political-ethical order, unmarked by conflicts, force, and dissension, and to examine the often implicit teleological assumptions behind such a normative perspective.

When presentations and follow-up discussions were completed, the organisers ended the event on a positive note by conveying their enthusiasm for the proceedings thus far and for the group's future work together. In closing, a number of practical issues were addressed to ensure that the work proceeds smoothly, with emphasis on the papers being in final form prior to the group's last meeting, to be held in Spring 2011.