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.

November 2009
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10 Nov
David Harvey, Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom, introduced by Liliana Obregón. Reading seminar

While the principle focus of discussion was Harvey's text, selections from Walter Mignolo's The Idea of Latin America, as well as Kant's and Hegel's writings on anthropology and geography, were included in the readings for this session. Liliana Obregon began by providing brief summaries of Harvey's and Mignolo's work, which she related to the
group's previous engagements with Kant's ideas and legacy.

The explicitly political emphasis of both authors opened up a lively discussion on two key issues that will continue to engage the group over the course of the project: the importance of colonialism for any account of nineteenth-century Europe, and the need for a more critical engagement with the implicit and explicit conceptual frameworks within which issues like cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and universalism are debated.

Evan as the difficult publication history of Kant's geography cast doubt on Harvey's claim for its conceptual or historical centrality, the group agreed on the need to address its problematic claims on race in the context of European self-understanding. As Obregon pointed out, "Europe" can be "civilized" and "barbarian" at the same time, and the need to externalize barbarity and attribute it to those outside the European realm should be addressed. At the same time, oversimplification of contemporary European perspectives needs to be avoided as well. The important question of how conceptual (and specifically, philosophical) frameworks relate to the exercise of
political power was raised, and left open for further discussion.

While the critical impulse behind Harvey's text was generally acknowledged, as was the importance of geographic understanding, several participants raised concerns about its usefulness as a guide for the project, because the author's undigested theoretical attachments place the work within a history that in other respects it wishes to overcome.

16 Nov
Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade, introduced by Thomas Hopkins. Reading seminar

Thomas Hopkins's introduction of the book Jealousy of Trade by Istvan Hont on the mainly 18th century Scottish and French intellectual debates about political economy elicited exiting discussions. More specifically, as Hopkins pointed out in his introduction of the text, Hont's main aims were to analyse the interlocking of concepts of the reason of state and trade as precondition for the emergence of the modern world. Equally important for Hont was to trace meanings associated with the concept of nation - starting with Thomas Hobbes's notion who interchangeably used it to mean the state and continuing with J. G Herder's apolitical idea of an ethnocultural entity as an alternative to it.

What Hopkins wanted to emphasise as a theoretical innovation from Hont's book was to suggest thinking about the 18th and 19th century not merely in terms of struggles of political regimes (monarchies and republics). But, it was crucially pertinent to focus on the notion of sociability, in particular the Kantian concept of 'unsocial sociability', a sociability based on needs, or Adam Smith's equivalent of 'commercial sociability,' as an important dimension for the modern state in general and the 19th century in particular.

The discussion then proceeded precisely from the point of seeing the continuities between the 18th and 19th centuries and interconnection and tensions between the state and economy, morality and economy, politics and economy. Thanks to the book's rich engagement with many important thinkers and their elaboration of concepts, the nexuses of liberty versus state bankruptcy, honour versus utility, union versus concord, Hont's consideration of the notion of theodicy in the text and the emergence of the social issue in the 19th century, were discussed.

23 Nov 14-16
Peter Taylor, Modernities: a Geohistorical Interpretation and Paul W Schroeder, “Did the Vienna Settlement rest on a Balance of Power?’
, introduced by Peter Haldén. Reading seminar

In his work, Taylor, Professor of Geography and Director of the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Research Network at Loughborough University (UK), seeks to explain and provide significance to the concept of modernity through a particularly succinct promotion of a "geohistorical" approach to social science. His study seeks to understand the specific periods and places where ideas and practices of being modern have been created, challenged and changed. In this context, based on the assumption that hegemony exists when a dominant (political) class exercises economic control, and its success in projecting its own way is accepted by those who are subordinated to it, Taylor makes out three "prime modernities": Dutch-led mercantile modernity in the 17th century, British-led industrial modernity during the Industrial Revolution, and American-led consumer modernity in the 20th century.

Following Peter's presentation of Taylor's work, a lively debate revolved around the question as to how innovative and convincing the concept of modernity presented in the book actually is. While it was acknowledged that Taylor provides persuasive interpretations of a number of typically modern phenomena, there was also widespread concern that the attractions of his geohistorically grounded approach are not easily separable from its problems and risks. What was identified as the main problem of the book was that despite Taylor's explicit stress on the plural forms of modernity, in fact only one single underlying "grand narrative" of modernity is offered, namely that of ceaseless capitalist accumulation within the world economy. Besides its economic determinism, more or less explicitly inspired by Marxist philosophy and Wallerstein's world system theory, some discussants also found fault with Taylor's schematic understanding of time and space, which would hardly be apt to grasp the complexities of "multiple modernities", but rather constitutes a repetition of European 19th century self imaginations.

These critical remarks finally led to a more general debate about the need and usefulness of a better understanding of European self-images and -biases, manifest, e.g., in 19th century historiography.