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 2010
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9 Nov
Historiography sem. Session 4: The sociological perspective Outline (pdf)

The focus of the fourth historiography seminar series entitled History and the Sociological Perspective was on the issues analysing the role of the masses and social movement (s) in historical writing during the 19th century. As the basis for the ensuing discussion served a number of diverse and outstanding texts by 19th century authors, who utilised different disciplinary approaches and appealing narratives to capture and analyse the emerging social question.

The text by French historian Augustin Thierry, Historie de Jacques Bonhomme (1820), was an example of author's effort to tell the story of an amorphous group, as the Third Estate, in the course of two thousand years by breaking away from the contemporary French historiographical interpretations, which he does by resorting to the use of a fictitious figure, Jacques Bonhomme, while remaining loyal to historical research. The second text, which was a collection lectures conducted between 1828 and 1829 on the Doctrine of Saint-Simon, highlighted the attempt to develop grand laws for explaining human development.

A third text was by Lorenz von Stein, The History of the Social Movement in France, 1789-1850, who brought in academic use the notion of social movement and advanced the argument that society can develop independent of the state, and where key between the two to avoid revolution was a synchronisation of bureaucracy and society. Meanwhile, the last text was by Frederick Albert Lange, History of Materialism and Criticism of its Present Importance (1879) – a philosopher's endeavour to connect philosophy to the concrete, which for him was the social question, through weighting the concept of materialism via ethical notions of sympathy and egoism.
The following discussion highlighted the sense of openness that these texts conveyed about the 19th century as well as pointed to that they themselves cannot be easily categorised through contemporary disciplinary frames. This openness was particularly revealing with regards to the notion of the state, which appeared to be in a process of deconstruction and reconstruction - not necessarily always influenced by the social question.

11 Nov
Work in progress presentation Kelly Grotke

Grotke presented her current research into the problem of logic in nineteenth-century Europe, the subject of the third, thematically central chapter of a monograph currently in preparation, and provisionally entitled, Time, History, and Epistemology in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Cultural Dualism. Logic, she argued, emerged as a central field of philosophical contestation in the nineteenth century, occupying the space opened up by the retreat of the eighteenth-century theorists of natural law from the epistemological high ground. Nineteenth-century logic, Grotke argued, was a complex philosophical idiom that revolved around three principal axes. The first, which captures logic's properly structural aspects, concerns the relationship of universals and particulars. The second, related to this, bears on the distinction between individuals and society, and can be used to address some of the principal ideological conflicts of the century. Third deals with the question of time, and the connection between being and becoming, synchrony and diachrony.

Nineteenth-century logic, Grotke emphasised, was a site of confusion and disagreement rather than clarity and unanimity. Its history (to paraphrase Duncan Forbes) makes for terrible campaign country. Grotke proposed to pick her way through the material by starting from the distinctive philosophical project of Hegel, who placed logic at the centre of his endeavours, before exploring how developments in mathematics and the natural sciences first transformed the study of logic in the England of Boole, Venn and Mill, and then impacted upon the somewhat differently structured debates in Germany. In this way, she argued, she would demonstrate how the philosophical stakes involved in the elaboration of differing logics served to transform the intellectual world of the nineteenth century.

15-16 Nov
Working Group Paradoxes of Peace in 19th Century Europe First meeting, Helsinki
Download Participants (pdf)

(Photo by Fouad-Philippe Saadé)

On 15 and 16 October 2010, the working group “Paradoxes of Peace in Nineteenth-Century Europe”, coordinated by Miloš Vec (Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History, Francfort, Germany) and Thomas Hippler (University of Lyon, France), convened for its first meeting in Helsinki.

Sixteen scholars from the disciplines of history, law, political science and sociology presented their initial draft papers on various aspects on the peace issue in nineteenth-century Europe, including the late emergence of “peace” as a key concept in international law and the difficulties of legal codification and enforcement, transnational networks for the promotion of peace, and the paradoxical impacts on religion, civilization, democracy, gender, and free-trade on the discourse of peace in Europe. Lively discussions followed on specific papers, as well as on the overall orientation of the working group, i.e. to consider discourses about peace as intrinsically paradoxical.

In his opening remarks, Thomas Hippler underscored the need to “provincialize Europe” which is the same as analysing Europe in a truly global perspective. This is why some stress was laid on Turkey and Russia as two geographical areas which have traditionally – at least since the eighteenth-century and indeed until today – the paradoxical status of being both within and without Europe. The final discussion was centred on the overall question of peace as a paradox. Questions were raised about the polemical intent of the working group and the implications of a research agenda that aims to undo any teleological or idyllic understanding of “peace” and rather highlights the fact that war and peace constitute each other mutually.

17 Nov
Making and Breaking International Law in the First World War: Britain and Imperial Germany by Isabel V. Hull, Porthania P545

On November 17, Isabel V. Hull (John Stambaugh Professor of History at Cornell University where she has taught since 1977) presented advances from her forthcoming book "Making and Breaking International Law in the First World War: Britain and Imperial Germany." In a fascinating and detailed presentation Professor Hull explained how she meticulously researched a broad variety of primary sources on Britain´s and Germany´s decision-making process during World War I. Instead of concentrating her research in the more obvious area of ground warfare, Hull´s research took her to further explore the decision making process in naval warfare, because that is where the key discussions on the interpretation and application of international law were being held. Consequently, Hull also found that different international law rationales and legal cultures were very much at the center of the decision making process. For this reason, Hull´s research makes obvious that uncovering the role of international law in World War I is crucial for understanding the conduct of the war itself, its aftermath and what came next.

However, the way that lawyers and policy makers from each context interpreted and applied the law was different: Britain was more top-down, British policy makers considered themselves as law-abiding, and tried to behave as consistently as possible within the idea that its behaviour would be 'making' international law. Though there were moments when they did break the law, they became more pragmatic and justified their actions in face of the worse offense which would be to let Germany advance. This for example, was the argument for the British blockade of Germany which started as a way of limiting food imports for belligerents but ended having a starvation effect on the broader civilian population. Though Britains were not proud of their violation of international law, they were able to look for ways to make it look legal because they saw the law as in constant development, capable of adapting to changing circumstances.

On the other hand, Hull´s research discredits the generalized idea that the German Empire didn´t care about international law during World War I. Hull demonstrated that Germans were very much into making legal arguments such as that of "military necessity" which allowed them to break and make law, or the idea of absolute sovereignty which was sustained on the argument of "whatever is not forbidden is permitted." Different from the British policy environment, Germans were much more down-up in their proceedings and justified the use of terror as a war strategy. For every proceeding, such as enslavement of prisoners of war, the bombing of civilians or the massacre of thousands of Belgians, the Germans found ways to make a legal argument that justified their actions.

Professor Hull also pointed out that the reason we don´t know as much about international law during this period is that our understanding of WWI has been shaped by a forgetting: one which has tended to blur differences between the protagonists, and obscures the stakes, the justifications, and what happened regarding international law. It is quite astounding to know that since the 1920´s there have been no books studying the way that international law interpreted and used during WWI. Like her two previously prized works Sexuality, State and Civil Society in Germany, 1700-1815 (Cornell University Press, 1996) and Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Cornell University Press, 2004), Hull´s forthcoming book promises to be a groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of this period.

23 Nov
Historiography sem. Session 5: Beyond the rational Outline (pdf)

The penultimate seminar in this series featured selections from Georges Sorel's The Illusions of Progress (1908), Henry Sumner Maine's Popular Government (1886), Graham Wallas's Human Nature in Politics (1908), Karl Lamprecht's What Is History (1905), as well as Pyotr Struve's article, 'The Intelligentsia and the Revolution' (1909). In choosing texts from the latter part of the EReRe group's research period, the organizers wished to underscore the political and intellectual stakes of post-1848 reflections on and uses of history and also to loosen the grip of 'German' historiography on the discussions, whether in its idealist-metaphysical or more Rankean incarnations.

In retrospect, the organizers found their chosen title, 'Beyond the Rational,' somewhat distractingly trendy and question-begging; none of the texts explicitly challenged the idea of reason per se but rather illustrated a range of possible approaches to the issues of causation, development, and meaning in history. Nevertheless, participants appreciated the diverse choice of texts and the ensuing discussion developed around questions of interpretation in history. This was useful both for sharpening the group's perception of the scope of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century uses of history, and how these could either advance or constrain specific expectations for the future. A debate then developed regarding what, if anything, has changed in the ensuing years. On an abstract level, perhaps not much: history is still up for grabs and there are of course plural and even conflicting approaches, now as then. But more concretely, the EReRe group's challenge is simultaneously to question easy assertions of continuity as well as any crude statements of present interpretive superiority, through each of its participant's research and monographs; therefore, engagement with the specific stakes and contexts of historiographical argumentation between 1815 and 1914 is intended to promote the critical reflection advocated by the group's project statement.