Research in Progress: dr. Camille Creyghton & dr. René Koekkoek – 12 December 2017
Two new research projects were presented:
“Repairing historical injustices: an intellectual history”
René Koekkoek is a lecturer in Modern European History in the European Studies programme at the University of Amsterdam and a Junior Research Fellow at the Vossius Center for History of Humanities and Sciences. His research interests lie at the interface between history, political thought, and philosophy from the early modern period to the twentieth century. He has written (research) articles and essays about the age of Atlantic revolutions, Carl Schmitt’s reading of Spinoza, visions of Dutch empire, toleration, political thought in the Batavian Revolution, the Hebrew Republic as a model in early modern republicanism, the history and practice of reparations for historical injustices, and on 21st-century Chinese views on international relations. This new research project investigates the conceptual and intellectual origins of historical injustice and reparations. A first foray into the field appeared in De Groene Amsterdammer, April 20, 2017.
“Transfer of ideas among émigré intellectuals in European cities, 1815-1848”
Camille Creyghton is a lecturer in History and Cultural Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She researches and publishes within the domains of intellectual history, cultural history, history of the political and political culture of the end of the 18th until the first half of the 20th century. Her main interests concern questions about revolution and exile, political representation, history of science and humanities, and European thought. In December 2016, she defended her PhD thesis on the afterlife of the French historian Jules Michelet in French historiography and politics since 1870. This new research project traces the transfer of ideas among political exiles from various national backgrounds in some key European cities between 1815 and 1848.
“Imagining Politics” Public Lecture by dr. Sophie Smith (Oxford) with Discussant: dr. Arthur Weststein (Utrecht University) – 7 November 2017
In her lecture, dr. Sophie Smith traced the emergence of ideas of political philosophy and political theory in early modern Europe. In particular, she focused on the association between political theory and the practice of imagining commonwealths and the ensuing debate around norms that should govern such practice. Furthermore, and relatedly, she looked at how writers on politics drew on and developed insights from texts on poetics, and how poetic texts positioned themselves as a contribution to political science. She used this history as a springboard for reflecting on the relationship between theory and practice in contemporary debates in political philosophy.
Sophie Smith (Ph.D. Cambridge, Trinity College) is an Associate Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford and a Tutorial Fellow at University College. Her two main areas of research are early modern political ideas and the history of feminist political theory.
“The Future of Intellectual History” Roundtable with Prof.dr. Hilde de Weerdt (Leiden), Prof.dr. Ido de Haan (Utrecht), Prof.dr. Rens Bod (Amsterdam), Prof.dr. Alicia Montoya (Nijmegen), Prof.dr. Arianna Betti (Amsterdam), prof.dr. Marc de Wilde (Amsterdam) and other discussants – 10 October 2017
Roundtable ‘The Future of Global Intellectual History’ (Full Report)
Tuesday 10 October 15:00-18:00, VOC Room, University of Amsterdam
By Tamara Mercante Thierauf
Over the past decade, intellectual historians have been exploring new and exciting directions, broadening its scope in terms of geography, time and methodology. A self-conscious and critical approach to their own field of study, however, requires the lively interaction, mutual scrutiny and exchange between intellectual history scholars from various faculties and departments. With this mission, the Amsterdam Global Intellectual History Seminar held its inaugural Roundtable Discussion on October 10, featuring prof.dr. Hilde de Weerdt (Leiden), prof.dr. Ido de Haan (Utrecht), prof.dr. Marc de Wilde (Amsterdam), prof.dr. Arianna Betti and dr. Hein van den Berg (Amsterdam), and prof.dr. Siep Stuurman (UU). In short statements the participants shared their perspectives on the future of Intellectual History and gave insight into their own approaches and research methods, highlighting both the progress and successes within the field, and pointing out its shortcomings and future challenges.
The Roundtable started with a statement by Prof.dr. Hilde de Weerdt, an expert on Imperial Chinese intellectual and political history, calling out persistent fallacies of eurocentrism and pleading for more focus on disintegration, conflict and locality. Referencing Jeremy Adelman’s recent essay ‘What is global history now’ ([link] https://aeon.co/essays/is-global-history-still-possible-or-has-it-had-its-moment)‘, De Weerdt criticised the tendency within global history to emphasise integration, connection and conversion as part of a misplaced neoliberal and cosmopolitan yearning. Global Intellectual History could and should provide a counter narrative to nationalistic historiography and civilisational histories, but not through pretence and invention.
De Weerdt proposes a shift to ‘scalable’ historical analysis, which connects the regional and the global, the particular and the universal, in a way that makes world history understandable on the intermediary and local level, while still preserving the relevance of regional history. To achieve this, more languages need to be included which are not linguae francae of global elites. De Weerdt’s ideas on the scalability of history fit well with her prioritising of an “assimilationalist” approach to historical research. Global history often suffers from the limited expertise of its writers, but this can be counteracted by an approach which focuses on regional themes and questions first and then integrates this expert regional knowledge into wider global historical processes.
Two questions in particular stood out during the discussion. Firstly, if, as De Weerdt asserts, many philosophical and political concepts like ‘body politics’, ‘rule of law’, ‘party line’ and even ‘feudalism’ are not, as is often assumed, essentially European but can be found in Chinese history too, how can they be translated, positioned and traced within a global framework without either glossing over differences and loosing complexity, or respecting the particular to a point where comparison becomes impossible? Secondly, how can European historians (especially of the early modern period) explain political difference, without falling into teleological thinking and engaging in processes of ’projecting back’ concepts to explain some great political divergence in the future? Such thinking, De Weerdt emphasises, is sure to predetermine the outcome and destined to end in well-established Eurocentric conclusions.
Professor Stuurman took up the problem of engaging with global history without overestimating similarity and processes of integration and without assuming that Europe is the origin and hub of such globalising processes. But while criticising the overstating of globalisation and the negation of rift and disintegration, he also warned against processes of ‘Othering’ based on the fallacy that ‘outsiders’ can never fully understand a foreign culture, that satisfying translation is impossible and that cultures are essential ‘wholes’. In reality, ideas circulate beyond cultural boundaries and there are many events that tie the world together. As examples of such events Stuurman proposed the crash in capital markets in the 1720s (South Sea Bubble) and Russia’s military defeat in 1905 against Japan. Both had global consequences, making people feel the “simultaneousness” of the world.
This opens important questions about the beginnings and limits of global intellectual history; at what point in time can one start talking about global events? To what extent is their being “global” determined by the existence or non-existence of mass media? What really is the difference between comparative history and global history? How can one trace a concept and its various influences and changes over time, without projecting a non-existent coherence?
Prof. dr. De Wilde emphasised this latter question in particular, identifying it as one of the leading challenges of Global Intellectual History and warning against the tendency to project ideologically loaded concepts onto the past to prove points in the present. Any researcher of Global intellectual History should beware of linear arguing and alleged inevitabilities. Further, de Wilde stressed the importance of increasing interdisciplinarity within the field, also to understand the interconnectedness and mutual exchange between different fields of thought in the past. As an example, he pointed to the great influence exerted by legal discourse on the political concept of human rights, at least till early modernity.
Professor Ido de Haan further complicated the problem of tracing continuities already touched upon by de Wilde, by pointing to the long-term “dispersion” or “dissolution” of concepts into societal structures and institutions. The more established and commonsensical an idea becomes, the more difficult it becomes to recognise “antecedents” and trace its earlier intellectual trajectory. By reference to his own research on neoliberalism, De Haan demonstrated how difficult it is to detect continuity despite change, in the case of a concept that has melted to such an extent into the social and political fabric and continues to reappear in and inform so many superficially unrelated ideas and policies. In this context De Haan focused on the subtle processes of de-ideologisation and depoliticisation that allow for concepts like neoliberalism to shape social realities in this way. Underlying the analysis of these processes is the idea that the prevalence of certain concepts and discourses in a community cannot simply be explained by certain communities happening to share them, but, importantly, needs to take into account that communities are formed based on certain concepts and discourses being shared.
Prof.dr. Arianna Betti gave some insight into a current project shared with Hein van de Berg, aiming at the computerisation of their “Modal Approach” to the history of ideas, which promises to facilitate research such as De Haan’s and potentially simplify some of the challenges and contradictions previously discussed. Their new “Modal Approach” parts with the “Unit Approach”, in that it takes into consideration the necessity of recurring to whole systems of connected concepts when articulating an idea. Rather than as isolated wholes, Ideas are thus seen as networks with a core and margins. Betti pointed out several challenges in computerising this approach. In particular, that of building a corpus, discriminating between ideas and sources really belonging to that corpus and those merely building on it. To do so the definition of the concept in question cannot be too broad as the computer would then produce too much irrelevant information and sources, but it cannot be too specific either. A researcher would then miss out on subtle changes in concepts over time.
Taken together, the contributions of all roundtable members highlighted a great variety of possible lines of research, as well as the limits, challenges, and pitfalls of (global) intellectual and conceptual history. With a large audience and stimulating discussions, it was an appropriate kick-off of the Amsterdam Seminar Global Intellectual History. To be continued!
Tamara Mercante Thierauf is a 2nd-year BA student European Studies at the UvA, majoring in European Culture and student-assistant of the Amsterdam Seminar Global Intellectual History.