What Is, and To What End Do We Study, Intellectual History?: A Comparison of Two Approaches: The ‘Cambridge School’ and ‘Conceptual History’

From 2–4 June 2022, the German Association for British Studies will host its annual conference under the title of ‘From Cambridge to Bielefeld—and Back? British and Continental Approaches to Intellectual History’. Two specific—and local—schools of thought and their respective groups of thinkers are thus at the heart of the conference: Cambridge, where intellectual historians in the tradition of J. G. A. Pocock, Quentin Skinner, and John Dunn’s more or less shared outlook still apply linguistic and historical methods to modern political thought; and Bielefeld, where Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck edited the monumental lexicon on key historical terminology entitled Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe1  (GG), and where Koselleck was involved in shaping the institutional and methodological outlook of the now well-known Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF).2

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  1. Otto Brunner, Reinhart Koselleck, and Werner Conze (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, 8 vols. (Stuttgart, 1972–97). []
  2. E.g. Koselleck was executive director of the centre in the years 1974–5 and played a leading role in the management of its research from 1968 until 1979. See Ipke Wachsmuth, ‘Gedenkrede des Geschäftsführenden Direktors des Zentrums für Interdisziplinäre Forschung der Universität Bielefeld’, in Neithard Bulst and Willibald Steinmetz (eds.), Reinhart Koselleck 1923–2006: Reden zur Gedenkfeier am 24. Mai 2006 (Bielefeld, 2007), 41–3, at 41–2. In various functions, Koselleck was responsible for attracting Norbert Elias to the centre and for institutionalizing the format of the so-called ‘working groups’, among other things. The centre’s research agenda often reflected the methodological impulse of the conceptual history approach, and this can also be seen in Koselleck’s own work; consider e.g. the ZiF’s role as an institutional enabler for his work on the French Revolution: Reinhart Koselleck and Rolf Reichardt, Die Französische Revolution als Bruch des gesellschaftlichen Bewusstseins: Vorlagen und Diskussionen der internationalen Arbeitstagung am Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung der Universität Bielefeld, 28. Mai–1. Juni 1985 (Munich, 1988). []

Women’s Centres and their Newsletters: Feminist Spaces and Print Cultures in Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom

In April confusion reigned due to the last issue of Sisterhood thinking that the first Wednesday in April fell on the 8th rather than the 1st (Tut tut sack the proof readers I say). In the end we had two meetings but the discussion on Sexism and Education remained on the 8th. As a result of the confusion only 7 women attended.1

Taking place at the Cleveland women’s centre in Yorkshire, this seemingly benign communication mishap among the group producing the centre’s newsletter, Sisterhood, managed to leave the centre in disarray. In the end, the programme announced in the newsletter prevailed despite the organizers’ initial plans, illustrating just how central a role local newsletters could play in the basic functioning of key structures of local feminist scenes.

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  1. Sisterhood: Cleveland Womens Centre Newsletter, 3 (May 1981). []

A Brotherhood of Soldiers? Concepts of Comradeship 1914–1938

Whether we watch movies, read novels, play video games, look at paintings, or listen to podcasts about the First World War, we encounter expressions of what we consider to be the comradeship of the trenches. The idea of the soldiers holding fast together through all hardships, living together, and loving each other like brothers, even dying for one another, has become a central part of the collective memory of the ‘Great War’.1 The social relationship we are shown in these media representations is most often that of best friends. By defining the relationship between soldiers in this way, media productions are creating relatability for non-military users as well as avoiding the rather less clearly defined term ‘comradeship’. The most recent example of this is the film 1917 directed by Sam Mendes, which tells the story of the First World War through the eyes of two soldier friends on a special mission. What it does not show is the daily lives the soldiers had to lead with those they did not consider to be their friends, for whom they did not feel sympathy, or were just not emotionally close to. Those people they called ‘comrades’ and this relationship is almost entirely absent from cultural representations of the war. Media productions therefore replace the social relationship of comradeship with the concept of friendship in our cultural memory of the Great War because they only show one kind of relationship at the front.

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  1. See Aleida Assmann, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit (Munich, 2006), 23–6; available in English as Shadows of Trauma: Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity, trans. Sarah Clift (New York, 2016). []

Recording the Dead in Early Modern London and Munich

Recording the names of the dead has a long tradition in human societies.1 Lists of the dead come in many different forms: as a call to remember the dead, as a reminder of some kind of sacrifice or traumatic event, or as a means to keep track of mortality patterns. In antiquity, we find early examples of lists of those who died in battle, while in the Middle Ages monastic necrologues recorded when a monk or nun died. In both of these cases, however, only the deaths of a select number of individuals were recorded. It is not until the sixteenth century that, at least in Western contexts, more detailed records allow us to gain a better understanding of who died when, and sometimes also where their bodies were buried.2

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  1. The third part (363–488) of Thomas W. Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton, 2015) is devoted to the ‘Names of the Dead’. []
  2. On these longer-term developments, see Philip Booth und Elizabeth Tingle (eds.), A Companion to Death, Burial, and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, c.1300–1700 (Leiden, 2021); Thea Tomaini (ed.), Dealing with The Dead: Mortality and Community in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Leiden, 2018). []

New Publication on Manuscript Newsletters around 1700

The new volume Scribal News in Politics and Parliament 1660–1760, which has just been published as a special issue of the journal Parliamentary History, gathers twelve essays by scholars from Britain, Europe, and North America on the role of scribal news in reporting about parliament and politics in Britain between 1660 and 1760. The volume grew out of a one-day conference held between the History of Parliament and the German Historical Institute London (both institutions are neighbours on Bloomsbury Square) in December 2018 to explore a hitherto underinvestigated topic at the intersection of political and media history.

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Conference Report: The History of Medialization and Empowerment: The Intersection of Women’s Rights Activism and the Media, 20–21 January 2022

The third and final meeting of the International Standing Working Group on Medialization and Empowerment was held virtually on January 20 and 21, 2022. At the end of a three-year project, looking at the interconnections, contingencies, and dependencies of women’s rights and the media throughout the long-twentieth century, the conference explored the role of the media in shaping and constituting discussions of gender roles and women’s rights globally. Convened by Christina von Hodenberg and Jane Freeland (London), it is part of the international research project Knowledge Unbound: Internationalization, Networking, Innovation in and by the Max Weber Stiftung and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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Directories and the Legibility of Urban Spaces, 1760–1830

It seems like the logical conclusion to a friendly and fruitful relationship that my monograph on town directories of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, entitled Die Stadt lesen: Englische ‘Directories’ als Wissens- und Orientierungsmedien, 1760–1830, has recently been published in the GHIL’s series with De Gruyter Oldenbourg. By far the largest part of my archival research—with most sources relevant to my Ph.D. held by English archives—was made possible by two GHIL scholarships, which also allowed me to discuss my ongoing work with colleagues at the Institute.

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Talking about Political Violence in Interwar Britain and Germany

I was grateful and honoured to be jointly awarded the GHIL’s 2021 Ph.D. prize with Jonathan Triffitt this November. As with all such honours, picking the recipients was no doubt a subjective decision. Therefore, I am all the more grateful to the Institute for choosing my thesis ‘Negotiating Violence: Public Discourses about Political Violence in Interwar Britain and Germany’, as it is a piece of historical research in which I chose to acknowledge head-on how it was informed and influenced by present-day concerns along the way.

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Imagining a Transnational and Transhistorical Movement Against Violence

As a college student in the U.S. in the 1980s, I first became aware of Take Back the Night. In countless cities, towns, and campuses across the U.S., feminist organizations coordinated these annual events to protest violence against women. Participants—typically women (and often intentionally and exclusively women)—gathered for night-time marches and rallies to speak out against rape and other forms of sexual assault and to assert that women should have the right to occupy public spaces and travel at night without fear.

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Perspectives on Political Parties in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Since the emergence of the first nation states in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, political parties have become one of the most important and influential actors in Western political systems. It is hard to imagine a functioning Western democracy without the presence of political parties, yet they have always been accompanied by criticism and rejection. As parties developed into elementary components of constitutional states and their tasks and responsibilities expanded, an intense theoretical preoccupation with the potential dangers they posed took place, especially in Britain.1 This debate about parties was marked by conflicting views, but the repetition and recurrence of similar lines of argument by authors at different times throughout the nineteenth century is striking.

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  1. See, for example, Arthur Aspinall, ‘English Party Organization in the Early Nineteenth Century’, English Historical Review, 41 (1926), 389–411; J. A. W. Gunn, ‘Party before Burke: Shute Barrington’, Government and Opposition, 3/2 (1968), 223–40; id., Factions No More: Attitudes to Party in Government and Opposition in Eighteenth-Century England. Extracts from Contemporary Sources (London, 1972); Paul Webb, ‘Political Partiesand Democracy:The Ambiguous Crisis’, Democratization, 12/5 (2005), 633–50, at 633–4. []