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On May 15th to 17th of next year, I will be attending a conference titled “Declines and Falls: Perspectives in European History and Historiography” organized at the Central European University in Budapest.

My presentation – which draws upon my dissertation research – will address the complex interrelations between the concepts of progress and decadence in the long eighteenth century. Often, these two concepts are understood as mutually exclusive counter-concepts, epitomizing a forward-looking ‘Enlightenment theory of progress’ on the one hand and the backward and ultimately futile ‘complaints’ of conservatives and reactionaries on the other.

A closer look at the semantic structure of debates about the development of civilization in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries reveals, however, that to contemporaries, these concepts were not usually counter-concepts at all. Rather, they were regularly understood as linked, or even interdependent. To understand this paradox, my paper addresses the various ways in which ‘the culture/civilization as a whole’ was conceptualized in these discourses.

Joining the analysis of the semantic structure of contemporary narratives of cultural decline with their pragmatic interpretation as speech acts in public interaction, I identify three different types of interpretation of the ‘whole’ in which ostensibly monistic claims about civilization in toto were linked to a differentiated understanding of its plural nature. In this way, the common view of narratives of progress and decadence as mutually exclusive discourses – at worst resulting in a general narrative of modern intellectual history as an eternal struggle between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment – may make way for a more detailed understanding of the complexities of the debates about the character and development of civilization that have been so very important to public discourses of self-reflection in the modern age.

Update: a conference report has been published on the CEU website.

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An article I wrote about the concept of the ‘spirit of the age’ in the long Eighteenth Century has been published in the volume Frühe Neue Zeiten, edited by Prof. Dr. Achim Landwehr.

Zeitgeist im langen 18. Jahrhundert. Dimensionen eines umstrittenen Begriffs, in: Achim Landwehr (Hg.): Frühe Neue Zeiten. Zeitwissen zwischen Reformation und Revolution (= Mainzer Historische Kulturwissenschaften 11), Bielefeld: transcript 2012, S. 319–355.

In my article, I trace the meanings and usages of the concept of zeitgeist in its various forms (esprit du siècle, Geist der Zeit, spirit of the age, etc.) across a number of contexts in France, England and the German lands. The concept is shown to be at the center of the temporalization of discourses about contemporary culture and its historical development during the Eighteenth Century. A special focus of the article lies on the complicated relation between the unstressed usages of the concept on the one hand and the explicit, metalinguistic discussion about it on the other. Because of its controversial and elusive nature, the concept of the spirit of the age was at the center of heated debates about its cognitive and metaphysical legitimacy and its pragmatic usefulness. How did such debates influence its use in other contexts?

To read the Achim Landwehr’s introduction to the volume, click here.

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My dissertation has been published as volume 18 of the series ‘Historische Semantik‘ by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

For more information, click here. For ordering from within Germany, click here.

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Last week, I presented a paper at the conference ‘The Changing Experience of Time in the Long Nineteenth Century: Local, Regional, (Trans)National and Global Perspectives‘, held at the Centre for Transnational History of the University of St. Andrews (Scotland). My presentation was concerned with different models of historical analysis of the changing experiences and practices of time, especially with the so-called model of ‘temporalization’ which has been primarily championed by the German historian Reinhart Koselleck. Its title was:

Modern Times: Temporalization as a Concept of Historical Analysis

Also, I’m happy to announce that next month, I’m presenting other research at a conference ‘Populäre Geschichte und medialer Wandel zwischen Fortschrittsoptimismus und Kulturpessimismus‘, organized by the DFG-research group ‘Historische Lebenswelten in populären Wissenskulturen der Gegenwart‘ (DFG-FOR 875). This time, my topic will be a narrative of cultural interpretation that was quite influential at the end of the 18th century, which interpreted history as a slow evolution from a ‘poetic’ to a ‘prosaic’ mode of existence. The title of my presentation will be:

Vom poetischen Ursprung zur prosaischen Gegenwart: ein kulturanalytisches Geschichtsnarrativ im späten 18. Jahrhundert
(From poetic origin to prosaic present: a historical narrative of cultural analysis at the end of the 18th century)

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I’m honoured to announce that after the Fazit-Stiftung, now the Geschwister Boehringer Ingelheim Stiftung für Geisteswissenschaften has also generously awarded me a grant towards the printing costs of my dissertation, to be published this year under the title “Zeichen des Verfalls. Semantische Studien zur Entstehung der Kulturkritik im 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert”.

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I’m happy and grateful to announce that the FAZIT-Stiftung has awarded me a generous grant towards  the printing costs of my dissertation (to be published this fall).

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I’m honoured to announce that my dissertation “Zeichen des Verfalls. Semantische Studien zur Entstehung der Kulturkritik im 18. und frühen 19. Jahrhundert” has been awarded the dissertation prize 2011 of the Westfälisch-Lippische Universitätsgesellschaft.

The prize will be presented by the Gesellschafts chairman, Ortwin Goldbeck, on February 24th, 2012 at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Bielefeld.

An account of the ceremony with a photo is to be found here.

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