Challenging and Extending Reinhart Koselleck’s Theories of Historical Time

AHA Session 65
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Bryant Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
David Gary Shaw, History and Theory
Willibald Steinmetz, University of Bielefeld

Session Abstract

In the last ten years or so, especially since the publication of his work in two volumes of translated papers--Futures Past and The Practice of Conceptual History--the thought of historian and theorist Reinhart Koselleck (1923-2006) has demanded attention from historians. Theorists of history have increasingly discussed his work but the time is ripe for historians to consider the implications of his fertile if difficult oeuvre more widely. This panel is an effort to assist in that endeavor by showcasing fresh thinking about Koselleck's key ideas for a wide variety of historians interested in theory, intellectual history, periodization, and comparative issues from all chronological periods.

On the one hand, Koselleck's Concept-History (Begriffsgeschicte) has been of interest to both theorists of history and intellectual historians, not least because of its methodological possibilities to map out distinctly potent political and social concepts. On the other, his association with the so-called Bielefeld school of social history means that he was particularly sensitive and open to the ways that the social needed to be associated with the conceptual or intellectual. How the development of concepts connects with the crucial social reality was a challenging but constant aspect of Koselleck's thought. How to extend his thought beyond the domains of intellectual history and European history is an important possibility facing us now.

The changes possible in fundamental concepts was for Koselleck a key to appreciating how history itself changed at its most radical moments. His work provides a novel sense of how modernity emerged in particular (for him in the Sattelzeit, the saddle time of the eighteenth century) but also for how concepts and the past persevere into different presents and how the past, in a real sense, might remain with us.

The papers in this panel will explore, extend, and challenge some of Koselleck's key ideas. They focus on temporality and its relation to secularization (a concept with which Koselleck had a complex relationship and genealogy) (Davis). They will discuss as well the possibility that Koselleck's famous interest in modernity will prove less influential in the longer run than those of his ideas that highlighted the multiple character of the time of any historical moment, such as the focus he gave to the layering of time and concepts and the synchronicity of the non-synchronous (Jordheim). But the panel will also help to make clear how Koselleck's thought might be critically extended to ask about the relation of the contemporary and the comparable and help us understand historical time in different parts of the simultaneous twentieth-century globe (Goswami).

International, interdisciplinary, and comparative in its extent, this panel will help us to challenge and extend Koselleck's thought and to introduce it to a wider audience form all historical sub-fields.

See more of: AHA Sessions