Cultural studies, History, History of ideas, History of philosophy, History of science

Course date

20 July - 31 July, 2009
Application deadline
15 February, 2009
Course Director(s): 

László Kontler

Department of History, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Antonella Romano

Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute, Florence, Italy
Course Faculty: 

Hans Erich Bodeker

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany

Catherine Jami

CNRS/REHSEIS - Recherches Épistémologiques et Historiques sur les Sciences Exactes et les Institutions Scientifiques, Paris, France

Anthony La Vopa

North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA

Karen O'Brien

University of Warwick, England

Silvia Sebastiani

CRH-Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France
Course Manager: 

Zsuzsanna Torok

Central European University, History department, Budapest, Hungary

This summer school deals with what has been termed "European centrality", understood as claims to superiority, primacy, or a leading role of (some) European powers. Among the possible criteria for such superiority, we shall concentrate on the variables in the realm of the production and circulation of knowledge. How, from the perspective of such variables, has European history been asymmetrically affected by economic, political and social processes worldwide, such as intercontinental trade, political and religious campaigns that led to the discovery, scientific exploration and political exploitation of entire regions within Europe itself as well as in other continents? Our aim is to explore the possibility of writing a new narrative of European history in a polycentric global context, and of historicizing the idea of Europe in relation to the dynamics of knowledge, from conceptual, cultural and spatial points of view.

In terms of chronology, the course deals with the early modern period, engaging the significant historiographical categories of Renaissance and Enlightenment. The Renaissance marks the first moment of perception and conceptualization of the world space from a European vantage point, that is, the "discovery of the New World", as well as the questioning of the Christian interpretation of science and knowledge. In this sense, it shapes both "Europeanness" and the first criticism of it. The Enlightenment is also crucial in this process, since it generated two phenomena that were at once complementary and in tension with each other. On the one hand, "centrality" came to be critically questioned by Europeans themselves as well as, for the first time, by voices outside the continent. On the other hand, "methodical doubt" led to new procedures of scientific investigation, which restored continental self-confidence. The Enlightenment is thus regarded as having a pivotal role in the reassessment of knowledge about the world, and is also relevant in terms of the epistemological fragmentation that led to the separation of physico-mathematical sciences from both the natural and human sciences. In other words, we aim at historicizing the fragmentation of a common European epistemological base, which transformed a homogeneous and systematic conception of science and knowledge into a disaggregated and hierarchized approach, through which nature and man are analytically disjoined.

In terms of methodology, the course combines, on the one hand, different scales of analysis, from the micro to the macro, from individuals to collectives, from cities and states to global space. On the other hand, it aims at analyzing systematically the diversities of spaces and locations of knowledge defined by different types of knowledge communities, so that one can stress the heterogeneity of Europe, and the mutability of its borders. Of particular interest is the processing of locally collected pieces of information as systems of knowledge to be disseminated for universal consumption. These activities are understood as socio-cultural practices embedded in material, institutional and political contexts that produced the features of domination (itself contested) of a part of Europe over both other European and non-European spaces. The notion of centrality addresses the normative (self-)image and also the actual strife for hegemony. It has the added advantage of requiring an examination of the interactions between perceptions of Europe's external borders and its internal divisions.