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European History in Global Context (the Jean Monnet project)

European History in Global Context

a. Objectives

This joint research-project challenges two popular doctrines which have come up in cultural studies in the wake of two influential books: Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) and Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “Provicializing Europe” (2000). Today, Said is seen as the founding-father of postcolonial studies, while Chakrabarty is considered to be one of its most eminent representatives. However, this project assumes that their approach to postcolonialism runs the risk of producing blurred results, especially with regard to the European impact on the design of the modern world. It argues that large sections of postcolonial studies so far have significantly over-estimated the importance of the non-European factors and have almost dramatically ignored the complex process of Europe’s striving for the world which has since its first attempts in the 15th and 16th centuries been marked by intense interaction between Europe and the non-European spheres. More suitable for a more reliable analysis of this process seems to be the agency approach as introduced by Homi Bhabha, Stephen Greenblatt and others. Therefore this project understands Europe’s grip for the world and its consequences in Modern history as “an activity of the contingent” with an inherent organizing principle, which has, in a complex and dynamic process, permanently transformed both Europe and large parts of the world. It is designed to carve out the basic patterns of this principle and will try to explain the process-mechanisms which have shaped today’s world.

b. Methodology

The cultural studies variant of the agency-approach applied in this project seems particularly fruitful to generate new results on European history. It will use the European grip for overseas territories since the late 15th century as a mirror for the development of the European societies under the impact of contacts with non-Europeans. The agency-approach has deliberately been chosen as primary methodological approach as “agency” stresses the self-determined activities of individuals, groups and societies. Agency rejects deterministic images which tend to reduce human beings to servants of superior processes. Although Homi Bhabha, one of the post-modern founding fathers of the agency-approach, has stressed the danger of contingency related to human actions and reactions (activity of the contingent) and thus the implicit arbitrarity of findings more recent studies in natural and social sciences have shown that all systems which might at first sight appear to be open, tend to develop self-organizing powers. If we understand European expansion and contacts with non-European civilizations as a basically open system, it is quite evident that the self-organization-powers of this open system have not only shaped Europe’s relations with the “other” but also transformed Europeans and European civilizations.

A basic assumption of the latter is that Europe’s striving for the world has since its first attempts in the 15th and 16th centuries been marked by intense interaction between Europe and the non-European spheres. This interaction took place via the seas, creating a dense global network. In this network ports have always played and still play an eminent role as hubs. However, our knowledge of the functionality of ports in this context is still very feeble. Therefore, for the purpose of improving our knowledge on the role of ports in European history and for the shaping of a European civilization, the project “European Ports: Repositories of European Cultural Heritage and Workshops of European Civilization” has been developed.

c. Approach

The agency approach as described above has not yet been applied on Modern European history, therefore it is to be expected that this project will in fact generate significant new insights into the history of modern Europe and its position in global context. It thus has high and innovative research-potentials and will open new perspectives for historical research. With regard to the inherent global dimension this project opens a new field for Jean Monnet-funded research on European history, as it will link this particular research with a topic currently under discussion in cultural studies, thus will introduce Jean-Monnet-activities to the international community of cultural studies. It will also considered to be one of the leading experts on European integration history in Germany, with the Jean-Monnet-Scheme. 

The PI’s attachment to the Section of Didactics of the University of Cologne. So far, there is, at least in Germany, no curriculum for teaching history in school/ political education on European history for the usage at schools. Therefore the project is also well-suited to deliver new and innovative impulses for the development of such a curriculum. 

d. Impact

The outputs of this project will be used widely. First of all it will enrich the scholarly debate on European history by applying a hitherto not used methodological approach. The agency-approach is therefore well-suited to include not only specialists for European History into the debate, but will also attract scholars from other historical sub-disciplines acting in the fields of postcolonial studies, spatial studies, cultural history, to name just a few. The project’s inherent trans- and interdisciplinary potentials will directly interlink historical research with the broader spectrum of cultural-studies-disciplines. 

The second target-group are UoC’s students of history, both regular graduate- and post-graduate students who will be confronted with a new methodological approach to European integration history in a series of courses offered by the PI during the life or the project. 

The third target-group will be students who are trained to become history-teachers on primary and secondary level. They will not only be confronted with new findings of scholarly research on European (integration) history but will also learn how to use this information in their future professional-life. A part of them will also be involved in the development of new teaching material, based on the new findings generated by the project. 

The fourth target-group will be active school-teachers and, via their activities as history-teachers, also their pupils, who will, as a consequence of the involvement of these teachers in the project, receive a better and more informed school-education in history. At least their teachers will most certainly devote more time for aspects of European (integration) history and they also will be able to look at historical topics through a European lens. 

A fifth target-group will be a wider European audience, which will visit the travelling exhibition either in Berlin or elsewhere in Europe.

A joint research-project

European History in Global Context
(the Jean Monnet project)

© 2016 | Jean-Monnet-Lehrstuhl für Europäische Geschichte Historisches Institut der Universität zu Köln