Between the Linguistic and the Spatial Turns

A Reconsideration of the Concept of Space and Its Role in the Early Modern Period

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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This exploratory essay seeks to unravel the inherent contradictions between two fundamental trends in contemporary historiography: the “spatial turn” on the one hand, and the “linguistic turn” on the other hand. The “spatial turn,” it argues, turned “space's” status as a category of analysis into an accepted dogma. Under these circumstances, one often overlooks the fact that “space,” like all concepts, can also be problematic and at times even misleading. By looking at several examples from and about the intellectual world of early modern Europe, the article demonstrates how the use of space as a category of analysis encounters two fundamental challenges. First, the problem of the absence of the word “space” itself from important early modern texts (“shrinkage”); and second, the overuse of the term “space” in translations and analysis of early modern intellectual works (“contamination”).