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Jan Ifversen

ABSTRACT

Within the history of concepts, the conceptualization of time is central. Historical actors rely on their experiences for orientation in the present, and they produce expectations about the future. To imagine their horizons of expectation they need concepts about the future. When the future becomes difficult to conceive of for a variety of reasons, they take refuge in concepts describing unruly and uncertain times such as crisis or chaos. Times when the future is completely out of reach because the present seems unbearable might be termed catastrophic. Also, historians in general make use of temporal concepts to narrate their histories. They are like time bandits that manipulate time. Following last year’s conference organized by the History of Concepts Group on key concepts in times of crisis, this article takes issue with the discussion of concepts describing bad times within conceptual history.

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Jan Ifversen

The article explores the object and the methodology of conceptual history, by elaborating on Reinhart Koselleck's idea of key concepts, and proposes to study them according to two different aspects of meaning: The representational aspect, which touches upon the relations between words and concepts and studies words and concepts within semantic fields, and the referential aspect, which brings in both the social history reflected in semantic changes and the contexts in which the concepts serve as factors, and which make the use of the concepts possible. The article concludes with a methodological suggestion for the use of digitized textual databases for diachronic as well as synchronic histories of concepts.