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For a Critical Conceptual History of Brazil

Receiving Begriffsgeschichte

João Feres Júnior

The author argues that the development of a critical history of concepts should be based on a programmatic position different from that of original Begriffsgeschichte, or of its main interpretations. By drawing upon theoretical insights of Axel Honneth, he reassesses the basic assumption of Begriffsgeschichte regarding the relationship between the history of concepts and social history, and calls attention to the problems that spring from focusing analysis almost exclusively on key concepts. According to Feres, special attention should be paid to concepts that are socially and politically effective, but, at the same time, do not become the subject of public contestation. Based on this programmatic position, he ends the article proposing a sketch for organizing the study of conceptual history in Brazil along three semantic regions.

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Rudolf Valkhoff

This article traces the main methodological and substantial similarities between Reinhart Koselleck's notion of Begriffsgeschichte and J. G. A. Pocock's approach to the history of political thought. Both approaches are responses to the shift in the unit of analysis in the study of human historical consciousness. Rather than focusing on ideas, Koselleck and Pocock concentrate on how language articulated heightened awareness of historical change. Concepts and paradigms reflect in varying manners the intensity of historical sedimentation. The more sedimentation, less space there is for innovation, and political action tends to be conservative. Conversely, unstable concepts or obsolete paradigms, reflect historical change and space for linguistic innovation.

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Introduction and Prefaces to the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe

(Basic Concepts in History: A Historical Dictionary of Political and Social Language in Germany)

Reinhart Koselleck and Michaela Richter

This is the first English translation of Reinhart Koselleck's "Introduction" to the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (GG, Basic Concepts in History: A Historical Dictionary of Political and Social Language in Germany), which charts how in German-speaking Europe the accelerated changes occurring between the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were perceived, conceptualized and incorporated into political and social language, registering the transition from a hierarchy of orders to modern societies. The "Introduction" presents the problematic and method formulated in 1972 by Koselleck for writing the history of concepts (Begriffsgeschichte). During the twenty-five years needed to complete the GG, he continued to revise and develop this method. In prefaces written for subsequent volumes, he replied to criticisms of its choice of basic concepts and findings. In these prefaces Koselleck both summarized the great contribution to our historical knowledge of political and social terms that this work and its index volumes had made, and suggested further research projects to build upon its achievements.

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Between the Linguistic and the Spatial Turns

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

Yair Mintzker

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”).

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Terence Ball

It is said in some quarters that political theory need not, and perhaps should not, be a “historical” enterprise. It should be concerned with discovering and articulating timeless truths or addressing “perennial problems.” Or it should be an ahistorical “analytical” study in which one aims to answer important questions definitively and once and for all. The author argues that these and other attempts to de-historicize political theory are misguided and that, indeed, political theory is inescapably historical in several senses of that term. Firstly, works of political theory are written in particular places and times by authors attempting to address particular questions. Secondly, these works are received and read by audiences in other times. And thirdly, the meanings of these works are interpreted by readers through the medium of one or another interpretive framework, which is itself historically datable. All these considerations point to the conclusion that political theory is necessarily “historical.”

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The Terror of their Enemies

Reflections on a Trope in Eighteenth-Century Historiography

Ronald Schechter

This article attempts to explain the appeal of "terror" in the French Revolution by examining the history of the concept of terror. It focuses on historiographical representations of sovereign powers, whether monarchs or nations, as "terrors" of their enemies. It argues that the term typically connoted majesty, glory, justice and hence legitimacy. Moreover, historiographical depictions of past rulers and nations frequently emphasized the transiency of terror as an attribute of power; they dramatized decline in formulations such as "once terrible." For the revolutionaries, terror therefore provided a means of legitimation, but one that always had to be guarded and reinforced.

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Applying Begriffsgeschichte to Dutch History

Some Remarks on the Practice and Future of a Project

Karin Tilmans and Wyger Velema

This article is a progress report on the Dutch national conceptual history project. The project places emphasis on interdisciplinarity, the resort to the widest possible range of sources, and the prospect of international comparison. The initiative, started by a group of Dutch scholars in the 1990s, has so far focused on the concepts of liberty, fatherland, and citizenship, all of which have had a prominent role in a specifically Dutch political discourse.

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Wolf Schäfer

This contribution revisits the dictum "history is the teacher of life" (historia magistra vitae) and shows that modern knowledge-societies are beginning to use their growing information about natural and human history to address present-day problems. Starting with Leopold von Ranke's refusal to investigate history for the benefit of learning from it, the essay cites two contemporary attempts at extracting useful knowledge from history: "real-world experiments" and "natural experiments." Wolfgang Krohn developed the former with collaborators in Bielefeld and Jared Diamond features the latter.

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Blake Ewing

methods of conceptual history, or Begriffsgeschichte , continue to be especially relevant to ideology studies, a subfield of political theory finally liberated from the Marxian undertones that see ideology as a ubiquitous, and not simply ruling

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Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe Reloaded?

Writing the Conceptual History of the Twentieth Century

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Kathrin Kollmeier, Willibald Steinmetz, Philipp Sarasin, Alf Lüdtke, and Christian Geulen

Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe Reloaded? Writing the Conceptual History of the Twentieth Century Guest editors: Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann and Kathrin Kollmeier

Introduction Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann and Kathrin Kollmeier

Some Thoughts on the History of Twentieth-Century German Basic Concepts Willibald Steinmetz

Is a “History of Basic Concepts of the Twentieth Century“ Possible? A Polemic Philipp Sarasin

History of Concepts, New Edition: Suitable for a Better Understanding of Modern Times? Alf Lüdtke

Reply Christian Geulen