Concepta Research Seminar: Historical argumentation (Geneva, December 5-6, 2013)

5-6 December 2013, University of Geneva (Switzerland).

Politics of Memory, Uses and Abuses of History, Instrumentalization of the Past: these are some of the numerous ways of designating a fascinating phenomenon, namely the use of elements of the past in political discourses and for political purposes. From time immemorial, political actors have tried to influence their fellow citizens by evoking past role models, examples as well as counter-examples. This was, in fact, the most important justification of historical studies per se and it persisted beyond and despite their becoming a true academic discipline during the 19th century.

This trend has not gone unnoticed and as of the 1980s, more and more scholars have underlined and analyzed it. Understandingly enough, they have first focused on authoritarian regimes since the (ab)use of history/memory/mythologized past is more obvious in such circumstances. Gradually, the focus of their attention shifted to democracies, in which political discourses also refer to the past, albeit in a less ostentatious way. Several historians, sociologists and political scientists have been eager to detect and decipher such particular use of the past in celebrations and manifestations or, arguably, in numerous texts. Moreover, some of them have tried to understand and explain how it works: they have shown that its power notably stems from its combining a scientific and moral status.

This phenomenon is highly discursive, as it is meant to deliver a message. In this framework, words count. For instance, the coining of historical terminology mostly reflects the political ambition of its "inventors", as the use of "Restoration" or "Stagnation" clearly shows. Conversely, the evocation of well-known heroes often refers to ideas they are supposed to symbolize, albeit in an often contradictory way, like Joan of Arc in France. Despite its obvious interest and richness, very few scholars have explored politics of memory from a conceptual perspective, as most of their work is deeply influenced by the history of ideas. In this conference, we intend to fill this void by asking simple though fundamental questions to the historical references used in politics. How is the past referred to? What kinds of concepts are used? Do they stress a nation's destiny, genuine nature, historical heritage or heroes? How do these concepts evolve? How do they interact? What is their discursive power and why ?

Among the many possible ways of addressing these issues, we plan to highlight three topics :

  1. The theoretical links between the Politics of Memory and Conceptual history.
  2. The problem of the kinds of pasts that are used. Although there are countless numbers of historical events and figures, some are more frequently evoked than others along dynamics as well as political and conceptual logics that need to be discussed.
  3. The question of reception. Some sections of the past are more effective than others. The conceptual reasons for their effectiveness, and ineffectiveness, provide a topic worth a more thorough examination.

PROGRAM THURSDAY 5 DECEMBER CHAIR: IRÈNE HERRMANN 08:30-08:45 Opening 08:45-09:45 Speech Michael Freeden, Universities of Oxford and Nottingham Coffee break 10:15-12:30 Tuija Parvikko, University of Jyväskylä « Totalitarianism » (Comment : Racaut) Tatiana Artemyeva, Herzen State Pedagogical University, St Petersburg « Construction and Deconstruction of Memory in Russia » (Comment : Laczo) Viktoriia Svyrydenko, Kharkiv National University « Inventing the Relevant Past: The Myths of “National Revival” in the Politics of Memory in Socialist Bulgaria » (Comment : Lomné) CHAIR : SINAI RUSINEK 14:30-16:00 Stefan Zaleski, Polish Academy of Sciences « Why Solidarity was not a civil society » (Comment : Parvikko) Justinas Dementavicius, Lithuanian History Institute « (Re)Naming Friends and Enemies: Commemorative Days as a Politics of Memory » (Comment : May) Coffee Break 16:30-18:00 Ferenc Laczo, University of Iena « Key Concepts of Relating to the Recent Past in Post-Communist Eastern Europe » (Comment : Hever) Barbara Martin, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva « Remembrance and Oblivion in Contemporary Ukraine : the Two Competing Genocides » (Comment: Svyrydenko). FRIDAY 6 DECEMBER CHAIR : OLIVIER CHRISTIN 08:30-10:15 Niels May, University Paris-Sorbonne and University of Münster « Historical argumentation in early modern precedence law between case law and abstract norms » (Comment : Zaleski) Luc Racaut, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne « 'Uses and abuses of the Reformation: ideological deformations and historiographical pitfalls' » (Comment : Velema) Tal Hever, Humboldt University, Berlin « Reception and Usage of Classical Concepts of Draft Evasion in Early Modern Political Theory » (Comment : Artemyeva) Download the program in pdf format click Here Coffee Break 10:45-12:15 Wyger Velema, University of Amsterdam « Conceptual Change and History: The Uses of the Past in the Age of the Democratic Revolution » (Comment : Beligand) Camille Creyghton, University of Amsterdam « ‘Le peuple’ of Jules Michelet: a historical concept of political use » (Comment : Martin) CHAIR CHRISTOPH CONRAD 14:00-15:30 Georges Lomné, Université de Paris-Est « Bolivar » (Comment : Dementavicius) Nadine Beligand, Université Lyon 2 « Coatlicue, Coyolxauhqui and the Mexicanidad. (Comment : Creyghton) Coffee Break 16:00-17:00 Speech Olivier Christin, University of Neuchâtel 17:00 Closing remarks

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