Narratives Unbound: Historical studies in post-communist Eastern Europe
This project aims at initiating and completing the first stage of a major, unprecedented survey of the state of the art in historical sciences in the ten 'EU accession countries'.
The theory and history of historical studies is an established, prestigious, sophisticated subdiscipline, having its own canon, grand narratives, stellar figures, and institutional infrastructure, both at national and international levels. Ironically, although most 'practitioners' are still stubbornly, and frequently naively, engaged in (neo)positivistic empirical research rooted in the traditions of the epistemology, political philosophy (if not also policies), and legitimating discourse of the (nineteenth-century) nation state, whenever a minimal professional metalanguage is needed, albeit for apparently mundane (but vital) reasons such as curriculum development, definitions of the professional canon, basic interaction with neighboring disciplines, or public debates, theorists and historians of historical writing hold the center stage. This ambiguity of status is particularly spectacular every five years, when world historical congresses are held. For three days in a row, which are also the only days devoted to plenary meetings attended by hundreds, if not thousands, of historians of all persuasions and (sub)trades, congress participants from around the world sit through sessions that are exclusively designed and animated by theorists and historians of historical studies, alongside major historians who, while deeply committed to empirical research, have theoretical-methodological outlooks and agendas. Over the last few decades, many efforts have been made to map out the very heterogeneous, dynamic discipline and discourse of historical studies. If most relevant national, regional, and international projects have resulted in rather useless 'diplomatic' descriptions, several credible syntheses have nevertheless emerged, including first and foremost the monographs on twentieth-century European historical studies contributed by Georg G. Iggers, and a number of national and thematic monographs.
Almost needless to say, there is no synthesis on the state of the art in historical studies for the region(s) of Eastern, Central, and Southeastern Europe -- the region formerly known and hereinafter referred to as Eastern Europe. The aim of this research project is precisely to conceptualize, initiate, and coordinate the first stage of a major collaborative work on this topic.
In 2000, Collegium Budapest, a European Center of Excellence, has launched the project 'The State of Three Social Science Disciplines in Central and Eastern Europe' (acronym: SSCEE). In October 2000, the first formal meeting of the main project participants was held at Collegium Budapest. I was among them, and remained involved in the initiative, although at this stage SSCEE only covers economics, political science, and sociology systematically, by means of country reports commissioned to some of the most competent specialists in the respective disciplines. SSCEE will thus address the state of the art in economics, political science, and sociology in the ten so-called "EU accession countries'. National reports will be supported by information gathered by the IZ Sozialwissenschaften, a member of the GESIS (German Social Science Infrastructure Services), as well as by existing relevant information available at the other partner institutions, ranging from Collegium Budapest and its parent network to the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Vienna), Centre Marc Bloch (Berlin), Wissenscahftszentrum für Sozialforschung (Berlin), International University (Bremen), Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (Paris), Central European University. A major international conference has taken stock of the state of the art in the three disciplines (January 23-26, 2002, Collegium Budapest), and the whole project is expected to generate several collective volumes, online databases, networks for further research, as well as a 'map' of the three disciplines. As of March 2003, one collective volume was published: Max Kaase, Vera Sparschuh, with Agnieszka Wenninger, eds., Three Social Science Disciplines in Central and Eastern Europe. Handbook on Economics, Political Science and Sociology (1989-2001), Berlin and Budapest, 2002. The importance of the SSCEE was acknowledged by the EU Commission, which decided to fund it through its Fifth Framework Programme ('Improving Human Research Potential and the Socio-Economic Knowledge Base').
The project will yield in its Stage A, funded by CEU: ten country reports and a regional report on the state of he art in historical studies in the 'accession countries'. I plan to edit a collective volume based on the reports. The volume is unprecedented, especially since it is critical, not merely descriptive (and self-aggrandizing), like most, if not all, international volumes of a similar nature. It could be updated in printed format every five years, shortly prior to world historical congresses. Funding for the volume is to be secured from other sources, but remains optional, as CEU Press has already agreed to publish it by the end of 2003, should the manuscript be ready as planned.
The volume was publised in 2007 with the title of
Historical Studies in Post-Communist Eastern Europe
Edited by Sorin Antohi, Orbis Tertius, Institute of Cultural Studies, Bucharest, Balázs Trencsényi, Assistant Professor of History, Central European University, Budapest, Péter Apor, Research Fellow, Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies, Central European University, Budapest
"An excellent addition to the existing literature on postsocialist historiography in eastern and southeastern Europe. A particular strength of the contributions is their coherence.
This well-edited book will appeal not only to specialists of east central and southeastern European history and historiography but would also be an asset in classes dealing with collective memory and historiography in this region." - Slavic Review
A 'living database' (constantly updated and further detailed) will be started under the auspices of Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies, in order to use and stimulate follow-up work on the topic. The website is unprecedented. It could become the core and model of a global website, provided international partners join the initiative. There is major interest in such projects, but all of them (e.g., H-Net, a global website) lack qualitative information, as they are based on (hype) self-reporting.
I plan to teach a course based on the findings of this project, and on my own research on the topic. The course will be taught at CEU in 2003-2004. Such a course is badly needed, as (my own) courses in the history and theory of historical sciences, crucial for the training of historians, can hardly use the scant, narrow, partisan materials available on the development of the national traditions in historical studies in Eastern Europe.
Although this is not a planned outcome, it is to be hoped that a core network of scholars would emerge from this project, capable and willing to develop, upgrade, and sustain it in the longer run.
While fully aware of the magnitude of the project, I strongly believe it is feasible as much as it is extremely needed and bound to be extensively used by the scholarly community, and possibly by larger audiences (especially its segment devoted to public debates centered on history, endemic and frequently heated everywhere).