9th International Summer Academy at the ZfL 2019
23 Sep 2019 – 26 Sep 2019

Historicizing. Forms, Practices, Significance

Venue: ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Etage
Organized by Patrick Eiden-Offe, Eva Geulen, Ernst Müller, Barbara Picht
Contact: Birgit Raabe, sekretariat@zfl-berlin.org, +49 30 20192-155
Research project(s): Historicizing today (2019/2020)

Historicizing, that is, considering and reflecting upon the historical conditions under, through, and despite which cultural objects of research came into existence, has long been a central method and claim of the humanities. However, since the 1980s this historical methodology and identity has come under scrutiny in several respects (historicization of the Holocaust; the end of ›grand narratives‹). At the same time, new problems have emerged, posing new challenges:

Firstly, urgent questions (such as climate change and the Anthropocene) have shown that areas long thought of as ahistorical are subjected to historical contingency when humans interact with them. How can we adequately historicize life and nature, when human history and earth’s history are becoming ever more intertwined? How do such historiographic issues impact and alter the categorical yet contested distinction between the natural sciences and the humanities, a distinction, which has been called into question in recent decades by science studies?

Secondly, globalization faces historicization with new challenges. Which mode of historization, for example, is adequate to narrate a globally oriented history when formerly clearly framed concepts, such as ›modernity‹, have had to relinquish their uniform narrative in the name of postcolonial plurality? Or when the concept of ›nation‹ has ceased to be a self-evident historical reference point? Globalization also concerns the rise of Big Data. As digital humanities, the humanities have to find their place between close and distant reading.

Thirdly, predominantly historico-philological disciplines are increasingly concerned with their own contemporaneity in the name of a ›wide present‹. In literary studies, interest in contemporary literature is on the rise; in historical disciplines, contemporary history is becoming more important as a tool for diagnosing the political and cultural present and extrapolating into its future. How is it possible to historicize the present without imagining it as always already past? Might there be connections between historicizing and the politically instrumentalized relativizing of scientific facts?

These three issues will be combined with the methodological question of how to actually go about this thing called ›historicization‹. To hone the methodological competence of the participants, different models of historicizing will be introduced and different modes of historical representation will be discussed. How do different disciplines, such as literary studies, art history, media studies, musicology and philosophy approach historicization? Do their disciplinary differences offer chances for interdisciplinary collaboration?

Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung)


Public keynote lectures:




Fig. above: D.M. Nagu