The 20th Century in Basic Concepts. A Dictionary of Socio-Political and Cultural Semantics in Germany

The project The 20th Century in Basic Concepts. Dictionary of Socio-Political and Cultural Semantics in Germany continues the historical dictionary Basic Concepts in History, associated with Reinhart Koselleck. The articles therein concentrated on the so-called “Sattelzeit,” the epochal threshold in which the cultural semantics of medieval Europe transformed into the modern world, that is, on a conceptual-historical examination of the emergence of modernity. In the entire 119 articles, however, the 20th century merely figures in short outlooks. They reveal that by the 20th century many concepts had already lost their radiance, had become semantically empty or obsolete, or had been replaced by new concepts.

The planned dictionary is an interdisciplinary and cooperative research project intended to go beyond enshrining established knowledge. Rather, we intend to make an experimental contribution to basic research in the humanities, in cultural studies, social sciences, and in history. Taking our cue from Koselleck’s characterization of the historical narrative, our aim is ‘writing down, writing further and rewriting history’ from the perspective of a changed present. Especially, however, new basic concepts emerging in the 20th century shall be examined. As such, Koselleck’s overarching hypotheses will be put to the test and, in turn, may possibly be historicized themselves.

Methodologically, the concepts will be approached from a different perspective than in the original endeavor, conceived of more than half a century ago. This concerns, for example, the use of broader source material that is more easily accessible and evaluated with digital technologies today. Conceptually, this entails not only the inclusion of metaphor, as called for by Koselleck himself, but also a fresh approach to the relation of factual and conceptual history.

since 2020
Head researcher(s): Ernst Müller
Associate Researcher(s): Barbara Picht, Falko Schmieder


See also


Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder (ed./eds.)


E-JOURNAL (2021) 10th YEAR / ISSUE 1
Berlin 2021, 58 pages
ISSN: 2195-0598
DOI: 10.13151/fib.2021.01
Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder

zur Einführung

Junius, Hamburg 2020, 200 pages
ISBN: 978-3-96060-317-7
Ernst Müller, Wolfert von Rahden (ed./eds.)


E-JOURNAL (2020) 9th YEAR / ISSUE 1
Berlin 2020, 108 pages
ISSN: 2195-0598

Ernst Müller


The project continues the long-standing research on the theory and practice of interdisciplinary history of concepts from which these publications, among others, have resulted:


19 Oct 2020 · 7.00 pm

Barbara Picht: “Das 20. Jahrhundert wechselt sein Aussehen je nach Blickwinkel.” West- und östliches Europa aus der Perspektive des polnischen Schriftstellers Czesław Miłosz

Helle Panke e.V. – Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin, Kopenhagener Str. 9, 10437 Berlin

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27 Feb 2020

Aufgaben und Methoden der Begriffsforschung: Die Beispiele Staat und Politik

Freie Universität Berlin, DFG KFG 2615 - Rethinking Oriental Despotism, Fabeckstr. 15, 14195 Berlin

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Media Response

10 Feb 2021
ArbeiterInnen im ideologieverarbeitenden Gewerbe

Ernst Müller und Falko Schmieder legen eine hervorragende, wenn auch spröde »Begriffsgeschichte zur Einführung« vor. Review by Kai Sammet, in:, 10.02.2021