Summer School 2013

September 23rd to September 26th in Bielefeld, Internationales Begegnungszentrum der Wissenschaft (IBZ)

We are pleased to inform you about the Summer School "Between Theory and Empirical Evidence - Manifestations of Fear throughout History" (Zwischen Theorie und Empirie - Erscheinungsformen von Angst in der Geschichte). The conference is a joint venture by the Universities of Bielefeld and Bologna, of which the main goal is to promote academic communication between young Italian and German scholars, in particular those enrolled in a masters or PhD program.

Fear as category for historians

Ever since Georges Lefèbvre's La Grande Peur de 1789, published in 1932, fear has been used as either an analytical category or empirical observation by historians. More recently, the issue of fear has received substantial appreciation within international historiography. Scholars coming from a background valuing cultural history, especially, have discovered fear to be a primary and pivotal emotion. It is this significance which places fear on a center stage in the call for an increasing orientation towards a history of emotions.

Historians occupying themselves with medieval times have particularly focused on religious notions of fear, for example the relation between fear and hell. Within the scope of modern history, the topic has been entrenched at the core of the so-called »emotional turn«. This research outlook emphasizes the sociocultural construct of emotions. Moreover, it seeks to overcome the purposive rationality's traditional premises of human agency. For the academic approaches adopted by a history of emotions, fear thus appears to be a notable emotion of historical impact.

It is nevertheless striking that for the most part fear is connoted in many diverse ways. Neither about the semantic content of the term itself nor a yielding application of the same for a prolific historical research seems to be much agreement. What is more, research on emotions has not yet generated a definitive subject area or a methodology which would be conducive to empirical research. In light of this outlined research background, it is a stated aim of the summer school to edge the heuristic potential of the term fear, both contentually and methodologically. The conference is hence not restricted to any epochal or topical confinements. In so doing, the main premise sees fear as a dynamized cause that motivates and evokes human actions. Fear, looked at as such, is a tracer, a driving force of individual as well as collective conduct.


By means of participation in the summer school, students enrolled in the masters program history have the opportunity to acquire credit points for their course of studies. It is possible to integrate the summer school in place of one element within the theory module ("Theorieseminar Transnationale Geschichte, Transfer und Vergleich" or "Interdisziplinäres Theorieseminar"). Which elements and modules are chosen will be determined by individual learning agreements finalized before the summer school. Thereby students can acquire up to 7.5 credit points by attending and participating in the summer school.
The working languages will be German, English, and Italian.

Context and Relevance

The issue of fear bears reference to current political developments. Consequently, we hope to succeed in revealing the socio-cultural construct that the phenomenon fear is composed of through historical and analytical reflection. In so doing, a significant layer of historical analysis will be added to contemporary issues and debates. We are convinced that current debates, for instance those concerning the international debt crisis or the alleged weak Italian economy, follow the same emotional patterns. Fear hence depicts social conditions and processes and affects forms of expression and actions.

Over the last years polemical and emotionally charged disputes about the crises, especially in Southern European countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, have been observed. More often than not, emotions occupy a center stage in such discussions. To analyze the inherent irrationality is thus a focal idea of our summer school, especially with regard to Italy: The fiscally tense situation contrasts strongly with a general fine economic situation. To what extent fear matters in that regard can be seen in media coverage or statements made by political office-holders. The fear of the crisis' personal consequences (like for the own estate) such as a downward social movement can lead to an intensified nationalism and sectionalism in the long run. For the time being, the current virulent narratives of fear intertwine with a hazy notion of the European project. As a consequence, fear is being utilized in current debates to push own political agendas through and establish political majorities.

These very recent observations call for an academic debate over the issue of fear to grapple with this phenomenon from a historical perspective. Current debates will thus be contrasted with scholarly reflection. As a result we also hope to encourage young scholars to continue the academic exchange with their Italian or German colleagues, hopefully extending beyond the summer school.