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Bielefeld Graduate School

in History and Sociology

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Logo der Einrichtung

Zoltán Boldizsár Simon

History in Times of Unprecedented Change

The basic contention of the project is that the way in which Western societies conceive of themselves and the world as "historical" has drastically changed in the postwar period. Yet this emerging postwar historical sensibility has never been explicated in a coherent theory of history. In attempting to do so, the project takes its point of departure in some everyday phenomena which configure a relationship to the past and a perception of the future in terms of what I call "unprecedented change." Since the early postwar years, instead of seeing the past, the present, and the future together on a temporal continuum as history, we expect unprecedented change to happen in the future (in visions of the future of technology, ecology, and nuclear warfare), and we look at the past by assuming that such changes already happened. What unprecedented change means is, by definition, a change that does not unfold or develop from preceding state of affairs. The modern historical sensibility that launched nation-building processes and emancipatory politics, the modern historical sensibility that configures change over time as the development and unfolding of already assumed past potentials, simply cannot make sense of such changes. Accordingly, the task to face is to find a way to conceptually articulate the emerging historical sensibility, in order to be able to understand the altered socio-cultural concerns Western societies face since the middle of the last century.

The project attempts to face this task by mapping the conceptual possibilities harbored by the notions of 'historical experience' and 'presence' regarding both history understood as the course of human affairs and history understood as historical writing. As for history understood as the course of human affairs, all this leads to a quasi-substantive philosophy of history that conceptualizes change over time along other than developmental lines. As for history understood as historical writing, all this leads to a critical philosophy of history in which the linguistic and non-linguistic dimensions of historical writing can be reconciled.

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