August 5 to 21, 2014Last update: 20 February, 2008

History of the global village

History is written tomorrow. But is it possible to talk about yesterday with concepts of tomorrow? Or with concepts that “others” have coined?

Martin J. Burke and Jan Ifversen, who run the Introduction to Conceptual History course at Helsinki Summer School for the third time, remind us that conceptual history and thereby

all today’s academic culture is based on dialogue and international contacts.

- Even if we scholars are always more or less dependent on concepts, we don’t have to remain dead and buried in libraries, says Burke who works as Associate Professor of History and American Studies at the University of New York.

The allusion to death is particularly amusing for the reason that conceptual history always deals with time. This is what Ifversen, who works as Head of Institute and Associate Professor at the University of Århus, wants to emphasise as well.

- Time is so important, because narratives are being viewed more and more in connection with their own time and specific concepts. Time matters more than before.

The history of conceptual history itself is not that old: it was not until the 1960s that the German historian Reinhart Koselleck laid the foundation for a network of scholars from different fields. Likewise, the course at Helsinki Summer School is based on a multidisciplinary network of scholars studying the concepts of history, Concepta, that started off in London in 1998. Burke, who works as co-editor for the Journal of the History of Ideas, is always openly enthusiastic to offer new means for researchers of political history to take advantage of their colleagues’ expertise.

The research in conceptual history mainly involves three disciplines: philosophy, political sciences and history. Thus, they also served as the starting point for the course that took place in Helsinki this summer. And new possibilities in the field of history of ideas were explored in the papers that students in the group submitted. Burke and Ifversen who run the course also asked major figures, this year for example Keith Tribe from the University of Sussex, to speak where the field is heading at the moment.

The difference still remains between the European tradition à la Cambridge, which is more or less methodologically driven, and the American, donation-based scholarship tradition, but Ifversen points out that at least in the academic world the transatlantic gap is not huge.

- Theories and methods go back and forth, and everyone applies them according to their needs.

Text by Kai Maksimainen
Photo by Annika Rauhala