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European Regions and Boundaries: A Conceptual History

Duration: 2012 – 2014
Phone: +359 2 9803704

The "spatial turn" in social and human sciences and the upsurge of transnational approaches to history of late have converged to produce a renewed interest in regional history and its premises. The collapse of the two-block system underpinned these intellectual developments: categories previously grounded in the geopolitical system are now being replaced by those derived from historical-structural characteristics of space. From this perspective, European history becomes conceivable only in relation to the variety of discrete historical spaces, as defined by specific longue durée features and relative historical uniformity, whose distinctiveness and lost unity it is now the task of history to recreate.

It is against this theoretical background that we would like to address the notion of historical region from a conceptual-historical point of view. The project is based on a focus-group investigation, and aims at a joint publication, on an overarching topic: how European transnational historical ("meso-) regions had been, and are being, conceptualized over time, across different disciplines and academic traditions, in different fields of activity (politics, economy, international order) and national/regional contexts. In its most ambitious scope our aim would be to reconstruct the historical itineraries of the conceptualization of regional frameworks in relation to political, historical, cultural usages or discursive practices: historical-cultural, geopolitical, economic, transnational-organizational, etc. This would also help rethinking the heuristics of interpretative models based on regional patterns.

As units of investigation we propose conceptual clusters rather than individual concepts, i.e. clusters of notions grouping more than one concept: e.g. Central Europe – East Central Europe – Danubian Europe; or the Balkans – Southeastern / South-East Europe – Turkey-in-Europe; Scandinavia – Norden. While we shall focus on nineteenth- and twentieth-century usages, earlier registers of a given concept will be taken into account.

The following major directions, or coordinates, will structure THE RESEARCH

  • Temporalization of space and/or internal temporal dimensions of spatial categories;
  • Territorial vs. non-territorial (or "qualitative", e.g. "spiritual-cultural", metaphoric) regions;
  • Alternative spatializations to the national space (for example pan-ideologies);
  • Discourses of othering through spatialization (Occidentalism, Balkanism, etc.).

These can be viewed from, and informed by, a wide range of disciplinary perspectives: history; geography; political science and international relations; sociology; art history; literary history; economy/political economy. Public/political discourses partake in this list both as an autonomous semantic constructor and, above all, in fusion with science and art.

A preliminary list of the European meso-regions we have in mind (surely accounting for considerable overlapping in some cases) includes: Eastern Europe; (East) Central Europe; the Balkans/Southeastern Europe; Northern Europe; Scandinavia/Norden; Western Europe; the Baltic region; Iberia; the Mediterranean; Southern Europe; Black Sea; Eurasia. We would like to pay attention to, not only local usages and regionalist discourses, but cross-regional conceptualizations and the occurrences of cross-references in different conceptual clusters (e.g. the usage of the Balkans as a counter-concept in Central-European discourses, or of Western Europe in East-European discourses, or the Baltic in Scandinavian discourses). In this we have been lead by the conviction that the establishing of a diachronic map of conceptualizations is only achievable in a comparative trans-regional perspective.

Participants of the project have been leading practitioners of regionalist historical research and thus they set to work with a broad historiographical perspective. What we intend to catalyze, however, is to go beyond the local practices of regionalization and also reconstruct the usages of a given regional concept going beyond a given region (e.g. tracking the use of Central Europe used by different interpretative communities over Europe) and also to pay special attention to the different logic of conceptualization characteristic of various disciplinary traditions.

What is innovative in the project is that we seek to go beyond both the usual discussions on the heuristics of historical regions, but also expand the toolkit of conceptual history and not just follow a conceptual itinerary per se, but also contextualize this itinerary in terms of the changing political, cultural and especially disciplinary contexts. On the whole, this would help us "temporalize" our spatial terminology, and in turn, analyze the ways historical change is encapsulated by spatial categories. References to regional differences remain central to cultural and political discourse all over the continent and a proper historicization of these concepts would help us understand the underlying mechanisms of regional narratives.

2. The envisaged collective volume on European historical regions will be structured around two parts:

Part A, Individual regions:

Attention here should be paid to (i) internal regionalizations; (ii) external regionalizations; (iii) cross-regional comparisons (iv) the discursive construction of boundaries

  • Eurasia
  • Southern Europe
  • Mediterranean
  • Southeastern Europe/Balkans
  • Iberia
  • Baltic region
  • Scandinavia/Norden
  • Eastern Europe
  • Central Europe
  • Western Europe

Part B, Disciplinary traditions of regionalization

  • historical demography
  • political science/geopolitics
  • discourses on language
  • anthropology and regionalizations
  • European historiography
  • political geography
  • anthropogeographic regionalizations
  • art-historical regions of Europe
  • literary history
  • economic-historical regions

The project is financially supported by a donator within the Stifterverband Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft.