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We, the People. Visions of National Peculiarity and Political Modernities in the ‘Europe of Small Nations’

Duration: 2004 – 2005

The major purpose of the project was to excavate, put together and compare various texts crucial for a range of European national traditions of political and social thought, which had been left out of the `core` European canon since the age of the Enlightenment. It sought to `put on the map` intellectual traditions of those `small nations` which were in many ways sn important part of the European circulation of ideas, but whose 19th and 20th century history of political and social thought remained outside of the mainstream of scholarly thematization.

Underlying this `applied` undertaking was a complex and pioneering research agenda. It set forth to work out a methodological know-how, particularly criteria of selecting, structuring and presenting the most emblematic writings of (a cluster of) `marginalized` national traditions of social and political thinking. The ultimate ambition is to help fill in significant gaps in the European intellectual history of the last two centuries. In pursuit of this double purpose, the research was conducted in a longue duree, cross-national and cross-regional comparative perspective of (i) the intellectual transformations in Europe (such as fundamental shifts of political and social paradigms, languages and concepts), and (ii) the interconnections between European political cultures. This strategic design can be seen as anticipating a far-reaching research design on  Political and Social Thought in the `Other Europe` in 18th – 20th centuries. The far-reaching aim is to create a book series intended to reshape the `European canon` of political thought, making the `local knowledges` of these cultures accessible to the broader international public and creating a more encompassing vision of what constitutes the European cultural-political heritage.  The `We, the People` project does not undertake outright such a grandiose enterprise. Instead, it aims to establish a methodological and structural framework for the future endeavours in this direction by proposing to focus on a particular yet critical subject area: exploring the political instrumentalization of the concepts of `folk`, `people` and `ethnos` in the `Europe of small nations` during the 19th and 20th centuries. The purpose is to `map the discursive and institutional itineraries through which this set of notions became a focal point of cultural and political thought in various European contexts, coincidental with the emergence of political modernity. Hence the concrete aim of the project was the compilation and publication of several thematically defined volumes. They will incorporate the most representative texts/figures in selected local (national or regional) traditions of political and social thought centering on the various ways in which the references to `folk culture`, ethnicity and the `people` at large were politically instrumentalized. These volumes will provide a diachronic view to this overarching theme covering two, otherwise intertwining, pivotal moments in the development of modern Europe: the period of `National Romanticism` and the `Anti-Modernist` challenge which had emerged during the period between the two World Wars.

This collecting work is embedded into intensive negotiations over methodology and interpretation. It also implies compound preoccupation with both texts and contexts. For, in order to accomplish its task successfully, the project is supposed to establish not only an `alternative corpus` of key texts problematizing our common assumptions about the intellectual outlook of the 19th and 20th centuries – an outlook largely based on the `canonised` authors from Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy. It would also require the elaboration of a new comparative methodology which is taking into account the common European `pool of ideas` and typological similarities, but also allows for a context-sensitive reconstruction of the various ways of domestication, adaptation and subversion. The analytical part of the individual and collective research is intended to contextualize the established common traits and local peculiarities in view of institutional practices, which can shed light on the actual trajectories of ideas. The joint research thus turns into an unprecedented cooperative venture of studying the transmission of knowledge and the thematization of sciences from a comparative perspective. This means the studying of the dissemination of scholarly paradigms and the patterns of institutional interaction, and identifying the agents of cultural transfer.

The successful completion of this project, we believe, would make possible the initiation of a broader multi-volume project, comprising a variety of themes and periods, with the intention of reconsidering European intellectual history from the Enlightenment onwards.

The `We, the People` research scheme in its full territorial scope incorporates, in addition to Southeast Europe, also Scandinavia and the Low Countries. The fellowship programme (October 2004-December 2005), was the module that focused on the traditions of Southeast Europe alone. Another module included a series of workshops (2004-2006) with participants from all three regions. The modules are considered as a preparatory stage of a long-term coordinated research incorporating national traditions from the three regions – Eastern Europe, the Nordic and the Low Countries (see CAS project "Regimes of Historicity and Discourses of Modernity and Identity, 1900-1945, IN EAST-CENTRAL, SOUTHEASTERN AND NORTHERN EUROPE" (2007-2010).