Milestones of European history from an East Asian perspective
14 September 2016
Milestones of European history such as the birth of philosophy in ancient Greece, or the industrial revolution in the 19th century, are also present in East Asia. How they are interpreted there and in what respect they are related to East Asian history is the focus of a new European research project. Its leader is Prof. Dr Joachim Kurtz, a sinologist from the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a global context” at Heidelberg University. The project “East Asian Uses of the European Past: Tracing Braided Chronotypes”, which involves researchers from four countries, has been allocated a total of EUR 1.2 million by the European funding body HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area). The Heidelberg research team will receive approx. EUR 400,000 over a period of three years.
Prof. Kurtz explains: “We intend to investigate the thesis that the European past is not Europe’s exclusive property. Historical moments that became emblematic milestones gained their special significance only through global circulations of meaning. Their lasting relevance is the result of mutual exchange processes between Europe and Asia.” In the context of the HERA project, the researchers want to trace the way in which intellectual entanglements shaped the conceptualisation of historical temporalities. “In order to pursue this question we will analyse four different ‘chronotypes’, i.e. patterns to interpret the temporality of historical events,” Kurtz adds. They include “awakening and rebirth”, “recurrence and return”, “decline and fall” along with “timelessness and permanence”. The research teams will also study how non-European historical interpretations have been appropriated by Europeans to bolster their own sense of identity.
The Heidelberg working group will focus on the role played by the Renaissance and the Reformation in the context of movements for national revival in East Asia. “When they looked at the development of their societies, reformers in China and Japan around the turn of the 20th century identified substantial parallels with these two ‘European’ moments in order to legitimize their call for changes,” Joachim Kurtz notes. Moreover, already in the 1930s researchers in both Europe and East Asia promoted the view that there had not just been one European Renaissance but a number of Renaissances, each with its own expression in different cultural realms. The international team led by Prof. Kurtz includes researchers from Zürich University (Switzerland), the Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (UK).
HERA brings together 23 European research funding organisations, including the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. Through HERA they pursue the goal of strengthening the humanities in the European research area. The call for interest in “Uses of the Past” has led to the selection of projects that engage with the influence of the past on the present and future. It is also examines the role individuals, institutions and societies attribute to “uses” of the past. “East Asian Uses of the European Past” is one of 18 collaborative projects selected from over 600 applications. The research began on 1 September 2016.