ConsortiumResearch from a Pan-European Perspective: Overcoming the Aggressor

Press Release No. 64/2023
6 June 2023

Daimler and Benz Foundation provides around 1.5 million euros in funding for the “Ladenburg Research Network” on historical narratives in Europe

The powerful images of aggressors and their roles as actors between the nations is the topic of a joint interdisciplinary project that will study not only the significance of enemy stereotypes in the formation of nations and states but also competing historical interpretations of national heroes. “Almost all countries of Europe, when looking back at the political past, focus on external aggressors and the victims in their own nation. They frequently fail to see the violence exerted by an aggressor from their own state against other nations. Our project aims to work through this conflict potential from a pan-European perspective,” says Prof. Dr Thomas Maissen, a historian at Heidelberg University and currently director at the German Historical Institute in Paris (France). He is the academic spokesperson of an international steering committee that is coordinating the studies over a three-year period. The Daimler and Benz Foundation has allocated 1.5 million euros for this new “Ladenburg Research Network”.

Under the heading “Overcoming the aggressor. Self-perception and external perception of an actor between nations”, the consortium asks how national and external aggressors are interpreted and how these interpretations influence national ideas. All European nations define their character and autonomy through the confrontation with those who have triggered a conflict and attacked their country. “Heroic defence, the suffering of victims, a resistance thirsting for freedom become fundamental narratives,” underlines Prof. Maissen. “We don’t need Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine to illustrate the significance of enemy stereotypes in the formation of nations and states. They are not only constructed and cultivated, they can also be instrumentalised rapidly as legitimation for bloody conflicts,” says the Heidelberg academic.

The researchers participating in the joint project are focusing on individuals who are as outstanding as they are controversial, e.g. the “Sun King” Louis XIV, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin or Serbia’s former ruler Slobodan Milošević. The comparison between competing views of history is to start from the current state of historiographic research, but will also examine the methods and media used for popularisation, for instance, representations in school books, films, comics or computer games. “Not least, we want to look at how historical narratives about aggressors are also used in 21st century political discourses for identity-forming demarcation and for making a mark, particularly by extremist parties,” underlines Thomas Maissen, who in September 2023 will return to his professorship at Heidelberg University’s Department of History. In the project steering committee he will collaborate with Prof. Dr Stefan Berger (Bochum), Prof. Dr Diana Mishkova (Sofia), Prof. Dr Ilaria Porciani (Bologna) and Prof. Dr Balázs Trencsényi (Budapest).

The “Ladenburg Research Networks” – a major funding programme of the Ladenburg-based Daimler and Benz Foundation – offer the opportunity to work on topics over an extended period in an interdisciplinary research consortium. The new network on “Historical narratives in Europe between conflict and dialogue” connects up 20 senior scholars from several European countries. Together with early-career researchers – the project also includes positions for doctoral and post-doctoral researchers – they will investigate the effects and current depiction of central historical actors in Europe in terms of the way they are perceived bilaterally and multilaterally. Cooperation partners include the Research Training Group “Ambivalent Enmity” located at Heidelberg University, the House of European History in Brussels, the International Council of Museums based in Paris, the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam, and the Max Weber Foundation in Bonn.