Notions of Revolution and Changing Images of Europe

Mini-Symposium at the XX International conference of Europeanists

Amsterdam – 25-27 June 2013

Throughout its intellectual, cultural, social and political history, the notion of ‘revolution’ – in its many, different meanings – has had a fundamental impact on the way Europe imagined and defined itself. According to Reinhart Koselleck, the idea of ‘revolution’ is tightly tied with the raise of modernity and with a growing discrepancy between political and natural time taking place in Europe from the eighteenth century onwards. The ‘going back to the origins’ that the idea of revolution referred to, implied a radical questioning of the existing social and political order. During Koselleck’s Sattelzeit a new relationship between present and past was imagined – a relationship encapsulating the elements with which modernity itself is usually defined. Yet, the capacity to radically question authority and, not lastly, ‘the mastery over time’ underlying such notion has often been seen as a peculiarly European trait – possibly as its most salient trait. According to historian Paolo Prodi, in fact, Europe is the first civilization ever to have imagined itself in a dynamic fashion. Moreover, the tendency, from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards, to view abrupt historical change as ‘revolutions’ contributed to tie indissolubility the idea of Europe to that of modernity – a tie on which, among others, Federico Chabod insisted. To an extent, argues Prodi, Europe itself might be considered as a ‘permanent revolution’. Conceptions of revolution and the different understandings of history and time they carried within have definitely had a significant impact on images, ideas and perceptions of Europe. The aim of this symposium is precisely that of shedding new light on such relationship by focusing on changing perceptions of time and of history. The time-span considered ranges from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

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