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Centrum voor Metageschiedenis

Center for Metahistory

Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 30, 1913
Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 30, 1913

What is the center for Metahistory?

Metahistorical research is barely institutionalised. Most of it is practitioner’s work at history departments where at best only a few people are interested in the philosophy of history. The recent establishment of the Center for Metahistory Groningen (CMG) was born from the desire to change this situation. The CMG wants to stimulate, facilitate, and coordinate research on the theory of history inside and outside the University of Groningen. The CMG concentrates on promoting the study of historiography and the philosophy of history, strengthening existing projects in these fields and supporting new initiatives. The CMG advances these goals by organising congresses and conferences on metahistorical subjects. Besides these public activities, the Center has monthly meetings in which its members have the opportunity to discuss their latest ideas and upcoming articles.

Why Groningen?

These meetings are usually attended by approximately 20 historians, literary scholars and philosophers who are interested in metahistory. Not only research fellows but also  PhD students, students and even people from outside the university contribute to the discussions. Jörn Rüsen and Hayden White recently remarked that ‘there is no place where Philosophy of History and Historiography flourishes so well as in Groningen’ (at the conference Historical Studies: Disciplines and Discourses, Budapest October 2004). Naturally, it would be hard to substantiate such a statement, yet it is a fact that Groningen has an interesting position in metahistorical research. This is not only because of the number people who work full time in the field of the theory of history, but also because of the quality and unconventional nature of their research.

Their works can be distinguished from other metahistorians, roughly speaking, by two points. First and foremost, works by CMG members are what Eelco Runia has called, ‘beyond postmodernism’. This means that some CMG members abandon the traditional focus on structures of representation in language in favour of a broader view of the reality of the past. The backbone of CMG studies is formed by the past, written history, its reception and the fusion of these three factors. Accordingly, CMG members concentrate on subjects such as the reception of the past, the ‘presence of the past,’ and ‘historical experience’. This typical CMG emphasis is clearly present in the work of most of its members.

The second way in which they differ from other philosophers of history is the fact that CMG members also use metahistorical methods outside the domain of the university. With metahistorical contributions in public debates in newspapers and journals, CMG members try to show the possibilities of their field of research. An interesting example of this aim is the series of articles on the controversial investigation by the Dutch government into the Screbrenica massacre. Another example is a course by  Rik Peters and Frank Ankersmit, they show their students how to use their knowledge of the theory of history in organisational and business research.

Becoming a member

It’s possible to become a member of the CMG. This happens by the system op co-optation. Everybody is free to apply, but there are a few conditions one must take account of before applying. The most important one is that members are expected to visit the monthly meetings on a regular basis.

Last modified:November 13, 2015 10:29