Political history once stood at the birth of modern historiography and for long has dominated or rather embodied the whole discipline. From the 1960s onwards, however, new approaches have challenged the authority of traditional political history. Social history and cultural studies shifted the emphasis away from the study of leaders, elite institutions, and national decisions and moved attention to the role of ordinary people, especially outsiders and minorities. The postmodern and linguistic turns suggested that politics could also be understood as a matter of language, discourse, and visual or other representation.
A brief introduction to the latest debates on methods and outlooks of political history (“new political history,” the gender-race-class primacy, “honest history” etc.) opened the talk. Then it turned attention to political-history research of communist dictatorships and their democratic transformations, seeking to identify the chief approaches used over the last three decades. While offering some recent successful examples of innovative research into socialist and post-socialist political institutions, e.g., within European parliamentary studies or current urban history, it invited discussion addressing the following questions:
Are there questions and topics unique to political history?
What are the previously unseen factors in understanding politics in East-Central Europe (race-class-gender, effects of dissident thought, etc.)?
Can political history help us understand current technological challenges and their effects on politics and society (the Digital Turn, AI)?
Adéla Gjuričová explores the current historiographical debates on the decline of political-history research, offering an interpretation of its new position and mission before examining the challenge of presentism in the context of a general crisis of modern political ideologies and the rise of populism and political marketing. Completing her contribution to a collective volume entitled Depoliticization before Neoliberalism: Contesting the Limits of the Political in Modern Europe, she will ruminate on the tradition of anti-political thought in Central Europe and its second life after 1989.
Ludger Hagedorn, IWM Permanent Fellow accompanied the presentation as commentator and moderator.