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The 20th Century in Basic Concepts. A Dictionary of Historical Semantics in Germany

So far, concept-historical approaches have rarely been applied in the exploration of the 20th century. A joint project which is supported by the Leibniz Collaborative Excellence program now aims at creating a lexicon of this century’s basic concepts. It is headed by the ZfL in cooperation with the Leibniz Institute for the German Language (IDS) in Mannheim and the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam (ZZF). In collaboration with scholars who historically work across disciplines in the humanities, cultural and social studies, the project explores the socio-political and cultural semantics in Germany. With its experimental approach and its orientation towards social history and the history of knowledge, it is expected to serve the humanities, cultural, social, and historical studies. The dictionary is edited by Ernst Müller, Barbara Picht, and Falko Schmieder in cooperation with Mark Dang-Anh, Alexander Friedrich, Rüdiger Graf, and Stefan Scholl. The acting editor is Anja Keith.

Our approach ties in heuristically with historians of modernity and cultural historians, who assume a historical threshold “around 1900,” often considered to be the beginning of high modernity or the aesthetic modernism. While the project represents a critical continuation to Reinhart Koselleck’s Basic Concepts in History (Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe), it does not, however, presuppose a “second Sattelzeit” for the 20th century. For us, the 20th century presents itself as multifariously fractured and contradictory. Its semantics are characterized by conceptual innovations, terminological revolutions, and by diverse temporalities debated in terms of acceleration, simultaneity of the non-simultaneous, or poly- and heterochrony, but also by astounding continuities and cyclical progressions. The strong ties between the philosophy of history and structural history which provided the epistemic framework for Koselleck (latently threatening to generate a concept-realist ontology) are dissolved in favor of an interest in exchange processes between scientific, literary-aesthetic, political, and everyday language. We are thus interested in the entire diversity of forms of meaning and the procedures of its generation and circulation.Assuming that basic concepts of the 20th century are fundamentally shaped by the sciences, the project follows the differentiation of academic disciplines that replaced philosophy as a universal discourse in the last third of the 19th century and the emergence of plural publics based on new media targeting social masses. Academic disciplines, relevant to the development of political semantics most prominently include sociology, cultural studies, religious studies, anthropology, as well as areas of life sciences (genetics, experimental psychology, psychoanalysis), and, finally, applied work science. Among the new types of concepts that are being analyzed, we are particularly interested in process categories with the suffix -isierung which first appeared in the 20th century, and in “medium range” concepts that do not span the entire century, but exhibit shorter conjunctural appearances instead.

With the expansion of the subject area in relation to Koselleck comes an innovation of the methodology. The increasing availability of large digital corpora allows for an analysis of semantics of political-social discourse that goes beyond specific domains and theoretical contexts. New tools and methods have been specifically developed for concept-historical issues and make it possible not only to quantitatively analyze very large bodies of texts but also to evaluate these texts qualitatively with regard to their semantics. For the first time, the three partners ZfL, IDS, and ZZF will jointly make use of the tools COSMAS, DiaCollo, and SCoT that were developed in their respective disciplines to explore new ways and methods in an interdisciplinary digital history of concepts. With these tools, the project will systematically analyze comprehensive bodies of texts—consisting of a wide variety of genres and sources including newspapers, professional journals, non-fiction books, novels, parliament protocols, and online news. Each tool has specific strengths: COSMAS determines the most common word constructions and phrases including typical contexts, DiaCollo can visualize their distribution diachronically, and SCoT enables the detection, visualization, and analysis of different meanings of concept words and the evolution of their semantics. Equipped with various complementary functions, these tools allow for a connection of close and distant reading of unprecedented dimensions.

In addition to the possibilities that the Digital Humanities offer for the analysis of technically and medially mediated mass-democratic societies, new promising methods and approaches in the analysis of 20th-century semantics have come to the fore. These include:

  • the connection to the history of science and of knowledge,
  • the reflection on semantic transfers between languages of different functional systems as well as everyday language,
  • newly calibrated methods of analysis through language pragmatics,
  • the opening towards adjacent methods such as discourse analysis or metaphorology,
  • the turn to cultural semantics, including meaning beyond linguistic fixation.

Overall, we expect the project to tap into the history of concept’s interest in the mediality of language and the individual dynamics of language processes. The lexicon should therefore develop a specific understanding of the 20th century and possibly come to different conclusions than a strongly synthetic (socio-)historiography or one that is guided by political turning points.

In the context of the whole project, each of the three cooperating institutes will focus on a specific type of basic concept, corresponding to their respective expertise.

from 2022 on funded in the Leibniz Cooperative Excellence program
since 2020
Head researcher(s): Ernst Müller

Subproject(s)

Basic Socio-Political Concepts of Scientific Provenance

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) since 2022
Head researcher(s): Ernst Müller

Associate researchers: Alexander Friedrich, Barbara Picht, Falko Schmieder

The ZfL-based subproject will analyze concepts that originated in or were significantly shaped by scientific discourse, circulated between disciplines and migrated into socio-political as well as everyday discourse. These include concepts such as ‘Diversität,’ ‘Energie,’ ‘Evolution,’ ‘Funktion,’ ‘Gen,’ ‘Generation,’ ‘Geschlecht,’ ‘Information,’ ‘Kommunikation,’ ‘Medien,’ ‘Nachhaltigkeit,’ ‘Natur,’ ‘Netz,’ ‘Ökologie,’ ‘Prävention,’ ‘Prognose,’ ‘Rasse,’ ‘Regulation,’ ‘Struktur,’ ‘Theorie,’ ‘Trauma,’ ‘Umwelt.’  This type of concept is specific for the socio-political language of the 20th century and sets it apart from that of previous centuries. This type reflects the tendency of a decreasing reliability or a faster expiration time of concepts which involves a liquefaction of meaning. This results particularly from the concepts losing their reification during their diverse migrations between the different social spheres and thus functioning as randomly interpretable empty formulas or non-words. One question is whether the tension between experience and expectation as highlighted by Koselleck is still true for this type of basic concepts and which new forms it might take. In comparison to Koselleck’s Basic Concepts in History (Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe), this type of concept also documents a shift in formative semantics from the historical- and sociophilosophical to the scientific level which was formulated under the keywords of a scientification of the social or a politicization of the sciences.

The project can connect with the ZfL’s longstanding experience with an interdisciplinary history of knowledge and of the social. The goal to properly grasp the terms migrating between the knowledge cultures and disciplines with broad dispersion requires additional digital tools from concept history research which are capable of analyzing clusters and domains of different disciplinary uses of concepts synchronically and diachronically.

One of these tools is the open source software SCoT (Sense Clustering over Time) that can be used to detect and analyze the meaning of words and their evolution over time. The tool is available for authors of lexica, but also for other interested individuals. Questions concerning concept-historical analyses with SCoT can be discussed in a regularly offered digital office hour.

Basic Socio-Political Concepts with Large Scope and Duration

Leibniz-Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS) since 2022
Head researcher(s): Mark Dang-Anh

Associate researcher: Stefan Scholl

The IDS-based project explores a selection of political basic concepts. It focusses on politically relevant partial corpora such as the publicist discourse during the post-war era, the parliament protocols of the 20th century, or political speeches during National Socialism. This focus centers on the corpus-based analysis of a concept-constituting use of language and its methodical contextualization.

Website of the project at the IDS

Basic Socio-Political Concepts Negotiating Concepts of Time and Progress

Leibniz-Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam (ZZF) since 2022
Head researcher(s): Rüdiger Graf

Associate researcher: Simon Specht

The ZFF-based project analyzes the change of concepts that express temporality and historic transformation. It focusses on concepts such as ‘Fortschritt,’ ‘Krise,’ ‘Entwicklung/Evolution,’ ‘Modernisierung,’ ‘Zukunft,’ or ‘Utopie,’ concepts that were politically controversial and that, time and time again, served the determination of their own place in history as they were discussed in society.

Website of the project at the ZZF

Publications

Ernst Müller (ed./eds.)

FORUM INTERDISZIPLINÄRE BEGRIFFSGESCHICHTE (FIB)

E-JOURNAL (2022) 11th YEAR / ISSUE 1
Berlin 2022, 37 pages
ISSN 2195-0598
DOI 10.13151/fib.2022.01

Begriffsgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts
Themenheft des Archivs für Begriffsgeschichte

Vol. 63, Issue 1 (2021)
Felix Meiner, Hamburg 2021
ISBN 978-3-7873-4004-0 (Print); 978-3-7873-4010-1 (eJournal)
Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder (ed./eds.)

FORUM INTERDISZIPLINÄRE BEGRIFFSGESCHICHTE (FIB)

E-JOURNAL (2021) 10th YEAR / ISSUE 1
Berlin 2021, 58 pages
ISSN 2195-0598
DOI 10.13151/fib.2021.01
Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder

Begriffsgeschichte
zur Einführung

Junius, Hamburg 2020, 200 pages
ISBN 978-3-96060-317-7
Ernst Müller, Wolfert von Rahden (ed./eds.)

FORUM INTERDISZIPLINÄRE BEGRIFFSGESCHICHTE (FIB)

E-JOURNAL (2020) 9th YEAR / ISSUE 1
Berlin 2020, 108 pages
ISSN 2195-0598

Ernst Müller

Barbara Picht

Falko Schmieder

 

The project continues the long-standing research on the theory and practice of interdisciplinary history of concepts from which these publications, among others, have resulted:

Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder

Events

Workshop
10 Feb 2023

Unvollendetes, Zerbrochenes, Verlorenes: Über das Fragment

Leibniz-Institut für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur – Simon Dubnow, Goldschmidtstraße 28, 04103 Leipzig

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Workshop
13 Jan 2023 · 10.00 am

Ökologische Grundbegriffe im 20. Jahrhundert

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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Talk
05 Dec 2022 · 7.00 pm

Johann Gottlieb Fichte – Transzendentale Logik und gesellschaftlicher Fortschritt

Helle Panke e.V. – Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin, Kopenhagener Str. 9, 10437 Berlin

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Lecture
30 Nov 2022 · 7.00 pm

Kritik der Aufklärung. Und warum wir sie dennoch dringender denn je brauchen

Einstein Forum, Am Neuen Markt 7, 14467 Potsdam / livestream via Zoom

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Lecture
10 Nov 2022 · 9.45 am

Barbara Picht: Aby Warburg und Ernst Robert Curtius

Sapienza Università di Roma, Dipartimento SEAI, Sede Marco Polo, Via Circonvallazione Tiburtina 4, 00185 Roma, Italy

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Talk
04 Nov 2022 · 7.00 pm

In der Dämmerung. Christian Voller and Falko Schmieder in conversation about the pre- and early history of critical theory

Helle Panke e.V. – Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin, Kopenhagener Str. 9, 10437 Berlin

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Workshop
04 Nov 2022 · 11.00 am

Getting started with SCoT

online via Zoom

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Lecture
28 Oct 2022 · 2.30 pm

Ernst Müller/Falko Schmieder: Das 20. Jahrhundert in Grundbegriffen – Das Konzept eines neuen Lexikons

FernUniversität in Hagen, Gebäude 2, Raum 1–3, Universitätsstraße 33, 58097 Hagen

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Lecture
30 Sep 2022 · 11.00 am

Falko Schmieder: Zur Aneignung des Marx’schen Fetischbegriffs bei Walter Benjamin und Roland Barthes

Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Institut für Germanistik, Mozartgasse 8, 8010 Graz, Österreich

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Workshop
07 Sep 2022 · 10.00 am

Wert- und Traditionsbegriffe

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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Workshop
06 Sep 2022 · 10.00 am

Politisch-soziale Grundbegriffe wissenschaftlicher Provenienz

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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Workshop
28 May 2022 · 10.00 am

Falko Schmieder, Birgit Ziener: Walter Benjamins Thesen über den Begriff der Geschichte

Helle Panke e.V. – Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin, Kopenhagener Str. 9, 10437 Berlin

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International Conference
19 May 2022 – 20 May 2022

Estetica e filosofia della storia | Estética y filosofía de la historia | Ästhetik und Geschichtsphilosophie

Università degli Studi del Molise, Campobasso

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Project launch
28 Apr 2022 · 2.00 pm

Launch of the project “The 20th Century in Basic Concepts”

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL), Schützenstraße 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Etage, Trajekte-Tagungsraum / Zoom

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Talk
15 Feb 2022 · 7.00 pm

Doris Liebscher, Falko Schmieder: “Rasse” im Recht gegen Rassismus?

Helle Panke e.V. – Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin Kopenhagener Str. 9, 10437 Berlin

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Workshop
02 Dec 2021

Epochenschwellen und Epochenzäsuren

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Etage, Seminarraum

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Lecture
25 Nov 2021 · 12.00 pm

Falko Schmieder: Odo Marquards Kritik der Geschichtsphilosophie und sein Gegenprogramm der Kompensation

Universitat de València

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Lecture
25 Nov 2021 · 10.30 am

Ernst Müller: Der Begriff “Entzweiung” bei Joachim Ritter

Universitat de València

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Lecture
25 Nov 2021 · 9.30 am

Barbara Picht: Der Beitrag der Ritter-Schule zum Historischen Wörterbuch der Philosophie

Universitat de València

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Workshop at Warburg-Haus Hamburg
22 Oct 2021 – 23 Oct 2021

Die “Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg.” Das intellektuelle Netzwerk der KBW, part II

Warburg-Haus, Heilwigstraße 116, 20249 Hamburg

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Lecture
15 Sep 2021 · 12.30 pm

Falko Schmieder: Positivismusstreit

Universidad de Salamanca

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Lecture
13 Sep 2021 · 12.30 pm

Ernst Müller: Fakultäten/Universitätenstreit

Universidad de Salamanca

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Lecture
13 Sep 2021 · 11.00 am

Barbara Picht: Historismusstreit

Universidad de Salamanca

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Lecture
15 Jun 2021 · 12.30 pm

Henning Trüper: Rescuing the dead from oblivion: humanitarian morality and historical discourse

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Campus de Getafe, Edificio Ortega y Gasset

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Lecture
15 Jun 2021 · 11.30 am

Ernst Müller: Die Entdeckung des Gefühlswerts in der Begriffsgeschichte

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Campus de Getafe, Edificio Ortega y Gasset

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Lecture
14 Jun 2021 · 11.00 am

Falko Schmieder: Der Überlebensbegriff als Instrument der angstpolitischen Kolonialisierung des Alltagslebens im Atomkriegs- und Ökologiediskurs

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Campus de Getafe, Edificio Ortega y Gasset

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Lecture
14 Jun 2021 · 10.05 am

Barbara Picht: Angst. Wie schreibt man ihre Geschichte?

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Campus de Getafe, Edificio Ortega y Gasset

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Lecture
19 Oct 2020 · 7.00 pm

Barbara Picht: “Das 20. Jahrhundert wechselt sein Aussehen je nach Blickwinkel.” West- und östliches Europa aus der Perspektive des polnischen Schriftstellers Czesław Miłosz

Helle Panke e.V. – Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin, Kopenhagener Str. 9, 10437 Berlin

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Workshop
27 Feb 2020

Aufgaben und Methoden der Begriffsforschung: Die Beispiele Staat und Politik

Freie Universität Berlin, DFG KFG 2615 - Rethinking Oriental Despotism, Fabeckstr. 15, 14195 Berlin

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Media Response

31 Aug 2022
Ein Zeitalter wird besichtigt

Report by Thomas Thiel, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 202 (31.8.2022), N4

02 Jun 2021
Crítica de la Modernidad. Modernidad de la crítica (Una aproximación histórico-conceptual)

Review by Joan Gallego Monzó to the volume Crítica de la Modernidad. Modernidad de la crítica (Una aproximación histórico-conceptual), ed. by Faustino Oncina Coves, with contributions by Ernst Müller, Barbara Picht, and Falko Schmieder i.a., in: Quaderns de filosofia 8.1 (2021), 129–134 (in Catalan)