Annual Conference Panel: “The Making of Periodization Schemes”
A report from the Annual Conference “Chronologics: Periodisation in a Global Context” of the Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung, Berlin, 7-9 December 2017.
by Judith Schulte
“The Making of Periodization Schemes” was the second panel at the annual conference “Chronologics. Periodization in a Global Context”, organized Thomas Maissen (DHI Paris), Barbara Mittler (Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies/Forum Transregionale Studien), and Pierre Monnet (Institut franco-allemand de sciences historiques et sociales/EHESS). In her introduction to the conference, Barbara Mittler stated that the conference’s aim was to compare some of the many historical pasts in transregional dialogue. The panel was chaired by Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum (Freie Universität Berlin) and combined critical analyses of periodization terms in three different thematic correlations that were discussed separately afterward. All the panelists, in their respective thematic contexts, talked about the history of science in and reminded the audience to be careful when reconstructing terms of periodization. A common result of all three papers was that there are multiple histories and multiple readings.
Starting with the double lecture “Producing Islamic History: Schemes of Medieval and Modern and the Racialization of the Past”, David Moshfegh (IE University Madrid) and Heather Ferguson (Claremont McKenna College) discussed the production of knowledge from a contemporary cross-cultural perspective. Their main thesis was “that a tactic formed to resist racialization ultimately imposed a historical schema that not only obscured alternative approaches to time, but would later also reinforce the racialization of Islam itself”.
David Moshfegh analyzed what “Islam” and “Islamwissenschaften” represent from multiple perspectives, starting with the European point of view. He declared that “Islamwissenschaften” and “Orientalism” were counterparts and described Ignaz Goldziher’s racializing of history in the 19th century and his Jewish background in more detail, emphasizing as a main point that Goldziher’s critique of the medieval was not only European, but also Jewish and Islamic.
Heather Ferguson, the second one in this team, warned the audience to be careful when reading chronotypes and how their meaning varies and changes in time. She highlighted that Goldziher’s points have to be understood in an Islamic context. In a more theoretical analysis, she pointed out that history is a narrative process and that there are multiple competing chronotypes. She called for us to be clearer about “what we mean by difference”. She exemplifies this with the narrative of the genesis of Islam and Prophet Muhammad.
The following discussion dealt with Goldziher and the European science of religion, Edward Said and Orientalism, and their interpretations. Moshfegh argued that it is not only the one or the other. He questioned how Goldziher developed his ideas of Islam and described how he was used for several different interpretations throughout history. One result of the discussion was that every form of “manipulation of time” is a colonizing act. Afterward, it was discussed whether any form of narrative is a form of colonization. Ferguson marked the importance of the question “what do we mean by plural forms?”
Justus Nipperdey (Universität des Saarlandes) analyzed the concept and history of the term the “early modern”. He pointed out differences in the understanding of modernity in different historiographic cultures by putting a focus on the creation process of an early modern period. While it was long accepted that the term was coined in the 1950s in the U.S., current research references a longer history going back to the 19th century. Nipperdey scrutinized the term “modernity”: its meaning on the one hand and, on the other hand, what it means to not be modern. He emphasized that the term is ideologically charged. He pointed out the differences in the reading of the term in Germany and Great Britain in contrast to France and Italy and concludes that there are multiple histories. Afterward, it was discussed that the meaning of the term changed over time, and there were questions concerning the starting point of the “early modern”. Nipperdey states that the usage of the term became common after World War II.
Milinda Banerjee (LMU München/Presidency University, Kolkata) expressed at last the thesis that the phrasing of political concepts could be an emblem of resistance, as well. He formulated a thesis of the mobility of concepts that were bound to leadership and how they were able to move. He asked how a colonized society produces new terms and called for us to include this possibility of moving. He exemplified this by analyzing the periodization schemes used for India that go beyond the tripartite scheme of ancient, medieval, and modern. He gave examples how terms moved and became transferred. He spoke about “globalized tropes” when referring to India as “the new Rome”, converting the term “ancient Rome”. He showed “how the tripartite scheme of periodization gained appeal at the intersections of late nineteenth- and early- to mid-twentieth-century Indian, British imperial, and Italian histories”. In contrast to this, using the example of peasant actors in Bengal communities and the term “dark age in Hindu”, he also analyzed that periodization schemes were not hegemonic and can be a form of emancipation. He raised the question how a discourse of the poorest established itself. In the following discussion, the relationship between Hindu, India and the Nationalists was explicated, and there was agreement in relation to social transformation.
Citation: Judith Schulte, Annual Conference Panel: “The Making of Periodization Schemes”. A report from the Annual Conference “Chronologics: Periodisation in a Global Context”, Berlin, 7-9 December 2017, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 05.04.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/9661.