CfP: Conceptualising modernity – an interdisciplinary dialogue

Almuth Ebke's picture
Call for Papers
December 9, 2021 to December 10, 2021
Subject Fields: 
Early Modern History and Period Studies, Intellectual History, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies, Sociology

Over the last twenty years, the category of “modernity” and the idea of “the modern” have both been refined as historical tools and criticized for their normative biases. We invite proposals for an interdisciplinary two-day workshop to reassess the analytical potential of the meta-concept of “modernity” and the idea of the modern. The workshop will take place in Tübingen (Germany) on December 9–10, 2021 and is hosted by the “Collaborative Research Center 923”


Modernity is an essentially contested concept: depending on the research context, historians and social scientists understand “modernity” as a historical period, as an (unfinished) project and, more recently, an object of historical study in itself – an understanding that is linked to the considerable criticism the concept has received over the last twenty years. Particularly historians working on “early modern” and medieval history have pointed out the normative bias which underlies the concept, even going so far as to question the usefulness of modernity as a tool for historical analysis as such. The chronology inherent in the idea of modernity has attracted particular censure for perpetuating underlying normative assumptions: pre- or non-modern times and spaces are considered deficient and backward, as not yet modern. 


In our workshop, we want to reassess the analytical potential – and normative biases – of the meta-concept of “modernity” and the idea of the modern. What are the benefits of “modernity” as an analytical tool? Should the term be employed differently or should we stop using it altogether? Are alternatives to this meta-concept available, and what are the benefits (and pitfalls) of using these? As historiographical debates differ quite significantly both between historical sub-disciplines and cultural-linguistic contexts, our aim is to provide a platform for historians, but also social scientists, to both discuss the various criticisms levelled at the concept as well as to sound out its analytical potential or possible alternatives. 

Papers could address (but are not restricted to) the following fields:


1. Current conceptualizations of “modernity” and “the modern”. What are the analytical benefits of “modernity” and “the modern”? Which (pre)judgments are conveyed in historical periodization based on “modernity”? If the analytical usefulness of the category “modernity” is questioned, how can we define the “early modern”?

2. The inherent connotations of the “pre”-modern. Are modern times different (Lynn Hunt)? And if not, what is pre-modern about modernity? What is modern about the pre-modern? Or, if periodization “must come undone” entirely (Kathleen Davis), how can and should history be written?

3. Possible alternatives to the historical meta-concept of “modernity”. In which way do different conceptions of historical time alter our understanding of “modernity” and the “pre-modern”? What are the benefits of postcolonial and global historical approaches to the idea of the modern?

4. Historiographical perspectives. How relevant are perspectives of the nineteenth century in shaping notions of “the modern”? How did the rise of history as a discipline influence the notion of “modernity” as an academic concept?


By bringing together scholars from different academic disciplines, this workshop reassesses the concept of modernity and the idea of the modern from a cross-epochal and interdisciplinary perspective. Graduate students are particularly encouraged to apply. Confirmed keynotes speakers are Lynn Hunt (UCLA) and Dipesh Chakrabarty (Chicago). 


Scholars interested in presenting at the workshop are asked to send proposals of no more than 500 words with a short biography by June 15, 2021 to or Each presentation should last no more than 20 minutes. Travel grants will be available for presenters. If the current pandemic situation does not allow a meeting in person, we will switch to an online or hybrid format. 

Contact Info: 

Almuth Ebke, University of Mannheim

Christoph Haack, University of Tübingen


Collaborative Research Center 923, University of Tübingen, Germany