History @ Erasmus

Histories of Encounters

40 jaar geschiedenisconferentie
Presentation at the conference 40 Years of History

Histories of Encounters

This research cluster studies historical encounters from the micro-local level of the individual or the family to the macro level of global networks since ca. 1500. Our research expresses a particular interest in (global) flows – top down, bottom up as well as trans-level. One of the keys then is the prefix ‘trans’ as in trans-national, trans-Atlantic, trans-cultural, trans-regional, even trans-port, which all connect and presuppose encounters. A theory driven and reflective approach helps us to understand these historical interactions and complexities.

The nation state is just one of the levels in the encountering chains we study, with very different and often changing conceptions of space in the micro-local and the macro-global. We stand on the shoulders of what we called half a century ago “History of Society”, at the time our history department started at Erasmus University. A de-colonising, emancipating and internationalising world in the midst of the Cold War asked for new approaches to history. Instead of a focus on euro-centric historical periods, we planned to study history along the lines of archetypal sorts of societies in world history, with the help of social science theories.

Over time we have moved towards more interactive and global dimensions of history, without losing sight of the local, nor the use of concepts, theories and historiographies. A more dynamic histories of encounters approach is what binds us in Rotterdam. Rapidly changing and diversifying national and global contexts confronting us today, is the inspiration for our historical research.

Our concept of encounters entails three dimensions: historical praxis, methodological approach, and theory. The latter contains the search for, and use of theories for our research, in neighbouring (social science) disciplines, as well as theoretical reflection on history as such. Methodological encounters means connecting different approaches to each other such as a comparative and a quantitative method, or the combination of oral history and documentary sources. In the historical praxis we look for encounters in a variety of ways, such as between people, cultures, economies, nations, regions, ideas, objects. Encountering can lead to connections as well as to clashes; it can be a process of entanglement as well as disentanglement, and in any case it entails interaction and often the dynamics of change.

Histories of encounters, therefore, focuses on historical processes – as well as the reflexivity about it – of asymmetrical power positions and their fights and competitions, resistance, innovation, transformation and everything that happens as a consequence of crossing lines, borders, or whatever that divides. This is shaped by a variety of scholarship in our research platform, varying from, among other topics, studies on historical consciousness and multiperspectivity in historical narratives, to international economic and political relations in Europe, and economic policies in particular world regions. And from global fashion industries, historical games, and sports, migration and global citizenship to meaning and contents of cultural heritage in multicultural Europe, in the Black Atlantic, or in the Middle East, to name just another few. Encounters is what binds us all, and what seems to be a promising way to jointly develop further: it is obviously embedded in decisive scholarly debates of today and tomorrow.

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