Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena

Research Areas

Research at the Kolleg currently addresses the following fields:

  • War, Violence and Oppression: with a focus on the two World Wars, regime violence under socialism and the politics of history in this field.
  • Intellectual History: with a particular focus on dissidence and post-socialism since the 1970s. 
  • Challenges of Modernity: with a focus on transformation and social change since the late nineteenth century. 
  • History and the Public Sphere: with a focus on controversy, and the representation of twentieth-century history in the region.

Our previous research areas ‘Violence’, ‘Statehood’, ‘Challenges of Modernity’ and ‘Intellectual Horizons’ have produced the four-volume series The Routledge History Handbook of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century (forthcoming with Routledge).


War, Violence, Oppression

responsible: Dr Jochen Böhler
Eastern Europe was a region greatly affected by war, violence, and oppression throughout all of the twentieth century. At the century's start and close, warring conflicts took place in the Balkans, in the course of which the difference between combatants and civilians quickly became blurred. In between, two world wars raged and two neighboring totalitarian powers exerted a great influence on the conflict-laden history of the region. 

In the wake of the wars that extended into the region and the collapse of the existing prewar orders, ethnic, social, and national extremes were taken up, constructed anew, and fought out with violence. The familiar pattern of wars on two fronts soon broke down into many theaters of war in which civil war-like conditions prevailed. 

In the period between these wars, the emergence of authoritarian states could be observed in East Central Europe. They forcefully asserted their claim to power against political adversaries and groups that were stigmatized as enemies on ethnic, national, and/or social grounds. In turn they were opposed by a wide range of groups using subversive or terrorist means. The War, Violence, and Oppression research area is researching in this context the force that was exercised from outside or from above by warring powers and authoritarian regimes against the societies of Eastern Europe. Violent conflicts between ethnic, social, and national groups will also be examined, as well as the relationship between these two manifestations of violence. 

The question must be posed as to the status and legitimacy of the use of force in the region under consideration. Was violence a legitimate means of pursuing the conflict, a part of the political culture? When was reference made to experiences of extreme violence-as either an exemplary or a deterring model-in order to exercise violence or to curb it? How does the experience of violence outlast extended periods and what role does it later play? 
The War, Violence, and Oppression research area pursues a transnational comparative perspective, taking the many nuances and differences into consideration.


Intellectual History

responsible: Dr Michal Kopeček
Intellectual history as a specific field of historiography and interdisciplinary research in the humanities has experienced a remarkable surge in recent years. Situated on the margins of mainstream intellectual history for a long time, Central and Eastern Europe has increasingly begun to receive attention, partly as a result of the fundamental changes in the region after the fall of communism in 1989, partly due to the internal dynamics of the scholarly field itself as defined by international dialogue and cooperation.

Two major aspects characterize our research interests. First, there is a need for empirical research and for the mapping of modern intellectual traditions in the region. Second, we are interested in positioning the regions’ history within the globalizing field of intellectual and conceptual history. Both aspects question the remnants of ‘methodological nationalism’ once present in the history of ideas in the respective national historiographical traditions.

Research at the Imre Kertész Kolleg focusses on political ideas and social philosophy in Central and Eastern Europe since the interwar period and how such ideas contributed to the global discourse on human rights since the Second World War. The Kolleg is particularly interested in how political ideas of the late socialist period, not only those of the dissidents and oppositionists, but also the “grey-zone” intellectuals and regime experts, have shaped the post-1989 transformation in the region.

Intellectual history, like few other fields, invites transnational perspectives, comparative approaches and research in transnational entanglements. The Kolleg invites projects on a variety of topics focusing on, but not restricted to, discourses on collective identities, on imperial legacies and the merits of smallness, on the experience and moral imprints of totalitarian rule, on the long-term history of authoritarian temptations and democratic impulses, or on the constant tensions between the state and the nation in the region.


Challenges of Modernity

responsible: Professor Dr Joachim von Puttkamer
Throughout the course of the long 20th century, Central and Eastern Europe underwent rapid social and economic transformations. In recent years, synthetic approaches which combine social and economic history with a cultural approach have proven most fruitful in exploring and understanding the scope and the dimensions of these transformations.

Research at the Imre Kertész Kolleg focusses particularly on cities as laboratories of modernity in Eastern Europe, on discourses of urbanity and urbanisation, on architecture, housing, lifestyles, elites and subcultures. Where did the rapid influx of population result in distinct social and ethnic milieus, and where did cities exert homogenizing effects, shaping new middle classes? And did this lead to a modernity particular to Central and Eastern Europe?

The Kolleg particularly welcomes research projects that address the changing role of gender relations and feminist discourse, including discourses on sexuality. While not limited to the post-war period, state socialism and the transformation era are of special interest to the Kolleg. Where do we observe distinct patterns within the overall picture of socialism, and has there been a strengthening of patriarchal relations since 1989?

Taking a global perspective has proven particularly fruitful. The Kolleg supports research which addresses transnational and global cooperation on social and economic issues, on the development of infrastructure or on migration, to name but a few. It aims to foster a better understanding of Central and Eastern Europe’s experience in the interwar period, during socialism and in the post-1989 transformations and their deep social fault-lines.


History and the Public Sphere

responsible: Dr Eva-Clarita Pettai, Dr Juliane Tomann
The manner in which the past is interpreted in the present day – either through the academic discipline of history or through social groups – is subject to continuous negotiation. A core question of the Imre Kertész Kolleg’s research area ‘History and the Public Sphere’ relates to how these negotiations are being shaped in society. Our understanding of the term ‘public’ is broad: we trace processes of historical ‘meaning-making’ in museums and memorial sites, in academic writing, literature, performative practices and media as well as in political institutions and venues of legislative deliberation. The term ‘historical culture’ – with its theoretical implications and underpinnings – structures this field and helps to clarify the various and overlapping processes taking place in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

To this end, we regularly publish critical reviews of public debates, museum exhibitions and memory policies in the region in an online journal called the Cultures of History Forum. Moreover, in order to bring memory activists, curators and scholars together and to advance a conceptual understanding of this increasingly important field of inquiry, we regularly organize workshops, seminars and special issues, often in cooperation with external partners.

In the long term, with both the Forum, with its international editorial board, and the workshop series we are building a strong network of experts that crosses national borders and cultural boundaries. In facilitating such crossings and exchanges we contribute to the wider pan-European conversation over the legacies of twentieth-century history; a conversation that remains open to historical complexities and variations, yet ultimately aims to advance the search for shared values and norms across the European continent.

With our own research projects on memory politics and performative practices we contribute to advancing this research area which cuts across disciplines, perspectives and approaches.