Christoph CONRAD Free Univ. of Berlin
Comparing Historiographies: National Narratives or Cultures of Knowledge
The comparative method has experienced a renaissance in recent years. In historical sociology, political science, and in social history, the number of monographs and collective volumes published in e.g. Western Europe and North America is impressive. Cultural and intellectual historians have been more reluctant to embark upon comparative projects but nowadays they also appreciate this approach for its constructivist/deconstructivist potential. Only historiography as a practice of research and writing and history as an academic discipline have rarely become the objects of a full-blown cross-national (or cross-university, cross-school etc.) analysis.
This is about to change, and my paper intends to explore the challenges and chances of comparison for the history of historiography Three examples for this new interest should be mentioned: the collective volume Writing National Histories. Western Europe since 1800, edited by Stefan Berger et al. (London/New York: Routledge, 1999); the Forum "Comparative Historiography: Problems and Perspectives" edited by Chris Lorenz, in: History and Theory vol. 38 (no 1), 1999, and, finally, a conference on "How to compare historiographies?" held at the Center for Comparative History of Europe in Berlin in June of this year My paper draws on these and other instances and tries to formulate conclusions on the basis of the monographic research presented at the Berlin workshop.
The main problematique focuses on the reasons for differences between historiographical practices and institutionalizations in different countries in the second half of the 19th and the first third of the 20th century. A strong tradition was constituted by historians who served as heralds of nation-building. Writing the nation seems to have been their vocation. Their research themes, their social standing, and their political world views linked their own group interests with the interests of the nation as an "imagined community". Many European historians, then, appear to be similar in their differences, they shared a nationalistic project, but only saw their own. Analytically, this approach gains its full force when two antagonistic nationalist schools of historiography are studied together and in their mutual references.
An alternative explanation would be to trace the differences in the writing of history through the development of specific national forms of organizing this area of scholarship. Not nationalism, but cultures of knowledge would merit our attention. The comparative analysis of, for instance, the place of history among other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, the styles and conventions of writing a great synthesis, and the degree ofprofessionalization of historical research, etc., seems to support this view. An emphasis on specific forms of discipline-building and "Verwissenschaftlichung", of ways of "doing history" has another important advantage: it draws our attention to processes of exchange and appropriation, mutual observation, influence and refusal. Cultures of knowledge differ in their similarities; projects of historical nationalism converge where they most strongly put forward their differences. Obviously, both explanations are not mutually exclusive but enter in a complex interplay- Both explanations are strongest when they extend the comparative method to the analysis of projections, relations, and exchanges.