2nd International Congress »History under Debate«, Santiago de Compostella, 14-18 July 1999
Shared Puules for Trans-disciplinary Research
Abstract for Round Table IV.M
In the last two decades, the hierarchies of importance in the humanities have been undermined
and transformed by two tendencies: the so-called "cultural turn" and the opening toward the
post-colonial world. Epistemological certainties, the value to topics, and geographical
relevance have been shaken by what can be termed in short-hand: postmodernism. From the
point of view of a German speaking historian of the 19'" and 20'" century, these two
challenges came later than on the Anglo-American and French scene and they carne basically
at the same time, that is during the 1980s and early 1990s.
No matter whether one greets these trends as liberating or sees them as symptoms of
fragmentation and relativism they are clearly changing the terms of trade among the
humanities and social sciences. The relationships between the classical disciplines on the one
hand and area studies, cultural, gender, and ethnic studies on the other hand are changing
under this double impact. Inter- or trans-disciplinary research is thus in a difficult position: it
seems rnore necessary than ever, but it is also more difficult than ever.There is a curious
tension between the stability of the disciplinary landscape created in the 19'" century on the
one hand and the fact that innovation largely happens in the inbetween of these disciplinary
boundaries on the other hand.
In my contribution to this round-table, I propose to argue that trans-disciplinary cooperation
between different fields and approaches cannot work without the self-interest of all the
partners involved. Researchers from different disciplines need shared puzzles that they cannot
solve alone. In the early 1970s, Roland Barthes proposed the text as such a common problem.
He was one of the first in the humanities to point to the emergence of »a-disciplinary« objects
which do not belong to any of the traditional academic disciplines. More recently, colleagues
from literary criticism, cultural history or social psychology put forward memory as an object
of such trans-disciplinary effort. From my own experience in comparative history and in the
history of trans-national transfers and relations, I would underline the interest for mental
maps, the construction of borders and spaces, as a meeting ground for studies from widely
diAering disciplinary (and also national) backgrounds.