The project challenges two popular doctrines which have come up in cultural studies in the wake of two influential books: Said’s Orientalism (1979) and Chakrabarty’s “Provicializing Europe” (2000). Their approach to postcolonialism runs the risk of producing blurred results. Large sections of postcolonial studies have over-estimated the importance of non-European factors and ignored the complex process of Europe’s embrace for the world which has always been marked by intense interaction between Europe and the non-European spheres. More suitable for a more reliable analysis seems to be the agency approach as introduced by Bhabha, Greenblatt and others. The cultural studies variant of the agency-approach applied, where appropriate, in my project seems fruitful to generate new results on European history. It will use European embrace for overseas territories as a mirror for the development of the European societies under the impact of contacts with non-Europeans. The agency-approach has been chosen as it stresses self determined activities of individuals, groups and societies and rejects deterministic images. Although Bhabha stresses the danger of contingency related to human actions and reactions and thus the implicit arbitrarity of findings, recent studies have shown that all systems which might at first sight appear to be open, tend to develop self-organizing powers. If we understand European expansion and contacts with non-European civilizations as a basically open system, it is evident that the self organization powers of this open system have not only shaped Europe’s relations with the “other” but also transformed Europeans and European civilizations. Therefore I understand Europe’s embrace for the world and its consequences in Modern history as “an activity of the contingent” with an inherent organizing principle, which has, in a complex and dynamic process, permanently transformed both Europe and large parts of the world. The project is designed to carve out the basic patterns of this principle and will try to explain the process-mechanisms which have shaped both European civilization and today’s world.
Jürgen Elvert is Jean Monnet Professor for European History at the University of Cologne. His main research interests include European and European Integration History, History of Ideas, History of Sciences and Maritime History. Among his major works are: Mitteleuropa! deutsche Pläne zur europäischen Neuordnung, 1918-1945 (1999), Geschichte Irlands (2003, 4. ed.), Ces Chers Voisins. L'Allemagne, la Belgique et la France en Europe du XIXe aux XXIe siècles (2010), Die Europäische Integration (2012, 2nd. ed.).