Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective

Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective

Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective

Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective

Synopsis

In essays that engage practical, methodological, and theoretical questions, the contributors to this volume assess the gains as well as the obstacles and perils of historical research that traverses national boundaries.

Excerpt

Deborah Cohen and Maura O'Connor

Viewed from the long perspective of European history, studies that cross national boundaries are neither new nor necessarily revolutionary. Although historical comparisons may be as ancient as Plutarch's Parallel Lives, it was the philosophers of the European Enlightenment who first set out to distinguish various areas of the world based upon customs, laws, and religions. If the nineteenth century saw the beginnings of national history to accompany nation-making projects, it also fed an unprecedented boom in comparisons, bolstered by the emerging disciplines of ethnology, anthropology, philology, and law. Even the systematic practice of comparative history, as pioneered by Marc Bloch, Henri Pirenne, and Otto Hintze in the era that followed the Great War, can now boast a venerable pedigree.

What is new today is the pervasive skepticism about national history itself. In an era of globalization-we are told-the traditional "national" approach to history no longer suffices. Critics have registered a number of objections: the claims of empire are pressing, regions cannot be ignored, the old exceptionalisms no longer persuade. To take the nation as the focal point, it has been argued, overly restricts the view. Enthroned in most subfields since at least the Second World War, national history, especially of Europe, seems increasingly under siege. To these challenges, historians have sought a solution in the realms of cross-national and comparative work. As conferences advertise for

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