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Contemporary history in Europe: from mastering national pasts to the future of writing the world

By Kristina Spohr Readman


Debates surrounding the approach to and distinctiveness of contemporary history qua history that had been simmering ever since the professionalization of history in the late nineteenth century re-emerged with vigour after 1990. This article attempts to identify what characterizes and distinguishes (the history of) our present time, by comparing the evolution of what has been labelled ‘contemporary history’ in France, Germany and Britain over the last 90 years. In discussing some of the conceptual problems and methodological challenges of contemporary history, it will be revealed that many in Europe remain stuck in an older, ‘national’ (and transnational) fixation with the second world war and the nazis’ atrocities, although working in medias res today appears to point to the investigation of events and phenomena that are ‘global’. The article will seek to make a fresh suggestion of how to delimit ‘contemporariness’ from the older ‘past’ and end with some comments on the significance of the role of contemporary history within the broader historical discipline and society at large

Topics: D901 Europe (General)
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1177/0022009411404583
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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