Discussion

von by participants of the symposium Original in German, angezeigt indisplayed in EnglischEnglish

Professor Helmuth Trischler, German Museum, Munich

Many have now effectively agreed with what Ms Amodeo said, that is, that EGO is an interdisciplinary project that has grown contingently. The contingency results from the fact that we as specialist editors have mobilized our own networks, and EGO is as good as the networks of the chief editors and the specialist editors. The gaps in our own ability to achieve networks that are as broad as possible correspond to the limitations of EGO as an interdisciplinary project. You have just emphasized again that the discipline of economics is in fact represented and integrated here and there. This is undoubtedly the case when one delves more deeply into EGO, to the level of the articles, as I have shown taking the example of Rüdiger Glaser's article on Historical Climatology [of Central Europe]. This is a subject which is particularly tailor-made for the natural sciences. The historical discipline or the historical perspective is integral to this topic and, for this reason, we have no difficulty in finding experts who come from the discipline in question and are compatible with a historical project. In the case of other disciplines, we experienced more difficulty in this regard. You are completely correct when you stress that the general topic of EGO is cross-disciplinary, but that's not how I wished to define transdisciplinarity, but in a more specific way, like Basarab Nicolescu and others who have thought more deeply about what transdisciplinarity can imply and have come to the conclusion that the academic dialogue between academic knowledge and public knowledge should be strengthened. This is the specific strength which transdisciplinarity implies and should mean for us.

Professor Fridrun Rinner, Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence

Numerous articles on the area of literary studies, for example the one on Bestsellers in Literature, have yet to be published. An article on Shakespeare as an inspiration in literature is almost ready for publication, as is an article on Zola ["J'accuse"] and the Dreyfus Affair, and the effect of the latter on European literature – to name just two examples. I agree with Ms Amodeo that historical events manifest themselves in important ways in the European novel, and that the interplay between literary-aesthetic and political and social developments should be dealt with in EGO.

Dr Joachim Berger, IEG, Mainz

Mr Trischler has assigned church history, which focuses on Christian theology, to the discipline of historical studies. It would interest me to know whether you feel comfortable in this category and whether you believe that the specific perspectives and the specific knowledge interests of your discipline are more fully represented in EGO in the discipline of church history or the discipline of theology.

Professor Klaus Fitschen, Institute of Church History, University of Leipzig

Church historians think about this question all the time. Where do we actually belong to? Historically, we have not been a part of the discipline of theology at all. That is perhaps the first indicator. Another indicator is our principle that our methods are no different to those employed in historical studies generally. So I actually have no problem with church history being assigned to historical studies. Of course, it is completely obvious that we have our own specific area of interest and research questions. Every historical discipline has that.

Professor Mariano Delgado, Seminar for Middle and New Church History, Université de Fribourg:

I agree with you. We see ourselves as being in good company in historical studies. The contributions from the discipline of theology tend to deal more with the history of theology, and are less systematic in approach. That is in the nature of the subject.

Joachim Berger

In the introduction, I claimed that the concept of "transferts culturels […]" had been "applied to the 'subject matter' in various disciplines". The history of reception and the history of influence is as old as intellectual history in general. You only have to look at stylistics in art history, or, of course, at literary history or the history of theology; it is effectively very often the history of reception. In European History Online, we said that in order to speak of transfer history or transferts culturels all of the articles must discuss the historical actors, the intermediaries and the agents of transfer. How is something received, and how is this changed by the use of various media? And how can these processes be located in geographical space? This is the point that I would like to come back to. In the articles on legal history, for example, I sometimes got the impression that the historical actors got lost a bit, or that law appears as the autonomous subject of the articles, as though it transfers and disseminates itself so to speak.

Professor Barbara Dölemeyer, Bad Homburg

Perhaps we in legal history are lagging a bit behind in the area of mediality. We study the media, too, of course, for example the transition from correspondence letters to periodicals and similar topics. But it may well be the case that we in the area of legal history in particular say: Our subject is law and we take the methods from historical studies. But there are of course trends there in historical studies and it may well be that some of the articles are very legalistic and give less of a media studies perspective. But we can pay greater attention to this in the case of the articles which have yet to be published.

Professor Irene Dingel, IEG, Mainz

Mr Trischler, your observation that a project like European History Online is a project which grows contingently is a very important point in my view. This is perhaps one major difference between some online projects and print projects, which are discussed, worked on and polished up for much longer before they are presented to the public. EGO is, after all, a work in progress. The second observation which I find very important is the degree to which a project takes shape through those who participate in it. Just the decision on the composition of the editorial board, which in the case of EGO is "laden" with historians if I may say so, does of course determine what shape the project will subsequently take. And I take Ms Amodeo's comments as a warning to once again consider how these contingencies can be broken up by expanding the editorial board in a targeted way in order to bring in new perspectives: the opera, the bestsellers – to integrate topics into our spectrum of topics. But I have another question for you both: if one wishes to work in a consistently transdisciplinary fashion and to get all of the participating disciplines to work together on a particular subject area in order to incorporate the methods and knowledge of each, is it even possible to specify a track or a matrix of questions, such as for example historical actors, media and geographical contexts? After all, it is to be expected that the disciplinary spectrum – if it is not solely located in historical studies – in some cases may not be able to do justice to the central questions and research interests of the individual disciplines, if these disciplines are obliged to focus on historical actors, media, spaces and such things. Is this possible? Or does one need to think up a completely different way?

Helmuth Trischler

As I already said, I understand transdisciplinarity differently. Turning to interdisciplinarity, what is possible, what kind of requirements must one specify? I would even say that one must specify more rigid requirements, if one wants – as you have formulated it – to work in a consistently interdisciplinary way in order to incorporate the knowledge of each of the other disciplines, as well as their central questions and perspectives, and to make these compatible with history. Ultimately, EGO counts as a project by virtue of the fact that it is multi-perspective, but also through the fact that it is as coherent as possible. We have tried to incorporate threads which we must develop more and make more consistent the more serious we are about integrating other disciplines. Of course, this makes it all the more difficult to find experts from other disciplines who agree to adhere to these requirements and to fulfil them in the context of the specific central questions of their own discipline. I admit that there is a big pull in two directions, but I believe that ultimately success cannot be measured so much in terms of a supposedly large degree of interdisciplinarity, but more in terms of the coherence of the project itself. And it is of little benefit to incorporate different perspectives which are not compatible with the – in my view – very good requirements specified by EGO. Perhaps I have not emphasized enough that EGO is a successful project, a success story on a high level. But we are called upon to ask, what are the boundaries, where are the limits of what is doable, what has been achieved and what else can perhaps be made possible in a project which can and should continue to grow and develop further? There is indeed room to include further disciplines with their specific central questions. Many disciplines also contain a self-reflexive force; they examine the historical process of their own development. We could strengthen this disciplinary spectrum in EGO. It is up to us to do this.

Professor Immacolata Amodeo, Villa Vigoni, Loveno di Menaggio

I agree completely with Mr Trischler. I would not advise expanding the disciplinary spectrum too far, as the project might then lose its identity somewhat. In my commentary, I concentrated very much on my "homework". This invitation has given me the opportunity to examine this very fine project, which is very user-friendly, more intensively. Reading in EGO is very pleasant; the articles are not too long; it is aesthetically very appealing and friendly when one enters the site, and it is very easy to navigate around the site. Even if one does not have much time, the search function is very helpful for finding what one is looking for. And what I formulated as a suggestion regarding literature, opera and music is really completely contingent and is intended to be understood as completely contingent. If you had invited someone who had devoted themselves to the history of technology or the history of the natural sciences, then there would have been very different suggestions. For example, the big Treccani Enciclopedia in Italy has recently be made available in an online version with short entries; it combines images and texts in a somewhat similar way. But I think that EGO should not attempt to cover the entire spectrum of topics and disciplines because there are other projects which do this, the online version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example, and other encyclopaedia projects. I am not sure that it is necessary to expand the editorial board either. I would actually be more inclined to pass on this interdisciplinary perspective as encouragement to the authors. One can say that it is preferable that they go beyond the boundaries of their discipline here and there, but not in a forced way because I believe that European History Online should remain a historical project.

PD Dr Fritz Dross, Institute for History of Medicine and Medical Ethics, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg

I wanted to come back to the aspect of transdisciplinarity as defined by Mr Trischler. Since EGO is not printed but an internet platform, the question arises for me also, can EGO in the medium term – or perhaps even in the longer term – not be just a cause of debate, but also a site of debate? Is that at all possible in some form? How can a debate be held on this platform? Who would participate, and who would moderate it? Does this possibility enter into thoughts about the further development of EGO, or is it not considered at all?

Joachim Berger

Since the first sneak preview of EGO was presented to the public, we have been urged to incorporate a component which enables interaction and dialogue – Mr Trischler, you have expanded this request today – not just within the academic fraternity, but with the rest of society also. If one views EGO in the context of its own development, the project reflects the developments in digital publication and communication – we are perhaps a Web 1.5 project? Other digital publication projects in which IEG participates have also given us the impression that debate for the sake of debate is very hard to initiate in relatively small specialist communities in (specialist academic) internet forums, especially if the debate is not about digital communication itself or – as is the case in academic blogs – about very specialized questions. As far as I can see, debates that offer the possibility of academic "credits" still take place in the classical formats (reviews, responses, replies, etc.) in academic journals. My impression is that there are often general calls for an interactive forum, but when one asks academics about it in specific terms, they refer to the next review or to their next presentation, which – correctly – take precedence. But I would also like to put this question to the floor. Do you find that the interactive components that we have introduced, such as the option to comment on EGO articles via the European review platform recensio.net, are sufficient?

Professor Andreas Gestrich, German Historical Institute London

I think that one must decide in advance of embarking on such a project whether it is to be a "public history" or one that is aimed at an academic audience. Our articles are predominantly written within an academic sphere. This also changes the perspective on that which you, Mr Trischler, describe as transdisciplinarity. I think that the options are pretty limited in this regard, and perhaps our interest in this is also fairly limited. I would not place too much hope in this because the EGO project as a whole incorporates many disciplines. The good discussion forums are generally very specialized and not current, and perhaps it is not necessary to record the rest for all eternity.

Helmuth Trischler

You are completely right, Mr Gestrich. My point was that we have to be clear about what we want, what we have achieved and where we want to take it from here. The decision to take one or two steps from Web 1.5 towards Web 2.0 or 2.5 would have enormous consequences. I do not think that these demands can be met in the context of the funding and resource structures of EGO. It is therefore more appropriate – as you emphasize – to aim at a graded specialist audience and not "public history", which runs the risk of wanting everything and ending up with a great muddle. I was trying to clarify where we stand and where we want to take the project, what we can't do and what we can't hope to do.

Professor Jürgen Wilke, Institute of Media Studies and Communication, University of Mainz

I would like to comment on what Mr Gestrich said, to go back to the topic of transdisciplinarity. The EGO texts are not centred around a thesis, or a current state of debate. Rather, they are relatively balanced depictions of the state of knowledge and research, and therefore not designed as material for a discussion. And a second problem is, of course, whether it would be possible to find institutional partners who would be able to help implement this kind of a transfer beyond the disciplines. I don’t believe the "Leibniz-Institute of European History" could manage this on its own. So one would have to decide, does one include, for example, the "Federal Centre for Political Education" or the "State Centres for Political Education", as institutions in the public domain? After all, the "public" is generally speaking a very vague concept, particularly on the internet. And I think that it only has a certain standard where it has a certain institutional basis. And another comment on interdisciplinarity: it has been depicted here that it [the issue of interdisciplinarity] can be solved or has been resolved here primarily through the participation of academics from other disciplines. That can, of course, only be part of the problem because the origin of the problem is in historical studies itself. How interdisciplinarily does it [historical studies] work and assimilate new knowledge? There are always limits to this. This is obvious because selection must always occur, but therein lies an important point, and when one looks from a peripheral area like mine at a whole series of these articles, one notices that there are knowledge gaps. Indeed, one cannot blame the authors for this because they do not find the "mediality" of transfer processes in the material which they usually work with. Therefore, something – which I wish to come back to later – would have to occur in the collaborative phase.

Translated by: Niall Williams
Copy Editor: Claudia Falk

Citation

N.N.: Discussion Section 1, in: Joachim Berger (ed.), EGO | European History Online – Aims and Implementation, Mainz 2013-12-15. URL: http://www.ieg-ego.eu/discussion1-2013-en URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-20140217136 [YYYY-MM-DD].

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