International Research School in Conceptual History and Political Thought


An Interdisciplinary Conference and Research Training Course,
in connection with CONCEPTA

Central European University Budapest, 13-15 October 2011
Organized by Helge Jordheim (Oslo), Jörn Leonhard (Freiburg) and Balázs Trencsényi (Budapest)

After a long dominance of nations and nation states in historiography, empires – ancient, early modern and modern alike - attract our attention again. Even a superficial look at what is called ‘empire’ today shows how much this basic historical concept has come to embrace almost all spheres of political discourse, leading to an inflation of meanings in a variety of contexts. “Empire”, “imperialism” and “colonialism” have so much permeated our analytical and everyday language that Stephen Howe was probably right to conclude that ‘imperialism has gone imperial, colonialism has colonized our language.’

While this general observation may be rather uncontroversial, we still know very little about the actual processes of semantic change surrounding the concept of “empire” and the related field of concepts (“imperial”, “imperialism”). The planned conference will have a double focus: It will concentrate on semantic changes in diachronic perspective - its causes and consequences – as well as on the comparison between different spaces of experience. The analysis is hence planned for a long-term perspective, ranging from early modern examples to modern discourses on “empire” and acting “imperial” and in terms of the comparative analysis of linguistic communities, nations and world regions.

The various concepts of “empire” meant different things at different times and in different contexts. Hence we are interested to bring together and compare the use of the concept in specific contexts of action. One of the conference’s lead questions is whether there developed a kind of macro-historical semantics of “empire”, an ideal-type that could be applied to different times and different contexts, or whether the semantics behind the concept, the metaphor or the ideology differed essentially.

This event is planned as a two-day workshop with experts on specific aspects in particular epochs and regions and with young researchers. They do not have to be experts on the historical semantics of the concept, but we encourage all interested to visit or revisit their source materials with which they are familiar from earlier or current research with a particular focus on the semantic field surrounding the term “empire”.

In this context Ph.D. students and other young researchers will have the opportunity to present their works in progress and get feedback from experienced scholars from different fields. Due to the genuinely interdisciplinary nature of conceptual history, we invite researchers from across the entire spectrum of human and social sciences to send in abstracts. In accordance with the proven model for Concepta International Research Training Courses ( there will be both key note lectures and panels on particular questions and topics.

The core questions of the conference will be:

•    Where can we identify shifts in meaning and usage of “empire”?
•    How was and how is the concept and how were and are contrasting and complementary terms applied?
•    Is it possible to identify strategic usages of these concepts in particular in conflict situations?
•    What does the comparative dimension and processes of historical transfer - the import, export and re-import of semantics from other languages and spaces of experience - add to our understanding of the semantics of “empire”?
•    How, when and why do processes of appropriation and translation (imperium – empire – Reich) take place?

We particularly welcome case studies that include aspects from the following thematic fields:

•    early modern and modern empires
•    continental and maritime empires
•    contrasting perspectives from metropolitan societies and colonized societies
•    empire and imperialism
•    critiques of empire and imperialism
•    the uses of “empire” as a counter-concept (e.g. republic vs. empire)
•    meaning of empire in the context of decolonization and the discourses on post-colonial cultures
•    particular cases: Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, Ottoman, Russian, Habsburg, British, American Empire

Applications for participation should include a short CV, and an abstract (1-2 pages) of the prospective paper (20 minutes). The working language of the workshop is English. The deadline of applications is 01 June 2011. The applications should be addressed to Helge Jordheim, The selected participants will be notified by 01 July. Financial assistance toward travel and accommodation expenses is provided by CONCEPTA ( to a limited extent so applicants are kindly requested to indicate in their application to what extent they are able to cover their expenses and in case they need assistance also their estimation of travel expenses. Those who do not receive support the organizers will advise on finding cheap accommodation in Budapest.