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States, Bureaucracies, and Time

In writing political histories of the modern world, historians often interrogate the ‘state’, elucidating exactly what that meant over time, the development of bureaucracies, and their temporal horizons. The most influential historian to do this in the post-WWII era was Rinhart Koselleck. Koselleck spent years thinking about the Prussian bureaucracy at the turn of the nineteenth century and from this work, developed some of the most stimulating reflections on time for our discipline. In this seminar, we will read his famous work, Futures Past, in which Koselleck explores shifting perceptions and conceptions of historical time. We will relate this back to his earlier work on the Prussian bureaucracy and forward to the many interesting studies of time that have developed since the first publication of Futures Past in German in 1979.

Core Reading:

Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. By Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)

Seminar Questions:

1. What are some of the shifting conceptions of historical time that have emerged since the eighteenth century?
2. How have past and future become ‘relocated’ according to Koselleck?
3. What impact have new conceptions of time had?

Further Readings:

  • Niklas Olsen, History in the Plural: An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck (New York: Berghahn, 2012).
  • Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Staat und Gesellschaft in Preußen, 1815-1848’, in Staat und Geselleschaft im Deutschen Vormärz, 1815-1848 Sieben Beiträge, ed. by Werner Conze (Stuttgart: Ernst Klett Verlag, 1962), pp. 79-112.