Histoire publique Histoire contemporaine européenne

A new narrative for Europe: Quo vadis?

A new narrative for Europe: Quo vadis?
How do historians investigate the past? What methods and tools do they employ, what are they trying to understand, and how do they transfer their findings to society?

Historiography, or the “history of history”, is a multifaceted concept that is constantly shifting in scope and focus. Whereas in the 19th century historiography was mainly centred on examining discourse on method and the different ways of writing history, in the 20th century it has tended to focus more on historians themselves, on their view of history, their output and their acquisition of new expertise through contact with other disciplines (natural sciences, philosophy, humanities and social science).

History is the science of change and, in many respects, a science of differences.1

In the current age of globalisation and new digital technologies, the democratisation of education, the proliferation of history “producers” (the media, authorities, learned societies, communities, citizens, etc.), new ways of creating and sharing knowledge (search engines, online publications, forums and blogs), research on the past (seen as a collective right and duty) and socio-economic developments – including those specifically related to the discipline of history – have given new meanings to historiography and imposed new requirements on historians.2 Although their research continues to look at societies, players and ideas from a long-term perspective, other temporalities are now emerging (the notion of “social time”, economic cycles, currency movements and shifting prices), leading to new demarcations for historical periods that shed light on previously hidden changes and developments.

Working at the intersection of past, present and future and at the junction of national and cross-national frameworks, historians conjecture on the future – or futures –,3 constructing scenarios that have not yet taken place (“counterfactual history”). Collecting and critically analysing sources remains crucial, but the realm of resources is expanding and becoming increasingly varied, with physical sources now being overtaken by virtual sources. In addition to written texts, historians are turning to images, audiovisual material and born-digital resources – and the profusion of these easily accessible resources is raising questions as to their use and sustainable preservation. Increasing attention is also being paid to the changing concepts and language used by historians – the “linguistic turn” –, casting doubt on the permanence of words and ideas and encouraging endless new interpretations and evaluations. Questions of interdisciplinarity and scale (local, national or global), together with a new focus on specific issues, are giving rise to innovative approaches, resulting in new subdisciplines such as global history, postcolonial and subaltern studies, “crisisology” (an epistemological approach to complex scenarios), “histotainment”4 (a trend in public history) and gender history (the social construction of gender differences). The impact of new information and communication technologies is leading to fundamental changes in terms of methodology, analytical tools, the relationships between historians (collaborative work and networking) and academic practice itself, with digital history serving to democratise and improve access to the field.

The history of Europe is by no means a history of certainties; it is the history of the European question; the history of a thought process that historians must renew on an ongoing basis.5

So how does contemporary European history fit into this picture? As a young research field that emerged in the late 1970s, European integration history is very much a part of this process. Initially focused on the plans for economic and political unity on the continent, it was the preserve of political scientists, economists and legal experts, who offered specific interpretations and perspectives; it then turned towards other subdisciplines of historical research, including social and cultural history, international relations and contemporary history. The historiography of European integration has therefore often attracted criticism for being a science designed to legitimise a political process. It was originally characterised by a federalist-based narrative, followed by a more intergovernmentalist vision and, more recently, a contemporary approach increasingly influenced by the international perspective and the social dimension.

The challenges currently facing historians attempting to write the history of European integration are twofold: they must deal with both paradigmatic changes in the discipline and the geopolitical upheavals that have swept the continent since the late 20th century (the fall of communism, the tribulations of the European Union, and latterly Brexit, the gap between institutions and citizens, the socio-economic consequences of the global financial crisis and changing Euro-Atlantic relations). In this context, today’s historians need to find answers to a number of fundamental questions. How can they write and recount contemporary European history at a time when real events are overtaking our prospective imagination and when the rules, grammar and codes have all shifted significantly? How can they develop a comprehensive, 360-degree view of Europe and its place in the world?  How can they foster a new vision of European history by means of a comparative, multifaceted and democratic approach? How can they strike a balance between the resurgence of identity-based national historical narratives and the development of a unified narrative of European history? What role should interdisciplinarity, new digital methodologies, interactive approaches and networking play in analysing and interpreting sources? How can historians tell the story of European integration – the story of Europe – in the digital age?

To explore these questions in more depth, the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), Paris-Sorbonne University’s LabEx-EHNE and the European Parliament would like to invite you to the fifth ForumZ, entitled A new narrative for Europe: Quo vadis?, which will take place on

Friday 13 October 2017 from 18.00 to 19.30

at the University of Luxembourg’s Belval Campus (Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) – 6, avenue du Swing, L-4367 Belvaux.

This event will be led by Prof. Dr Andreas Fickers, Director of the C²DH. It will open with a presentation by Prof. Dr Eric Bussière, Professor at Paris-Sorbonne University, holder of the Jean Monnet Chair in European Integration History and Director of the LabEx-EHNE, who will look at the challenges and questions surrounding the writing of a new history for Europe.




  • 1. M. Bloch, “Que demander à l’histoire?” In Mélanges historiques, Paris, CNRS republication, 2011 [1937], pp. 3-15 [our translation].
  • 2. F. Hadler and M. Moddell, “Challanges of the History of Historiography in an Age of Globalization”. In Q. Edward Wang, Fillafer (ed.), The Many Faces of Clio. Cross-cultural Approaches to Historiography. Essays in Honor of George G. Iggers. New York: Berghahn, 2007, pp. 293-306.
  • 3. R. Koselleck. Le futur passé, Paris: Editions de l’EHESS, 1990.
  • 4. “History as entertainment”. Term used by Wolfgang Hartwig, Verlust der Geschichte, Berlin: Vergangenheitsverlag, 2010, p. 18.
  • 5. R .Frank, “Une histoire problématique, une histoire du temps présent”. In Revue d’histoire, 2001/3 (no.  71), pp. 79-89,  cit. p. 89 [our translation].