ⓘ Conceptual history

Conceptual history

ⓘ Conceptual history

Conceptual history is a branch of historical and cultural studies that deals with the historical semantics of terms. It sees the etymology and the change in meaning of terms as forming a crucial basis for contemporary cultural, conceptual and linguistic understanding. Conceptual history deals with the evolution of paradigmatic ideas and value systems over time, such as "liberty" or "reform". It argues that social history – indeed all historical reflection – must begin with an understanding of historically contingent cultural values and practices in their particular contexts over time, not merely as unchanging ideologies or processes.

Interest in conceptual history was given a particular boost in the 20th century through the publication of the Historisches Worterbuch der Philosophie, the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, and the journal Archiv fur Begriffsgeschichte.

Conceptual history is an interdisciplinary methodology. Alongside the philosopher Joachim Ritter, the historians Otto Brunner and Reinhart Koselleck, and the sociologist Erich Rothacker are viewed as its pioneers in the German-speaking world and internationally. Raymond Williams was the leading scholar in the English-speaking world. Today, conceptual history is promoted by the History of Concepts Group and its peer-reviewed journal Contributions to the History of Concepts under the lead of Margrit Pernau, Jan Ifversen, and Jani Marjanen. Examples of conceptual histories include a genealogy of the concept of globalization drawing on the approach of Williams written by Paul James and Manfred B. Steger:

Although keywords represent a critical mass of the vocabulary of any given era, the history of their meaning construction often remains obscure. "Globalization" is no exception. While the meanings of other seminal "keywords" such as "economics", "culture", or "modernity" evolved rather slowly and built upon a relatively continuous base, "globalization" has had a very short and discontinuous history.

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