Activities of the Centre
The work of the IZEA seeks to combine the following basic principles:
- The historical research of the Enlightenment with the question of its current relevance and validity
- The regional characteristics of the Enlightenment with the European perspective
- The publication and editing of primary sources with the development of new approaches to the study of the Enlightenment
- Specialised, discipline-oriented research with joint interdisciplinary research
- The scientific benefits of collaborative projects with the neighbouring cultural institutions with the public appeal of their cultural offer
Reflections on Periodization
The 18th century should not be simply understood as a period used to delineate a set of possible research topics. One of the aspirations of the IZEA, as a centre for Enlightenment Studies with national and international resonance, is to raise the question of the concept of an era of the “Enlightenment”, of its specificities, and of its qualitative position in the historical process. The ongoing theoretical doubts about the idea of “historical units”– be it eras or even “History” itself – have not settled these questions. Rather we should incorporate these doubts in the research as an awareness of the constructed aspect of any concept of era or history. The outcome of the discussions that we have led in the last few years is a concept of era which is naturally subject to continuous revision. In this concept,
- the historical novelty of the enlightened postulate of autonomy is explained as the ambition to autonomously shape all aspects of life, as well as addressing all men
- such postulate of autonomy unfolds as a process of both indeterminacy and certainty
- we understand the other concepts, practices, and institutions developed in the long eighteenth century as answers to this ambivalence, answers which acted as new models of guidance
This understanding of the Enlightenment is a response to the loss of credibility from which the concept of Enlightenment, as emphatic outcome of the agenda of its time, has suffered from early on. It addresses the main points of focus of the Enlightenment, while at the same time relativizing it historically speaking. The ambivalences of the process of Enlightenment, already pointed out by its proponents as well as by its critics and the scholarship, incorporates this understanding of the era, without discounting it as a mere effect of tradition or as resistances to be overcome: The view presented here also considers as truly part of the Enlightenment the coercion to freedom, the new systems of order which were put into place as a reply to it, as well as the interferences with what was left of the tradition. Moreover, the Enlightenment, in the ambivalence of the new freedom it brought about, may further be understood as still being a prevailing issue in today’s world.
Reflections on Methodology
As an institution where scholars from so many disciplines work, the IZEA considers it its task not only to put interdisciplinarity into practice, but also to reflect upon it. Through the organisation of interdisciplinary conferences and series of lectures focussing on methodological issues, the IZEA brings to light the respective inputs of the various methodological approaches of the disciplines involved and puts them in relationship with one another. It equally promotes discussions on methodology within each field as well as cross-disciplinary discussions on theory. To that one may add an appeal for a fundamental reflection on the relationship between disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. The particular expertise brought about by each field is no less important for the IZEA, on the contrary, each discipline is rather considered according to its specific potential for the study of the Enlightenment.
The IZEA strives to stimulate the study of the Enlightenment as a whole through a series of editing projects. The Centre wishes to make accessible its unusually extensive corpus of sources not only through its in-house library, but also by providing scientific editions of essential texts and making national and international research on this theme available to scholars. For this reason, our staff is actively working on a series of sometimes voluminous edition projects based on both local and foreign sources. The research outcomes and a systematic perspective on such research are presented in manuals and lexica prepared by the Centre. In order to reach the widest possible audience, the IZEA makes available online a part of its materials and bibliographies, compiled here.
Exchange within the scientific community
The IZEA fulfils its function as a forum for Enlightenment studies by supporting scientific exchange at various levels. Important international conferences regularly take place at the IZEA, and the Centre also hosts smaller international specialised workshops. In 2015, the IZEA was for the third time (after 2010 and 2003) the venue for the annual conference of the DGEJ, entitled “Erzählende und erzählte Aufklärung – Narrating Enlightenment and Enlightenment Narrative”. Members of the IZEA regularly take part as representatives of their field of research in the congresses of international societies for the study of the eighteenth century, for example recently in Vancouver (ASECS 2011) and Rotterdam (ISECS 2015). Each semester, a series of lectures is organised, during which mostly international speakers present their current research. Thanks to the funding of the DAAD, the Swiss National Fund, or the Humboldt Foundation, foreign scholars come regularly to the IZEA for short or longer-term stays. Since 1995, 56 volumes (until May 2016) appeared in the series “Hallesche Beitrage zur Europäischen Aufklärung”, published by de Gruyter. The quality and coherence of the series is ensured by assessment by the board of directors of all internal and external proposals. The series “Kleine Schriften des IZEA” (first volume published in 2009, Mitteldeutschen Verlag), whose volumes are narrower in scope, can be used for a faster publication of programmatically important contributions for the study of the Enlightenment.
Cooperation with cultural institutions
No less important for the IZEA is the cooperation with other institutions and centres for the study of the eighteenth century, locally or in the region.
An overview of our partners can be found here.
Support for young scholars
As one of the two institutional pillars of the Centre of Excellence “Enlightenment – Religion – Knowledge” (along with the neighbouring IZP) the IZEA constitutes a centre for the support of young scholars. The associated graduate college, financed by the state of Saxony-Anhalt, has supported forty-two doctoral and postdoctoral students since 2006, in academic as well as in financial terms. In addition, since the winter semester of 2009/2010 an interdisciplinary-oriented master program, “Cultures of the Enlightenment”, has been put into place.