Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für die Erforschung der Europäischen Aufklärung

Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg Siegel

Interdisciplinary Centre for European Enlightenment Studies

The IZEA was founded in 1990 as a central scientific institution of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. As a research institution for the history of culture and ideas, it explores the foundation of modern Western societies through the study of ideas and cultural patterns developed in the 18th century.

18th century studies

The research program includes research and publishing projects dedicated to a wide variety of themes, such as the history of universities, societies and communication; anthropology, aesthetics, culture and knowledge transfer, scholarly culture and literary forms of representation in the 18th century; the development of cultural patterns; the Enlightenment in global networks; and the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz.

Connected with the region's research institutions

The IZEA is located in the Red School, built in 1896, which was formerly the Higher School for Girls of the Francke Foundations. The IZEA houses a public library containing primary sources and research literature related to the Enlightenment in regional and European contexts. The Alexander von Humboldt Chair of Modern Written Culture and European Knowledge Transfer and the Immanuel-Kant-Forum also have their offices in the building.

Enlightenment studies in international networks

Thanks to its outstanding library, its publishing projects, its geographic proximity to important historic sites related to the Enlightenment (including extensive archives, libraries and art collections), and its partnerships with major cultural and scientific institutions,  the IZEA is now one of the most important international research institutes dedicated to the study of the Enlightenment, and is an essential meeting point for scientists from around the world.

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.

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