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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Human Scale: Time on a Human Scale Public Lecture series - Empty and Embodied Time: the disintegration of concepts of historial time in the twentieth century

23rd November 2016, 18:15 to 19:15, PG20, Pemberton Lecture Rooms, Palace Green, Professor Lucien Hoelscher (Ruhr-Universitat Bochum)


Lucian Hölscher, professor emeritus for modern history and theory of history at the University of Bochum, is one of the leading students of religion, temporality and historical theory in modern European history. His main areas of research include the history of religion, historical semantics and theory of historical eras. His Publications include: Semantik der Leere (Semantics of Emptiness, 2009); Geschichte der protestantischen Frömmigkeit in Deutschland (History of Protestant Piety in Germany, 2005), Neue Annalistik (New Annalistic Traditions, 2003).

One of Lucian Holscher's most widely recognized works was published in 1999, 'The Discovery of the Future'. Here, he tracked the history of the future in Europe, from its discovery in the early modern period up to the present day. He shows how, in cyclic patterns, the anticipatory perspective of the human race has been conquering more and more future spaces for over 300 years. In this way, our life in the present has become fundamentally oriented towards the future.


Holscher is now developing his concern with concepts of time and modernity and his lecture will address the theme by exploring two forms of Historical time in the modern era since 1700: the empty time concepts of Newton and Kant, leading to the modern world calendar, where everything is in temporal relation to one another; and the many concepts of embodied time, which have populated the modern world, including as much nations and classes as ideas, eras and many other objects of history, which all have their own time schedule. He argues for a greater concern for the concept of empty time, because it is the central medium of human life and communication, as can be demonstrated by going back to the controversy between Newton and Leibnitz in 1715.

He proposes to criticize recent concepts of time, such as Francois Hartog’s ideas of 'régimes of historicity‘ and 'presentism‘, and also today's prominent concept of 'acceleration‘. And he asks what kind of new insights we hope to get in focussing on questions of time.

Time on a Human Scale: modernity and the present in Europe, 1870-1930

On what scale do modern humans experience the flow of time? Can the passage of time in modernity be understood with concepts such as progress, revolutionary rupture or acceleration? Or do modern societies and cultures find a more ‘human’ scale of time – that of the present and near future – more conducive to living together? Many scholars have drawn attention to the phenomenon of ‘social acceleration’ in modern culture. And the dream of a utopian future has been at the heart of the modern imagination. But as these timeframes of the future have challenged and disturbed European society, it is increasingly important to find a way to understand the idea of the present, the most intimate scale of human existence.

From the later nineteenth century, artists, philosophers, politicians and sociologists tried to put human experience back into the modernist vision of change and progress. Pragmatic social reform, sociology, and the management of day-to-day politics reflected a sense of ‘disenchantment’ with the time-frames of social upheaval. But this shift to the present, away from the modernist dream, was in turn shaken up by the experience of World War, mass exile and genocide. Ultimately, these violent ruptures showed that Europe must re-calibrate its vision of time, finding a new ‘human scale’ for social and political change.

With an interdisciplinary workshop on 21st and 22nd September 2016 involving senior and upcoming scholars from around the UK, and a distinguished speaker series commencing 23rd November running through until May 2017 which will bring European scholars to Durham, this project will develop new perspectives on how the modern vision of time was recalibrated. It seeks a new understanding of the ‘human scale’ of time in philosophy, politics, literature, art and sociology. With the period 1870-1930 as its testing-ground, this interdisciplinary project offers both a new temporal perspective on this critical period in European history, and an opportunity to ask how European society in the early twenty-first century might itself benefit from the recalibration of time ‘on a human scale’.

All lectures are open to the public; dates, times, venues and speakers noted in the full calendar of events.

Contact Julian Wright, Department of History, for further information.

Contact for more information about this event.