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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Human Scale: Time on a Human Scale Public Lecture series - How to negotiate the modern regime of historicity (1870-1930)?

25th January 2017, 18:15 to 19:15, Rosemary Cramp Theatre, Calman Learning Centre, Durham University, Francois Hartog (Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales (EHESS))


François Hartog is a French historian and Chair of Modern and Antique Historiography at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. Born in 1946, Hartog attended the 'École normale supérieure. A former student of Jean-Pierre Vernant and assistant to Reinhart Koselleck, Hartog’s early work focused on the intellectual history of ancient Greece and historiography, while his recent work deals mainly with temporality.

His most recent book to be published in English, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (Columbia University Press, 2015, translated by Saskia Brown), engages our “ways of relating to the past, present, and future.” Hartog also tackles the concept of “presentism,” or how we adhere to present-day ideas to attempt to understand the past via interpretations of writing as the “motor of history” and the “contradictory qualities of our contemporary presentist relation to time.”


After a brief survey of the form and extension of what he called the modern régime of historicity, François Hartog wishes to look at the ways in which it has been accepted, utilized, criticized, or even refuted during the period 1870-1930.

He is going to try and ask how historians, among others, attempt to combine a full recognition of the idea of modern times, geared by progress, with the important task of reestablishing continuity of the French History beyond the gap of 1789 (Jules Michelet). Between 1848 and 1890, the centrality of Ernest Renan’s presence on the intellectual and political stage sheds light on what was at stake in understanding modern historicity in the later nineteenth century.

The break of the Great War will be addressed, notably, through Paul Valéry’s dismissal of History and through the unfinished novel of Robert Musil. We will also take a look at how some historians in the 20th century developed new answers to the crisis of the modern concept 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.