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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Human Scale: Time on a Human Scale Public Lecture series - Crisis as a Temporal Category in Historical Writing. Continuity and Discontinuity

2nd March 2017, 18:15 to 19:15, Seminar Room 1, Department of History, North Bailey (Revised Venue), Javier Fernandez Sebastien (University of the Basque Country)


The aim of Professor Fernández-Sebastián's talk is to survey the uses of the concept of crisis applied to the political-social sphere, especially to historiography, in the first theories of historical crises in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Analysis of the vocabularies of crisis and its gradual expansion might help us to gain some insight into how ideas of crisis were diffused in European culture, particularly Iberian culture. The analysis also suggests some wider reasons for the extraordinary success of the idea of crisis as a category in historical and social sciences over the past two centuries.


Javier Fernández-Sebastián is a professor of History of Political Thought at the Universidad del País Vasco (Bilbao, Spain). He has published extensively on modern intellectual and conceptual history, in particular focused on Spain and the Ibero-American world. He has recently published the article “A World in the Making: Discovering the Future in the Hispanic World” (Contributions to the History of Concepts 11(2) 2016) and he co-edited, with W. Steinmetz and M. Freeden, the volume Conceptual History in the European Space (Berghahn, 2017, forthcoming).

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.