Conceptul de istorie

TitleConceptul de istorie
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsPăltineanu, Oana Sînziana
Author(s) of reviewed materialKoselleck, Reinhard

book Title translated: History. The German original appeared as Reinhart Koselleck, “Geschichte”, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbergriffe. Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland (Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta’sche Buchhandlung Nachfolger GmbH, 1975), p. 647-717.
Romanian translation from the German original by Victor Neumann and Patrick Lavrits.

PublisherIaşi: Editura Universităţii „Alexandru Ioan Cuza"
Review year


Full Text

Thirty years after its original publication in German, Victor Neumann and Patrick Lavrits translated Reinhart Koselleck’s article “Geschichte” into Romanian in 2005. The original article was included in the second volume of the monumental basic dictionary Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, edited by O. Brunner, W. Conze, and R. Koselleck and published between 1972 and 1997. The book launch in Romania, attended also by Koselleck, preceded another remarkable event at the University of West in Timişoara, where the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa was conferred on him in May 2005. These were two of the most significant steps taken in the direction of Begriffsgeschichte-types of explorations in post-communist Romania.
The translation of this important piece of scholarship should be set against the background that I will attempt to sketch here – for further insights, please see Sorin Antohi’s article on the formation of the modern social-political vocabulary in the Romanian culture, elaborated in his Civitas Imaginalis. Istorie şi utopie în cultura română (Iaşi: Polirom, 1999). Arguably, the background to the (future) practice of conceptual history, or what may be called a pre-history of conceptual history in the Romanian national context up to 1989, can be mapped mostly in the 1980s. In this decade, the lines of analyses, when taken together, may be said to have shown some sensitivity towards issues of political languages, concepts, or vocabularies. Thus, the definition of conceptual history employed here does not refer directly or only to the German tradition and works inspired by its chief promoter Reinhart Koselleck.
In the 1980s, the only institutionally coordinated beginnings in this direction took place in Bucharest, where a group of researchers brought together by the cultural historian Alexandru Duţu from the Institute of South-Eastern European Studies, researched the Romanian social-political vocabulary as part of the larger and ambitious research project they established in 1980 and called “The Social-Political Vocabulary of the South-Eastern Languages during the 19th Century.” Among the researchers involved, Zamfira Mihail, Lidia Simion, and Lia Brad-Chisacof clearly demonstrated the influence of both Klaus Bochmann’s previous work on the Romanian social-political vocabulary (1821-1850) and that of the first volumes of Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Moreover, Bochmann also influenced Pompiliu Teodor, a prominent Romanian cultural historian from the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, whose analysis of the Romanian political Enlightenment pointed, admittedly somewhat remotely in the direction of exploring semantic nets. In the same loosely defined category, mention should also be made of Ştefan Lemny with his monograph The origin and the crystallization of the idea of fatherland in the Romanian culture (1986), although his work bears the mark of the Annaliste approach, and Vlad Georgescu with his History of Romanian Political Ideas, published in 1987 in Germany, where he set the ambitious task of writing a history of Romanian political concepts over a period of six centuries (1369-1878). Last but not least, Rodica Bogza Irimie conducted her Ph.D. research on the social-political vocabulary of the first Romanian newspapers through employing a methodology specific to French linguistics.
Having briefly mentioned these authors and some of their major works, the preliminary conclusion that can be drawn does not portray an ideal start to the (future) practice of conceptual history in Romania. On the contrary, these beginnings can be characterized as fragmented and disconnected, given the larger context in which there was relatively little scholarly interaction between the Western and the Eastern historiographies during Communism. Changes between the 1980s pre-history of conceptual history in the Romanian context and the post-1989 period in the Romanian historiography are a must, as it is called for by Victor Neumann and Patrick Lavrits’ translation of the article “Geschichte.” Even if the details of these necessary changes are not the subject matter of this translation review, the questions of how a minor culture, such as the Romanian one, uses conceptual history and what its agenda-setting should be ought to be posed. Following this remarkable translation, professor and historian Victor Neumann published several articles on this topic in some important magazines. In Revista Orizont, Neumann put forth one possible agenda that resulted from applying conceptual history to the Romanian case. In a nutshell, his view is that the practice of conceptual history should be meant to clarify “identities” and representations of “civil society” in order to create a pluralistic political culture and open new perspectives upon the past and the future. This well articulated agenda will hopefully initiate a much needed debate on the interpretations, uses, and benefits of conceptual history in the context of this specific national case.