Now and Then: Temporal Comparisons
The subproject C03 is exploring the semantics of comparing in Europe since 1500. The main idea of the interdisciplinary workshop of the subproject on "Temporal Comparisons as Valuation Tools: Historical Semantics and Beyond" (5-6 Dec 2018) was to lay foundations for a large-scale study devoted to the semantics, argumentative structures, and pragmatic uses of temporal comparisons.
From time immemorial, past events and projections into the future served as anchors for evaluating historical development in general and the respective present time in particular. Whereas pessimists stressed human decline since the Golden Age or another idealized past, optimists praised progress irrevocably leading to salvation, communism, or market equilibrium. Comparisons between 'then' and 'now', or 'now' and 'afterwards'/'later' not only marked perceived differences in history, but also stressed politically and culturally relevant similarities. Notwithstanding the abundance of such and similar comparative evaluations is evident, surprisingly few attempts have been made to track down their vocabularies/syntactic structures, and, most importantly, link these constructions to specific languages, periods, political disputes, or literary genres.
The benefits of an interdisciplinary study of historical comparisons were demonstrated in the opening lecture "From Parallel to Comparison (18th-19th centuries)" delivered by François Hartog (EHESS, France), the Koselleck Visiting Professor at Bielefeld University in 2018. In the subsequent presentations, the comparative structures in literary, scholarly and political discourse were subjected to cross evaluation from the standpoints of traditional historical semantics, general rhetoric, history of political discourse and conversation analysis. All in all, the workshop proceedings (which are planned to be published in one of the peer-reviewed scholarly journals on the subject) highlight the importance of historical semantics as a discipline well-suited for integrating diverse scholarly approaches to the practices of comparing.
Photos: Rebecca Moltmann