"The Temporal Anarchy of Historical Comparison"
Ethan Kleinberg began his talk with the preface that when you compare you are also arranging time. The temporal dimension therefore played a crucial role in his talk, beginning with the definition of temporal anarchy, leading over to the presentation of different concepts of the past. One example for that would be the 'fear of the ghost' (of the past), for example in "A Christmas Carol", interpreting Scrooge as a historian for whom it is pointless to put events in order.
Following these concepts Kleinberg continued with the question how scholarly comparison works. An observation was that comparison evokes generalization which can (potentially) suppress elements of difference. In this context another temporal aspect is that the generalized notion of time is the basis for historical comparison. Thus, the possibilities of comparison in History are restricted, because History is bound to temporality - in contrast to comparative literature, for example. The desire to construct a universal history can only be recognized as being impossible. An answer for that could be particular chronologies or temporalities.
In a fourth point Ethan Kleinberg talked about the 'Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen', temporal anarchy and the parallel existence of multiple sociocultural times, temporarily equal, but different in development. Different logics of time are a key element/logic of historical comparison, Kleinberg stated.
You can listen to Ethan Kleinberg's talk in the colloquium on our website under "Audio" and the SFB 1288 colloquium category.
Ethan Kleinberg is Professor of History and Letters at Wesleyan University, Editor-in-Chief of "History and Theory" and Director of Wesleyan University's Center for the Humanities.
Photos: Rebecca Moltmann