European intellectual history as contemporary history

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The first part of this essay examines the peculiar role European intellectual history played in coming to terms with the twentieth century as an 'Age of Extremes' and the different weight it was given for that task at different times and in different national contexts up to the 1970s. The second part looks at the contemporary history of politically focused intellectual history - and the possible impact of the latter on the writing of contemporary history in general: it will be asked how the three great innovative movements in the history of political thought which emerged in the last fifty years have related to the practice of contemporary history: the German school of conceptual history, the 'Cambridge School', and the 'linguistic turn'. The third part focuses on recent trends to understand processes of liberalization-as opposed to the older search for causes of political extremism. It is also in the third part that the so far rather Euro-centric perspective is left behind, as attempts to create an intellectual history of the more or less new enemies of the West are examined. Finally, the author pleads for a contemporary intellectual history that seeks novel ways of understanding the twentieth century and the 'newest history' since 1989 by combining tools from conceptual history and the Cambridge School.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)574-590
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Bielefeld School
  • Cambridge School
  • communism
  • nazism
  • socialism


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