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Research funding for ReThink members from Kone Foundation (2022-2024)

Research funding for ReThink members from Kone Foundation (2022-2024)

Kone Foundation awarded funding for two 3-year long ReThink members’ projects in their 2021 call. Read more:

Jonas Ahlskog & Natan Elgabsi: “Doing Justice to to Experience: Relations to the Difficult Past in History and Memory” (237 600 e)

What role should witness accounts and collective memory have in professional historical research? The main objective of the present research project is to solve this question. For this task, the project will offer two connected innovations in historical theory. These innovations are: (i) a theoretical account that shows how, and to what extent, the experiential dimension that witness accounts offer can be incorporated in historical modes of understanding the past, and (ii) a new understanding of the authority of historical research that gives legitimacy to the historian’s role as a memory critic. The project offers, on the one hand, a deeper understanding of the proper ways in which testimony and memory have a valid role to play in historical research, and, on the other hand, theoretical tools for defending the authority of historical research in relation to collective memory and witness accounts. Contrary to contemporary work in the field, the project argues that it is only by attending to conceptual distinctions between history and memory that one can correctly appreciate the proper role of memory and testimony in historical research. The innovations of the project are achieved by (i) re-engaging classical work on the methodological distinctiveness of historical understanding and (ii) by utilizing insights about testimonial knowledge from contemporary philosophy. The main hypothesis of the project is that these two factors has been overlooked in hitherto historical theory about the role of testimony in historical research. Thus, the project will address this lack by showing the ways in which a proper understanding of testimonial knowledge and the methods of history advances our understanding of how the experiential dimension of witness accounts can be incorporated in historical modes of understanding the past. The project has far-reaching effects and impact for questions about the public relevance and authority of historical research.

Ilkka Lähteenmäki: “Making Sense on History Across Media” (123 000 e)

[Abstract in Finnish] Tutkimus kartoittaa populaarihistorian ominaisuuksia. Erityistä huomiota kiinnitetään kasvavaan haasteeseen, jonka ei-kirjallinen esittäminen muodostaa historiankirjoitukselle. Vaikka historiantutkimus suuntautuukin paljolti tekstin tuottamiseen, ”historia” ei rajoitu akateemiseen tutkimukseen. Akateemiset historioitsijat ovatkin kokeneet ei-kirjallisen historian tuottamisen vaikeaksi. Akatemian ulkopuolella historiaa (laajasti ymmärrettynä) esiintyy kuitenkin jatkuvasti populaarimediassa ja asiantuntija organisaatioiden projekteissa: elokuvissa, televisiosarjoissa, peleissä, näyttelyissä (niin virtuaalisissa kuin fyysisissäkin) yms. Tutkimus keskittyykin populaariin historiakulttuuriin tunnistaakseen eri mediamuotojen heikkoudet ja vahvuudet suhteessa historian esittämisen tiedollisiin vaatimuksiin. Keskeinen kysymys tutkimuksessa onkin: ”Voidaanko historiantutkimuksen piirissä esittää historiaa ei-kirjallisessa muodossa, ja jos voidaan niin miten tämä tulisi tehdä?” Tutkimuksessa analysoidaan jo olemassa olevia ei-kirjallisia historiaesityksiä, joiden tavoitteet vaihtelevat tiedollisista ja kasvatuksellista aina viihteeseen ja kokemuksellisuuteen. Rippumatta esitysten tavoitteista (tai faktuaalisuudesta) kaikilla näillä on oma vaikutuksensa siihen, miten muodostamme käsityksemme menneisyydestä. Aineistoa analysoidaan historianfilosofian, historiakulttuurin, historiateorian ja mediatutkimuksen tarjoamien viitekehysten läpi. Tämän analyysin pohjalta rakennetaan populaarin historiakulttuurin typografia ja esitetään laajempi historianfilosofinen teoriaviitekehys, joka huomioi medioiden vahvuudet, heikkoudet ja mahdollisuudet historian esittämiselle tulevaisuudessa. Tutkimus tuottaa uutta teoriaa tukemaan niin tulevaa akateemista historiantutkimusta kuin asiantuntijaorganisaatioita, jotka ovat jo käytännön työssään kohdanneet digitaalisuuden mukanaan tuoman historian esittämisen murroksen.

Research funding for the “Eye on History” project (2021-2026)

Research funding for the “Eye on History” project (2021-2026)

The Academy of Finland awarded ReThink member Marjaana Puurtinen with Academy Research Fellow funding (450 000 e) for her project titled “Eye on History: How Experts and Novices Deal with Visual Representations of the Past”. Several other ReThink members will act as collaborators during the five-year project.

The “Eye on History” project studies how historians, history students and history enthusiasts view practices of historical research and of presenting the past in non-textual contexts. In practice, eye-tracking methodology is used to study how history workers and consumers interpret the past in images, virtual environments and historical milieus. The project collaborates with three Finnish history museums and science centers as well as with a historical society, and empirical materials collected according to the research tradition in educational sciences will be also used for theoretical reflection on history. The project provides research-based information on the various ways of interpreting the past in visuals and supports the development of history education in different types of learning environments from schools to museums. Results are also expected to encourage public debate about the diversity of conceptions of history and their impact on interpretation.

Please see the funding decision.

Double article alert: New articles on ethics and historical consciousness

Double article alert: New articles on ethics and historical consciousness

Announcing two recent articles by Silvia Edling, Heather Sharp, Jan Löfström & Niklas Ammert on historical consciousness and ethical considerations! Details below.

Silvia Edling, Heather Sharp, Jan Löfström & Niklas Ammert (2020) The good citizen: Revisiting moral motivations for introducing historical consciousness in history education drawing on the writings of Gadamer. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education, 19(2)

Abstract: Historical consciousness is regarded as an important means to stimulate moral citizens through history education. This article conceptually examines the moral dimension associated with historical consciousness by revisiting the paradigm wars between natural science based on positivism and human and social sciences during the 1960s–1990s as expressed through the voice of Gadamer. More specifically, the article explores: (1) the moral arguments that Gadamer put forward for introducing historical consciousness and (2) the epistemological and ontological building blocks for approaching morality in history education that his arguments brought to the fore. In general, moral consciousness in relation to historical consciousness draws attention to: (a) people’s life conditions, (b) that moral reasoning and practice are influenced by feelings and reason, (c) that reflections on past events can help to interpret our ways of being towards others in the present and future, (d) that a plurality of people, thoughts and history are important to acknowledge and (e) that every person is part of creating history and responsible for weaving the past/present/future web in ways that acknowledge others.

Silvia Edling, Heather Sharp, Jan Löfström & Niklas Ammert (2020) Why is ethics important in history education? A dialogue between the various ways of understanding the relationship between ethics and historical consciousness. Ethics and Education, 15(3)

Abstract: In light of current tendencies, where appreciating plurality and uphold everyone’s equal value is being questioned from different directions, there is arguably a need to revive the ethical dimension of history education as a way of learning about difficult histories, including traumatic pasts. Since the 1970s historical consciousness has played an important role in articulating an approach to history with an ethical mindset. Although many theories suggest that there is a connection between ethics and historical consciousness, a deeper understanding of this link is generally absent. This article discusses selected key texts by major researchers in the field, namely Rüsen, Seixas and Morton, Chinnery, and Simon. Their texts reflect four different perspectives, which, in this article are kept in dialogue with one another as a way of stimulating and sharpening ethical understanding and judgement in history education through the theoretical toolbox offered.

PhD Theses alert: Engaging History in the Media – Building a Framework for interpreting historical presentations as worlds

PhD Theses alert: Engaging History in the Media – Building a Framework for interpreting historical presentations as worlds

Ilkka Lähteenmäki succesfully defended his dissertation in December 2019. The electronic version of the dissertation is available through Oulu University Library, or just use this link. The electronic version lacks previously published journal articles. If those are of interest the Ilkka is more than happy to send you copies.

Article alert: “Historians and conceptual change in history itself: The domain as a unit of analysis”

Article alert: “Historians and conceptual change in history itself: The domain as a unit of analysis”

Please check out the recent theoretical paper by Mikko Kainulainen, Marjaana Puurtinen and Clark Chinn, published in International Journal of Educational Research in fall 2019, via this link.

Abstract: Along their path towards expertise, historians undergo conceptual changes. The purpose of this theoretical paper is to argue that conceptual change in history involves, first, a fundamental shift from an understanding of history as the past to an understanding of history as human production. And second, expert conceptual change involves understanding multiple approaches to the production of history. Each approach is associated with constraints on historical concepts and meta-concepts. We outline differences and similarities between these broad approaches through a framework that merges epistemic cognition and historical theory. Currently, there exists no singular conception of history to set as an unproblematic aim of epistemic education, and conceptual change must therefore embrace the aim of understanding of multiple conceptions.

Elsevier logo from Wikimedia Commons.

Conference Follow-Up: 3rd INTH Conference: Place and Displacement

Conference Follow-Up: 3rd INTH Conference: Place and Displacement

The third installment of International Network of Theory of History’s biennial conference series took place August 20. – 22. 2018 in Stockholm. The two previous iterations of the conferences took place in Ghent, Belgium (2013) and Ouro Preto, Brasil (2016) INTH conferences are a very important event for the field of theory (and philosophy) of history as it is not yet a very solidly established research field in the academia.


Rethinking Historian’s Expertise -network had a large representation on the premises with several of its members presenting their work in different sessions.


Rethink Networks Representation at the Event in Alphabetical Order

Jonas Ahlskog: Existential history and the presence of the past
Jonas delved into the concept of “presence” by discussing R.G. Collingwood’s works in relation to the contemporary discussion of presence that has been going on by for example Eelco Runia.

Natan Elgabsi: The Reality We Must Face
Natan took a dive into the idea, originally presented by Cora Diamond, called “difficulty of reality” and how the idea responds to descriptions of the past. In his talk Natan brought forth the interesting (and important) question of how incapable we are to engage with the real experiences of past people through textual descriptions and how reality in text is more of a style of representation than anything relating to the actual.

Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen: Redefining the critical and conservative writing of history
Jouni-Matti is leading a research project called “Microhistorical Epistemology” that looks into the practice of history. He gave a short overall description of the whole project before giving his personal presentation as the project had a whole session to itself with four presenters. In his personal presentation Jouni-Matti analyzed one of the fundamental differentiations of historiography between description and interpretation.

Ilkka Lähteenmaki: The Curious Case of Alexander I’s speech in Porvoo – A case study of source usage in a historical debate
Ilkka showcased some source-network graphs he had created from a long lasting historical debate in hopes to uncover some unvoiced standars in historians practice of using sources to make arguments. Ilkka is also part of the “Microhistorical Epistemology” project run by Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen.

Kalle Pihlainen was part of plenary panel (with Ewa Domanska, Paul Roth, María Inés La Greca, Xin Cheng, and Veronica Tozzi) called: Globalizing Hayden White: A tribute to his work
The plenary was held partially in memory of the late Hayden White and partially to celebrate his truly global legacy. Kalle’s focus was on the constructivist aspects of White’s work.

Marjaana Puurtinen: The making of historians. Young academics’ views on the concept of ‘history’.
Marjaana discussed her work that she has been doing with Mikko Kainulainen and Arja Virta which looks into how history students conceptualize history. This time her presentation focused in one question they had presented to history students: “How would you visualize ´history´?” which got some interesting answers.

Article alert: “The Idea of a Philosophy of History”

Article alert: “The Idea of a Philosophy of History”

Please feel free to check out a recent paper by Jonas, titled “The Idea of a Philosophy of History” and published in Rethinking History in January 2018.


It has recently been argued that the philosophical study of professional history constitutes a subfield of epistemology. Consequently, the philosophy of history is cast as only one particular species of the general study of the relationship between evidence and theory in scientific practice. This view is based upon an absolute separation between substantive and critical philosophy of history. By such a separation, substantive philosophy of history is dismissed as speculative metaphysics, while critical philosophy of history is vindicated as a respectable branch of epistemology. The attempt to delineate a strictly epistemological realm of history was a central part of the programme for analytically styled philosophy of history in the 1950–1970s era. This programme has been resurrected by contemporary empiricist trends. In this essay, I will argue against the basic ideas of this programme through a reassessment of Hayden White’s so-called narrativist philosophy of history. As I will show, criticizing the distinction between metaphysics and epistemology in history is an essential and important feature of White’s contribution to the philosophy of history. This feature has, I claim, been overshadowed by formalist interpretations of White’s ‘narrativism’. In conclusion, I argue that White’s concept of prefiguration will fundamentally question the viability of current attempts to develop a purely epistemological philosophy of history.

Keywords: Philosophy of historyHayden Whitemetahistorynarrativismepistemologymetaphysicshistoryhistoriography

Book alert: Pihlainen: “The Work of History”

Book alert: Pihlainen: “The Work of History”

Kalle Pihlainen’s book The Work of History: Constructivism and a Politics of the Past has come out with Routledge at the end of 2017.

The Work of History

Since the appearance of Hayden White’s seminal work Metahistory in 1973, constructivist thought has been a key force within theory of history and has at times even provided inspiration for historians more generally. Despite the radical theoretical shift marked by constructivism and elaborated in detail by its proponents, confusion regarding many of its practical and ethical consequences persists, however, and its position on truth and meaning is routinely misconstrued. To remedy this situation, The Work of History seeks to mediate between constructivist theory and history practitioners’ intuitions about the nature of their work, especially as these relate to the so-called fact–fiction debate and to the literary challenges involved in the production of historical accounts. In doing so, the book also offers much-needed insight into debates about our experiential relations with the past, the political use of history and the role of facts in the contestation of power.

Conference Follow-up: Role of the Philosophy of History

Conference Follow-up: Role of the Philosophy of History

The ReThink team was well presented in the Role of the Philosophy of History conference as Jouni-Matti, Kari, and Ilkka were the event’s organisers.

Kalle and Jouni-Matti were also panelists (the third panelist being no other than Frank Ankersmit) in the Friday evening’s panel discussion about the Role of the Journals of Philosophy of History.

University of Oulu’s Centre for Philosophical Studies of History has made videos of all the Keynote’s and of the Friday evenings panel discussion available online