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Conservative enlightenment in britain and germany; a rezeptionsgeschichte of William Robertson and Emund Burke (1760-1800)

Final Activity Report Summary - CONSENLIGHT (Conservative enlightenment in Britain and Germany. A Rezeptionsgeschichte of William Robertson and Emund Burke (1760-1800))

My project was originally to explore some of the central themes in the recent transformation of enlightenment studies (communication, cultural exchange and transfer; unity amidst diversity as related to different levels of identity and foci of identification in European culture and institutions; continuity and change, 'radical' and 'conservative' in modernity) through a detailed case study of the German reception of the works and thought of two eighteenth-century British authors who embody the 'conservative Enlightenment', the Scottish historian William Robertson, and the Anglo-Irish politician, philosopher and public moralist Edmund Burke. Of central importance are their views on Europe as a 'commonwealth' marked by a unique system of civilisation based on structural similarities and reciprocity as well as rivalry among its constituent parts; the features and the development of this system, in distinction from others; the roots and the articulation of these views in an enlightened discourse; and in Burke's case, the implications of the French Revolution for this civilisation. The aim of the project was to study how such ideas of the British 'conservative Enlightenment' were received, understood and recycled in an impressive array of translation and commentary in contemporary Germany. The ways in which this exercise in comparative intellectual history may contribute to and sharpen our own understanding of European civilisation as well as the general issue of the possibilities and limitations of cultural exchange within its boundaries, have been conceived as central to the project.

While I continue to be convinced that the parallel study of the reception of Robertson and Burke in the continent in general and in Germany in particular is meaningful and can throw light on one another, during my Fellowship I have gradually come to realise that doing so in a monographic framework would result in a loss of focus. Having consulted with several colleagues both at my host institution, including the project supervisor Prof. Martin Van Gelderen, and elsewhere, I have decided to set aside Burke for the purposes of the proposed book (while I continue working on his reception in Germany), and concentrate on Robertson in a study whose working title is 'Translations, Histories and Enlightenments. William Robertson in Germany 1760-1795'. While thereby the project loses some (though certainly not all) of its relevance to the problem of the genealogy of modern political ideologies, it gains in tightness of approach and its potential to contribute to recent debates on the character of the European Enlightenment. As a study in comparative intellectual history, the book seeks to throw new light on aspects of reception in the history of ideas through combining methods from translation theory, lingusitic contextualism (the 'Cambridge school'), conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte) and reception history (Rezeptionsgeschichte), while its thematic focus is the writing of history as political discourse, as aesthetic expression and as science in a period of European culture when in each of these incarnations it underwent significant changes, and became a matter of communication in a highly variegated continent-wide 'republic of letters'.

At the closing date of my Fellowship, the first draft of this book manuscript stands at circa 80 % of completion. The completed portions have been presented at various academic meetings (seminars at my host institution, international conferences and workshops) and discussed with a wide range of experts in the field. Some of them have been accepted for publication in article format by peer reviewed academic journals.