MEMOPHI studied how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century historians of philosophy wrote the history of their discipline and, particularly, of medieval and Renaissance thought. Merging the micro-history (case studies) and the macro-history (longue durée), the local and the global, it aimed at an interdisciplinary and entangled history of the history of philosophy.
On the temporal dimension, we particularly investigated how modern historians of philosophy elaborated historical legitimations of modern reason by distinguishing it from premodern philosophies or, from the 1780s onward, by tracing its origins back to the Middle Ages, colonizing the medieval past or national medieval pasts. Furthermore, we studied the changing representations of Renaissance produced in Germany, France, and Italy during the period ca. 1650–ca. 1870, that is, over the longue durée of the formation of modern nations.
On the spatial dimension, MEMOPHI explored the notion of ‘cultural territories’ or ‘cultural territorialization’. We particularly investigated how, since the early Enlightenment, the legitimization of Western scientific supremacy went hand-in-hand with self-conceptions of modernity as an emancipated age located in geopolitical and sociocultural territories. Modern philosophers, ethnologists and historians drew maps of civilization. They located its remote prehistory in the Orient or Asia, which was characterized by its mystical and immutable nature. By contrast, analytical rationality and reflexive thought were conceived of as Western devices that developed in Europe and had been anticipated in ancient Greece with the joint birth of philosophy and democracy. Moreover, from the 1780s onward, civilization was fragmented into racial or cultural groups. We critically addressed this ‘cultural turn’ as both the ancestor of our present scientific map of cultural areas, and the scholarly origins of the alleged “clash of civilizations” which was claimed by Samuel Huntington at the end of the 20th century.
As a result of those two lines of research, MEMOPHI highlighted the political program which governed the formation of modern university and the mapping of modern disciplines. We investigated the impact of the narratives elaborated by historians of philosophy on other disciplines and the civil society. We particularly reconstructed the process through which Europe has been conceived of as a cultural device which should be investigated by theoretical sciences, such as philosophy, economics and, later, sociology, while the rest of the world was destined to be a terrain for empirical research in disciplines such as botanic, anthropology, linguistics and ethnology.
Finally, the pragmatic and interdisciplinary history of philosophical historiography written in the framework of MEMOPHI does not neglect or exclude ‘big’ or abstract ideas, such as truth, objectivity, rationality, analytical thought, or reflexivity. In order to investigate historically the formation of those abstract ideas, we envisioned them as the results of social practices and the outcomes of scientists’ and philosophers’ everyday activities. We thus bridged the gap between intellectual history on the one hand, and material and social history of knowledge on the other hand.
Website (containing links to downloadable publications)
C. König-Pralong, La colonie philosophique. Écrire l’histoire de la philosophie aux XVIIIe-XIXe siècles, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2019.
C. König-Pralong, Médiévisme philosophique et raison moderne. De Pierre Bayle à Ernest Renan, Paris, Vrin, 2016.
C. König-Pralong, M. Meliadò, Z. Radeva (eds.), The Territories of Philosophy in Modern Historiography, Turnhout/Bari, Brepols/Pagina, 2019.
C. König-Pralong, M. Meliadò, Z. Radeva (eds.), ‘Outsiders’ and ‘Forerunners’. Modern Reason and Historiographical Births of Medieval Philosophy, Turnhout, Brepols, 2018.
M. Meliadò, S. Negri (eds.), Praxis des Philosophierens, Praktiken der Historiographie. Perspektiven von der Spätantike bis zur Moderne, Freiburg/München, Verlag Karl Alber, 2018.
MEMOPHI team members
Catherine König-Pralong (PI), Mario Meliadò (Postdoc), Friederike Schmiga (Postdoc), Mostafa Najafi (PhD student), Zornitsa Radeva (PhD student), Marieke Abram (scientific coordination), Silvia Negri (research associate)
The Final Report Summary can be viewed and downloaded.