In June, 1998, two eminent political scientists, Melvin Richter, of the City University of New York, and Kari Palonen, of the University of Jyväskylä, organized a conference on “Conceptual Changes in European Political Cultures” at the Finnish Institute in London. Henrik Stenius, the director of the Institute, served as the host. That meeting brought together scholars from fourteen nations to discuss ongoing collaborative projects on social and political concepts in such places as the Netherlands, Finland, France, Denmark, and the Soviet Union, and to listen to a variety of empirical and methodological presentations on related matters. Informing many of the reports and exchanges were the relatively recently completed volumes of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe—or GG for short—edited by Otto Brunner, Werner Conze and Reinhart Koselleck. Underlying the conference were arguments made by Richter and Palonen about the possible convergence of German Begriffsgeschichte and the so-called “Cambridge School” approach(es) to the historical study of political thought. Both Koselleck and Quentin Skinner attended and took part in the conference’s varied dialogues. At its close, the participants agreed to form an international network which would meet regularly, publish a newsletter, and develop an archive of projects and proposals, as well as interviews with, and critical reflections by, scholars engaged in them. Thus emerged the History of Political and Social Concepts Group.
Since its initial gathering in London, the Group has met annually some nineteen times, and on four continents, in conferences which have ranged in scale from a small working seminar (Copenhagen, 2000), to mid-sized meetings (Rio de Janiero, 2004; Aarhus, 2016), to quite large academic congresses (Bilbao, 2003 and 2013; Moscow, 2010; Buenos Aires, 2011; Bielefeld 2014; Timişora, 2015). Among their themes have been “The Use and Abuse of Words” (Paris, 1999), “Rhetoric and Conceptual Change” (Tampere, 2001), “Translation and the History of Concepts” (New York, 2005), “Transnational Concepts and Transfers” (Istanbul, 2007), and “The Diffusion of Western Concepts in Asia” (Seoul, 2008). At the Helsinki meeting in 2012, the membership agreed to change the name to the History of Concepts Group in recognition of growing interest in concepts from such realms as religion, the natural sciences and philosophy. Nevertheless, research on the social and political— however broadly or narrowly defined—still tends to dominate. The theme of the most recent conference, held at the University of Oslo in September, 2017, was “Concepts in the World: Politics, Knowledge and Time.”
The History of Concepts Group is incorporated as a non-profit entity in Finland, and is affiliated with the Center for Intellectual History at Helsinki University. The organizational and financial affairs of the HCG are the responsibility of four officers:
Martin J. Burke (City University of New York), Chair; Margrit Pernau (Max Plank Institute for Human Development, Berlin), Vice-Chair; Rosario López (University of Malaga), Secretary; Jani Marjanen (Helsinki University), Treasurer.
The academic and intellectual affairs of the HCG are overseen by an international board of scholars who are engaged with various aspects of conceptual history. The current board is comprised of the officers and the following:
Gabriel Entin (CONICET, Buenos Aries); Jan Ifversen (Aarhus University); Helge Jordheim (University of Oslo); Jussi Kurunmäki (Södertörn University); José Maria Rosales (University of Malaga); Sinai Rusinek (Tel Aviv University); Javier Fernández Sebastián (University of the Basque Country); Wilibald Steinmetz (University of Bielefeld); Rieke Trimcev (University of Greifswald).
Membership in the History of Concepts Group is open to emerging and established scholars alike; participation by graduate students is particularly encouraged. Membership includes the opportunity to participate in the annual conferences and includes a subscription to HCG’s peer-reviewed journal Contributions to the History of Concepts.
All other enquiries about the History of Concepts Group should be directed to the Executive Secretary:MBurke1@gc.cuny.edu