Research seminar in Cambridge: "1848 as a turning point in history of political thought”

5/31/2012 - Education

At a time when the "Arab Spring" has led to various political revolutions in North Africa, a seminar was held on April 10th and 11th 2012, in Cambridge, United Kingdom, to reconsider the year of 1848 (also known as the "Spring of Nations") as "a turning point in history of political thought"

On April 10th and 11th 2012, the seminar « 1848 as a turning point in history of political thought” took place in King’s College, Cambridge. Also called the « Spring of Nations », the year of 1848 signals the beginning of a wave of revolutions across Europe, at the crossroads between popular uprisings against various monarchies on one hand, and a large movement of theoretical redefining and innovation, in particular on liberalism, anarchism and socialism on the other hand.
Under the direction of Professor Gareth Stedman-Jones, this seminar has gathered the best researchers from all around the world in political history, philosophy, law or literature. According to the novel and distinctive way of understanding intellectual history that emerged in Cambridge since the 1960’s, the diversity of points of view and the synergies between disciplines allowed to situate the ideas of that period in a specific historic framework, which it is the task of the historian to reconstruct. The individual researches and the debates that followed contributed to the reinvention of our ways to look at the benefits, the failures and the changes that are inherited from 1848 and which are now at the foundation of European political history.

Among the many brilliant papers that we cannot recreate here in their entirety, let us take as an example the work of Jonathan Beecher (University of California, Santa Cruz) on Alphonse de Lamartine’s masterpiece “L’Histoire des Girondins”, about which Victor Hugo once wrote that it “taught revolution to France”. The writer outlines a romanticized version of French revolution, and makes historical characters talk like Marie-Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Robespierre or Vergniaud. Through this rereading of events that he didn’t experience directly, Lamartine describes the Griondins as negative models, as rhetoricians of the revolution, both inconstant and opportunistic. By rehabilitating this episode of modern history, Lamartine puts it at the heart of the movement of which he will be one of the best leaders in France: Romanticism. Moreover, his idea of the French revolution will guide him as a politician: it’s with the firm belief that Revolution must pave the way for a “Republic of the entire Nation and not a Republic of partisans” that he will choose the blue, white and red flag on the stairs of Paris City Hall on February 23rd 1848.

The Edmond de Rothschild Foundations are proud to support the first of a series of seminars that will lead to a joint publication. In a time when the « Arab Spring » has made a direct reference to the symbolic meaning of 1848, it is critical to understand the stakes of past revolutions in order to better discern the changes to come. In this respect, the knowledge of one’s past remains in itself the best way to light the paths of tomorrow.