A handful of studies have shed light on the conceptual origins and shifting meanings of ‘the West’, but historians are still in the dark about many facets of its discursive construction. Building on the recently published volume "Germany and ‘the West’: The History of a Modern Concept", this workshop seeks to explore the transnational discourse on ‘the West’ from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century (1860-1940). Placing special emphasis on cultural transfers and the role of translation, it investigates the meanings of this concept in both European and non-European contexts. The first leg of the workshop (which took place at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich last December <http://www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-29534>) focussed on France, Britain, Russia, Germany and the United States; the second leg (to take place in St Andrews) will focus on China, Japan, Korea, India, and the Muslim world. More specifically, it examines (1) the relationship between different scales of spatial identities: national, European / Asian / Islamic, Western / non-Western, and civilizational, (2) the repercussions of social Darwinism, racism, and imperialism on semantics of ‘the West’, and (3) the significance of notions of a ‘German cultural mission’, a French mission civilisatrice and a British (and American) mission to spread ‘Western civilization’.
What still needs to be examined, in particular, is the entanglement of European concepts of the West with notions of Westernization and the Occident discussed in non-European areas. From the mid-19th century onward, China, Japan, India, Korea, and the Muslim world became the place of intense debates on national identity which were based on competing images of ‘the West’. There is a growing literature on this, and the term ‘Occidentalism’ has become the watchword of this blossoming field of research. Research on Occidentalism counteracts the Eurocentric perspective of a ‘world revolution of Westernization’ and focuses on processes of non-Western self-assertion. It shows the deployment of conceptions of ‘the West’ to shape national identities in non-Western regions that have become increasingly incorporated into the communicative networks of Europe and America.
The context of globalization, imperialism, and non-Western self-assertion around the turn of the century most certainly furthered the evolution and circulation of powerful notions of Western civilization. The role of Western European orientalists, however, as mediators who disseminated these notions at home yet remains to be explored. This is but one example for the need to further explore the entanglement of European and non-European concepts of the West – something that this workshop seeks to achieve.