Telling a Different Story: Non-Linear Narratives in Early Modern History

ICUB - University of Bucharest
Matthias Roick, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen; Fabrizio Baldassari, University of Bucarest
19.03.2020 - 20.03.2020
Roick, Matthias

In early modern intellectual history, in the history of early modern science, philosophy, and in many other fields of knowledge, scholars have long begun to travel new directions of investigation. Rather than proceeding along well-trodden paths, they shed new focus on the less well-known corners, and move in the more ‘secluded’ regions of the past. More importantly, they have grown suspicious of the ‘grand narratives’ and the teleological progress of knowledge that have informed their respective fields and their public perception for a long time. In contrast, scholars have started exploring topics and themes that do not lead straightforwardly into the present, moving from pre-modern to modern, but rather constitute ‘Holzwege’, or paths that—from a presentist point of view—go nowhere or were abandoned in the course of time.

This kind of research has produced highly fascinating and inspiring results. Still, it has also put into question common frameworks. Scholarship has become more specialized and fragmented, and it has become more difficult to communicate between different disciplines and subdisciplines. The work on historical contexts and micro-contexts seems to have little leverage to change the mainstream—after all, its aim is not to substitute one ‘grand narrative’ with another ‘grand narrative’, but to engage in a more complex relationship with the past.

Our workshop invites practitioners from different fields to reflect together on this situation and to discuss one possible alternative: non-linear narratives. Widely used in literature and film, this narrative technique portrays events in a non-chronological order (for example, in flashbacks and flashforwards) and does not necessarily follow causality. When applied to the writing of history, the idea of non-linear narratives invites, on the one hand, to deliberate the theoretical nature of narrative structures and temporalities; on the other hand, it raises practical questions on how to employ non-linear narratives in historical writings and find alternatives to ‘genealogical’ writings that track the lineages of new, ideas, practices, and institutions.

The workshop is not intended to simply present one’s own research, but aims to reflect on the role of alternative narrations while telling a different story. Interventions aim to both investigate non-linear narratives, their actors, methodologies, and disciplines, and answer these methodological questions.

- How would you describe the ‘grand narratives’ in your field? To which extent do they still dominate your field, explicitly or implicitly?

- How does your own research relate to these narratives? Where do you see the critical, revisionist potential of your research? How much an alternative narration surfaces in your field, and does it reveal more engaging reflections? What is the result of this enlarged perspective?

- Where do you see points of contact between your historical research and present discourses? Why do you think that these points of contact can be best described and analyzed in terms of a non-linear narrative?

Please, send a short abstract (up to 500 words) and one-page CV by December 15 to and


Dr. Matthias Roick
Freigeist Fellow for the History of Ethics
Theologische Fakultät
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Platz der Göttinger Sieben 2
37073 Göttingen

Telling a Different Story: Non-Linear Narratives in Early Modern History, 19.03.2020 – 20.03.2020 Bucarest, in: H-Soz-Kult, 22.10.2019, <>.