Historical Archives of the European Union - European University Institute

How does Europe represent its past? An epistemic inquiry at the Archives

Using research carried out at the Historical Archives of the European Union, Vibeke Sørensen Grant recipient Marie-Gabrielle Verbergt takes a look at how European institutions have shaped European historiography.

25/08/2021 | News - Research

How does Europe represent its past?

Marie-Gabrielle Verbergt, a PhD candidate in history at Ghent University, has taken on this question in her dissertation project Sponsoring a European historical culture: Representations of the past promoted by the European Union, 1970-today.

More specifically, Marie-Gabrielle is examining what EU funding for historical projects in the past reveals about how people have thought about the value of historical research for European integration and society at large, how decisions about “good” and “bad” research have changed over time, and what kinds of historical topics and themes have been promoted above others.

To inform her research, this summer she spent five weeks at the EUI’s Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU), supported by a Vibeke Sørensen grant, one of the post-graduate research grants the HAEU offers to early career scholars.

The HAEU holds the archives of all EU institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission, but also of several European organisations and movements. In relation to the history of EU funding for academic historical research, Marie-Gabrielle was especially interested in the archives of the European Science Foundation (ESF), an international, non-governmental organisation that has supported international and interdisciplinary research on the European level since 1974.

As she explains, “the history of the European Science Foundation is fascinating not only because it is a precursor to the much larger European Research Council (ERC) that exists now, but also because it reveals how European funding for the humanities – amongst which historians – was organised and thought about during the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.”

“The many minutes of meetings”, she continues, “show how decisions were made about fundable and non-fundable projects. The lists of members reveal how a committee that started with an all-male elitist make-up grew into a diverse and inclusive team of scholars. Looking at the evaluation practices and forms in turn exposes the slow and late introduction of peer review in this committee – only in the mid-90s! – as well as the lack of concrete selection criteria before 1988.”

Regarding the success of her research mission, Marie-Gabrielle was enthusiastic. “I expected a visit to these archives would be fruitful, but the amount of useful material I found far exceeded my expectations. To understand how EU funding for historians grew from a few ad hoc grants in the 1970s to the large-scale framework programmes that we know today – think, e.g., about the millions of dollars historians receive each year through the European Research Council grants – the sources deposited at the HAEU turned out to be fantastic leads.”

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