Reinhart Koselleck

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Reinhart Koselleck
Born (1923-04-23)April 23, 1923
Görlitz, Saxony, Germany
Died February 3, 2006(2006-02-03)
Bad Oeynhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Fields History of ideas, historiography, linguistics
Known for Conceptual history
Theories of historical time
Influences Heidegger, Schmitt, Löwith, Gadamer, Weber, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Hobbes, Goethe, Humboldt, Lessing, Chladenius, Stein, Luther, Thucydides
Influenced Habermas, White, Kondylis

Reinhart Koselleck (23 April 1923 – 3 February 2006) was a German historian, considered as one of the most important historians of the twentieth century. He held an original position in the historical discipline and was not part of any historical 'school', working in such varied fields as conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte), the epistemology of history, linguistics, the foundations of an anthropology of history and social history, the history of law and the history of government.

He became known for his doctoral thesis Critique and Crisis (1954), which was strongly influenced by the thought of Carl Schmitt; his habilitation thesis on "Prussia between Reform and Revolution", dealing with Prussia and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries, followed in 1965. Between 1972 and 1997 Koselleck co-edited, together with Werner Conze and Otto Brunner, the eight-volume encyclopedia Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe (Basic Concepts in History: A Historical Dictionary of Political and Social Language in Germany.")[1] This work, together with his later contributions, became the corner-stone of conceptual history, the study of the changing semantics and pragmatics of concepts in their social and political contexts.[2] Among his main contributions to Historiography are his reflections on time and temporality in history and the history of language,[3] most famously the leading hypothesis of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe about a saddle time, or threshold time between 1750 to 1850, during which language (in Germany) changed into the language of modernity.

Critique and crisis[edit]

In this 1959 book, Koselleck argues that contemporary understandings of politics have become dangerously depoliticized by Enlightenment utopianism, a reaction against Absolutism (the Hobbesian state), itself a reaction against the religious wars of the Middle Ages in Europe. Though the absolute state had subjugated morality to private realms, in order to avoid civil war, those private realms grew in power, eventually challenging the state, but in an apolitical, utopian way. "In the process," writes Victor Gourevitch in his foreword to Critique and Crisis, "existing political societies came to be judged by standards which take little or no account of the constraints which political men must inevitably take into account, standards which for all political intents and purposes are therefore Utopian." The problem is that because utopianism is no political alternative, this Enlightenment anti-statism creates a crisis with which modern nation-states are still coping Kosellek argues that politics is better understood from the point of view of public servants, politicians, and statesman, than supposedly disinterested observers. Koselleck wishes to re-politicize contemporary discussions of politics and infuse them with a sense that conflict is an inevitable part of public life, an argument reminiscent of Isaiah Berlin, Koselleck's contemporary.[4]

See also[edit]

  • "History in the Plural. An Introduction to the Work of Reinhart Koselleck". Niklas Olsen, New York: Berghahn, 2012. ISBN 978-0-85745-295-5
  • "Crisis." Janet Roitman. Political Concepts, New School for Social Research.[5]

Works translated into English[edit]


  • "Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society". Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988. ISBN 0262611570 | ISBN 978-0262611572
  • "The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts" (Cultural Memory in the Present). Translated by Todd Samuel Presner. Stanford: Stanford University Press; 2002. ISBN 0804743053 | ISBN 978-0804743051
  • "Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time" (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought). Translated and with an introduction by Keith Tribe. New York, Columbia University Press; 2004. ISBN 0231127715 | ISBN 978-0231127714


  • "Linguistic Change and the History of Events", Journal of Modern History 61(4): 649-666 (1989)
  • "Social History and Conceptual History", International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 2(3): 308-325 (1989)


  1. ^ Michaela Richter, "Preface to the translation of the introduction and prefaces to Reinhart Koselleck's "Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe".[1] Contributions to the History of Concepts 6:1 2011
  2. ^ Introduction: Translation of Reinhart Koselleck's "Krise," in Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe by Melvin Richter, Michaela W Richter.[2] Journal of the History of Ideas 67:2 2006
  3. ^ The Temporalization of Concepts, FINNISH YEARBOOK 1 (1997)
  4. ^ "Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought): Reinhart Koselleck: 9780262611572: Books". Retrieved 2013-09-10. 
  5. ^ "Crisis : Political Concepts: Issue One". Political Concepts. Retrieved 2013-09-10.