Fellow March and April 2017
László Kontler (CSc/PhD 1996; Dr. Habil. 2006; DSc 2014) is Professor of History at Central European University in Budapest (Head of Department 1999-2005 and 2005-2008; Pro-Rector 2011-2016).
He formerly taught at Eötvös University (Budapest), the University of Debrecen and Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), and held research fellowships in London, Oxford, Wolfenbüttel, Edinburgh, Göttingen and Florence. His work ranges across the history of political and historical thought, translation and reception in the history of ideas, and the production and exchange of knowledge, in the early modern period, mainly the Enlightenment.
His articles have been published, among others, in Journal of the History of Ideas, Modern Intellectual History, Intellectual History Review, Contributions to the History of Concepts; his English language books include A History of Hungary (1999/2002) and Translations, Histories, Enlightenments. William Robertson in Germany, 1760?1795 (2014); recently he co-edited, with Antonella Romano, Silvia Sebastiani and Borbála Zsuzsanna Török, Negotiating Knowledge in Early-Modern Empires. A Decentered View (2014). László Kontler is one of the editors of the European Review of History / Revue d’histoire européenne (http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cerh20/current) and Europäische Geschichte Online / European History Online (http://ieg-ego.eu/en/ego), and president of the European Society for the History of Political Thought (https://europoliticalthought.wordpress.com/).
Kontler is currently in the advanced stages of a project focusing on the intriguing Viennese Jesuit imperial astronomer Maximilian Hell (1720-1792), as a nodal figure of the eighteenth-century European universe of knowledge, connecting local, regional, imperial and global spaces and life-worlds. The book will be a case study exploring the complex dynamics between science, state-building, Enlightenment and Catholicism in the Habsburg Monarchy and beyond, in a period of dramatic transformations.
He is also developing new long-term work provisionally entitled “Enlightenment Apocalypse: The End of the World in the Eighteenth Century.” The rationale for this initiative is that while the impact of the “new science” of the 17th century on notions about the “beginning of history” (the Creation) has received considerable attention in scholarship, the same is not the case with the “end of the world:” the ways in which the idea of a universe governed by the laws of matter and motion transformed thinking about the Last Judgement. Taking its cue from the fifth conversation in Bernard de Fontenelle?s Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686), this project explores aspects of this transformation with an approach derived from comparative intellectual history, the history of transfer and reception, and the history of the production of knowledge as a set of cultural practices substantially determined by agendas other than strictly “scientific”.
Currently in the phase of exploring primary sources, in the medium term three specific studies are proposed, as the backbone of a monographic treatment of the subject:
(1) on 18th-century discussions of “catastrophe” or “cataclysm” – both as a concept and as (past, present or future) event – and their relevance to speculation about the “end of the world”;
(2) on the discussion of life and extinction on other planets (a prominent theme in Fontenelle) as intertwined with the problem of the “end of the world” in general;
(3) on the European responses in translation and commentary to Fontenelle’s relevant ideas advanced in the Entretiens. The outcomes will shed fresh light on the perceptions of man and the universe – indeed, man in the universe, both in space and time – in Enlightenment Europe. Connecting with recent interpretations of the “meaning” of the alleged secularism of the period as the pursuit of happiness in this world, without concern with what may come in the next one, the future book will also put the Enlightenment as a whole in a unique new perspective.