KOMPOSITA: Contributions to Reinhart Koselleck’s “Space of Resonance”

Bettina Brandt, Jonathon Catlin, Jana Hoffmann, and Lisa Regazzoni

The historian Reinhart Koselleck would have turned one hundred on April 23, 2023. The work of Koselleck, who died in 2006, is now in vogue in the humanities and historical social sciences, both in Germany and internationally.1 The fact that Koselleck addressed a basic question of historical scholarship with his contributions to a theory of historical time is a likely factor in this successful reception, as is the diversity of his oeuvre, in which new facets can continually be discovered, and which invites surprising readings.2

Historically shifting conditions of making sense of the world through linguistic concepts and images, forms of memory of the political cult of the dead, and the cultural-material reshaping of history; the constitutive role of notions of time for collective self-perception and the perception of others; the temporality of media and technology as a factor of historical dynamics (“acceleration”); bodily and sensual perception as conditions of action and multi-perspectival (conflictual) histories; modernity characterized by the notion of “denaturalization;” a thinking of histories in perceptual models; composite metaphors as analytical terms3 – Reinhart Koselleck’s insights and theses on these and other themes illuminate such basic and mutable relationships between people and their environments; his research practices and his highly particular analytical terminology continue to open up new intellectual horizons.

With this special blog issue, entitled KOMPOSITA, we would like to invite an exchange – about current insights and resonances that can be found in Reinhart Koselleck’s work, but also about limitations that call for transgressing it. The blog medium supports multi-perspectival, multi-lingual, pithy, and dialogical reflection. The name KOM-POSITA means something composite: an eclectically-assembled birthday gift and at the same time an inspiration arising from the tension between the heterogeneous, which for Reinhart Koselleck was connected with composite metaphors, with spaces of experience, horizons of expectation, sluices of memory, and layers of time.

The KOMPOSITA blog entries, written in several languages, also form a glossary. They list and discuss not only conceptual classics of political discourse and Koselleck’s analytical language (Krisenzeit, revolution, Zeitschichten), but also vocabulary, practices, images, or objects in Koselleck’s research laboratory that establish intersectional links within and beyond Koselleck’s work but have so far received little attention (Differenz, survival, Welt/world). They also contain entries with which Koselleck’s movements of thought and research practice can be grasped (excursion, Kaleidoskop, metaphor, tecnologia) and terms that, with Koselleck, lead beyond Koselleck (jinns, ghosts, nocchiero, seriality). The contributions create a glossary that discovers and describes Koselleck’s intellectual cosmos, historicizes it, catches it up to date, and develops it in light of new directions in historical thought.

A special section of KOMPOSITA is devoted to the experience of translating Koselleck’s texts under the heading of “Translating Koselleck.” With their idiosyncratic, metaphorical terminology, Koselleck’s writings pose particular challenges for translation into other languages. However, it is precisely in the gaps between languages that new room for play and reflection on analytical and historical concepts can open up and semantic limitations, such as those set by national historiographic perspectives, can be transcended.

Starting on January 24, 2023, two blog posts will be published every two weeks, each of them reflecting on and sharpening the suggestions and blind spots of Reinhart Koselleck’s work in an essayistic manner.

We invite interested colleagues to engage with us and participate in KOMPOSITA in the form of comments on blog posts, contributions to a lemma that expands the glossary, or by describing and interpreting images and objects.

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Our thanks go to Jan Eike Dunkhase (Berlin), Britta Hochkirchen (Friedrich Schiller University Jena), and Willibald Steinmetz (Bielefeld University) for brainstorming together on the idea of the KOMPOSITA glossary; to Bettina Bock von Wülfingen (Berlin) and Sean Franzel (University of Missouri) for conversations on “Translating Koselleck;” to the Editorial Board of the blog “Geschichtstheorie am Werk/Theory of History at Work” for hosting this project: Britta Hochkirchen (Friedrich Schiller University Jena), Philipp McLean (Bielefeld University), Lisa Regazzoni (Bielefeld University), and Bettina Severin-Barboutie (Université Clermont Auvergne); and finally, to all the contributors who have helped make this “space of resonance” (Resonanzraum) sound.


Bettina Brandt, Jonathon Catlin, Jana Kristin Hoffmann and Lisa Regazzoni

Editorial assistance and technical design:

Marcus Wystub

Graphic design of the logo:

Leon Che Ernst Pöhler

Bettina Brandt is a historian and a consultant for international affairs, public relations, and young academics in the Faculty of History, Philosophy, and Theology at Bielefeld University. Her fields of teaching and research include modern German history (18th to 20th century), histories of gender, nationalism and political culture, historical image studies, and historical semantics. She received her doctorate in history from Bielefeld University. Among her publications: Germania und ihre Söhne. Repräsentationen von Nation, Geschlecht und Politik in der Moderne. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010; and Reinhart Koselleck und das Bild (ed. with Britta Hochkirchen). Bielefeld: Bielefeld University Press, 2021.


Jonathon Catlin is a Fellow in the Berlin Program at Freie Universität Berlin and a PhD Candidate in History and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities at Princeton University, where he is writing a dissertation on the concept of catastrophe in twentieth-century thought. His work has appeared in History and Theory, Memory Studies,and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other venues. In 2018 he reviewed the Bielefeld exhibition “Koselleck und das Bild” for the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog, where he is a contributing editor. He tweets @planetdenken.


Jana Kristin Hoffmann is an assistant professor in the area of Theory of History at Bielefeld University. She received her PhD in 2019 with a thesis focusing on US-American discourses on sexuality, family and gender in the Methodist Church. Her current project is dedicated to questions of historical forgetting, as well as theoretical and narrative approaches to the gap and what has been erased. Among her recent publications: Die Sexualisierung der Religion im 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2021.


Lisa Regazzoni is Professor of Theory of History at Bielefeld University. She received her PhD in philosophy from the University of Potsdam in 2006 and obtained her habilitation in modern history at the Goethe University Frankfurt in 2020. Her research focuses on the theory and epistemology of historical remains, the mediality of history, and modes of representation of the past. Her recent publications include: Geschichtsdinge. Gallische Vergangenheit und französische Geschichtsforschung im 18. Und frühen 19. Jahrhundert. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020; and ”Unintentional Monuments, or the Materializing of an Open Past,” History and Theory 61 (June 2022); and Im Zwischenraum der Dinge. Annährung an die Figurensammlung Reinhart Koselleck (ed.). Bielefeld: Bielefeld University Press, 2023 (in press).



John P. McCormick & Jonathon Catlin – Already at the opening of his 1959 dissertation book Critique and Crisis, Koselleck wrote that in the political realm, the rampant ideology of progress had “allowed the whole world to drift into a state of permanent crisis,” while accelerating technological progress threatened to “blow up mankind as well in a self-initiated process of self-destruction.” McCormick’s reflections on his encounter studying with Koselleck prompt us to speculate about what might have changed for Koselleck thirty years later, after the Soviet experiment had decisively failed.



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  1. See, for example, Reinhart Koselleck, Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories, translated from German and ed. by Sean Franzel and Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018; Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, “Koselleck in America,” New German Critique 44, no. 3 (2017), 167-187. []
  2. Hubert Locher and Adriana Markantonatos (eds.), Reinhart Koselleck und die Politische Ikonologie. Berlin/Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2013; Bettina Brandt and Britta Hochkirchen (eds.), Reinhart Koselleck und das Bild. Bielefeld: Bielefeld University Press, 2021; Jeffrey A. Barash, Christophe Bouton, and Servanne Jollivet (eds.), Die Vergangenheit im Begriff. Von der Erfahrung der Geschichte zur Geschichtstheorie bei Reinhart Koselleck. Freiburg/Munich: Verlag Karl Alber, 2021; Lisa Regazzoni (ed.), Im Zwischenraum der Dinge. Annäherung an die Figurensammlung Reinhart Koselleck. Bielefeld: Bielefeld University Press, 2023. []
  3. See Reinhart Koselleck, “Kriegerdenkmale als Identitätsstiftungen der Überlebenden,” in Identität, ed. Odo Marquard and Karlheinz Stierle. Munich: Fink, 1979, 255-276; Reinhart Koselleck, “Politische Sinnlichkeit und mancherlei Künste,” in Politische Inszenierung im 20. Jahrhundert. Zur Sinnlichkeit der Macht, ed. Sabine R. Arnold, Christian Fuhrmeister, and Dietmar Schiller. Vienna/Cologne/Weimar: Böhlau, 1998, 25-34; Reinhart Koselleck, “Zeitverkürzung und Beschleunigung: Eine Studie zur Säkularisation,” in Zeitschichten: Studien zur Historik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003, 177-202; Reinhart Koselleck, “Über die Theoriebedürftigkeit der Geschichtswissenschaft,” in Zeitschichten, 298-316; Reinhart Koselleck, “Historik und Hermeneutik,” in Zeitschichten, 97-118. []
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