From the Archive to the Formation of Experience and Expectations

Organisers: Laetitia Lenel, Alexander Kriwolutzky

Thursday 15 to Friday 16 September 2016

Humboldt University Berlin, Friedrichstr. 191-193


The purpose of this workshop is to exchange ideas on the methodology of archival research designed to reveal formative experiences and expectations of economic actors. Young researchers will discuss methods and problems with senior experts, and discuss exemplary findings from a methodological point of view.


Click here for a draft of the programme (PDF).



This workshop was to provide the scholars working in the SPP 1859’s projects with an opportunity to discuss practical problems encountered during the analysis and interpretation of historical sources and to develop individual solutions. It focussed on the question how researchers can examine their source material directly or indirectly for the „experience“ and „expectation“ of historical economic actors. Participants came from seven of the programme’s projects.

In his keynote speech, Prof. Dr. Thomas Mergel (HU Berlin) discussed four various meanings of expectation, drawing on the works of Max Weber, Reinhart Koselleck, and Niklas Luhmann. As a practical example, Prof. Mergel demonstrated methods from his own research to extricate expectations from political speeches, newspaper articles, scientific writings, and self-descriptions. Two aspects turned out to be of special significance for most projects: first, Prof. Mergel discussed expectations as a constituent of communication. On the example of self-descriptive texts written by members of parliament during the Weimar Republic, he pointed out how texts can be examined for the "expectational expectations" (Erwartungserwartungen) of their authors. This is true for all texts that either document interactions (e. g., minutes or parliamentary protocols), or are written as answers to anticipated questions and interpretations. This idea was seized and developed during the discussion of several case studies by the participants. Second, and in consequence of the first aspect, Prof. Mergel drew attention to the importance of reconstructing the context of sources. Only by recognizing the contemporary connotations of terms and concepts, the expressible can be distinguished from the inexpressible in a given historical environment and situation. This discourse analytical aspect was particularly important for the interpretation of diaries, but in principle can be applied to most projects’ source materials.

One of this workshop’s declared goals had been to enable the programme’s participating scholars to get to know the work done in the other projects, and to engage in a fruitful exchange on research methods. The joint work on historical sources and the relaxed, yet focused atmosphere at the workshop contributed to its successful accomplishment.