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Tensions of Europe – an Example of Cosmopolitan Scholarship

Arne Kaijser


The Making Europe book series is part of a much larger research effort involving scholars from all over Europe and beyond. These scholars formed a network called Tensions of Europe and during two decades this network has pursued collaborative transnational research of a unique character – something I refer to as ”cosmopolitan scholarship”.


History "through the lens of technology"

It all began in May 1999, when a number of European historians of technology came together in Eindhoven to discuss the possibilities of writing a new kind of history of Europe – a history “through the lens of technology” as we phrased it. This meeting led to the establishment of the Tensions of Europe network that soon included some 200 scholars. Within this network, a whole range of projects on different topics were organized. Each project involved participants from many countries that often did not know each other from the beginning, and frequent workshops played a crucial role in the research process. During these workshops participants had the time to learn from each other, to generate new ideas, to get to know each other, and to even become friends. The workshops created enthusiasm and gave inspiration for continuing the work.


This picture symbolizes the Tensions of Europe atmosphere. It is taken during an international workshop in Sigtuna outside Stockholm in May 2008 focusing on the vulnerability of transnational Europoean infrasystems. The 25 participants came from 11 different countries. We discussed intensively for three days and learned very much from one another. We also had great fun, as you can see from the picture.

Besides these project workshops, we also had biannual conferences for the whole Tensions of Europe network – in Lappeenranta, Rotterdam, Budapest, Copenhagen, Sofia, Paris, Stockholm, Luxembourg. These conferences did not only consist of sessions, panel discussions and the like. We also had fantastic parties with playful contests like the European Dance Contest or the European Taste Festival when participants had to make European recipes. And we danced all night to our own band – the Tensations!



I have participated in four projects under the Tensions of Europe umbrella. All of them entailed a handful of workshops and resulted in edited or co-authored books. The first project focused on the building of transnational infrastructure and resulted in the book Networking Europe. The second focused on the vulnerability of such transnational infrastructure and resulted in the book The Making of Europe´s Critical Infrastructure. The third focused on the management of shared natural resources like rivers, seas, and the sky in Europe and led to the book Cosmopolitan Commons. Sharing Resources and Risks across Borders.

The Making Europe book series

The fourth and last project was the most ambitious. It set out to synthesize much of the previous research in the Tensions of Europe network by producing a series of six co-authored books: the Making Europe book series.

Together with two colleagues, Erik van der Vleuten and Per Högselius, I co-authored a book entitled, Europe´s Infrastructure Transition. Economy, War, Nature. It is a broad synthetic book analysing how Europe has been fundamentally transformed since 1850 through the building of infrasystems and their entanglement with economy, war and nature.

It was a real challenge for the three of us to write this book because of its broad scope. We had to learn a lot of new things. Moreover, we had the ambition to really write a co-authored book that would be fun to read and that had a common “voice”. We spent much time, both planning the book and rewriting each other´s texts. It was not easy. At times we had different opinions and frictions. But not least because we knew each other well from previous projects, we were often able to turn our disagreements in a constructive way.

I am both glad and proud of having been part of the Tensions of Europe network in the past two decades, not only for the path-breaking research that has been performed and all the books that have been produced but also for the process behind all these books and the long-lasting social networks it has created.

The work within our network is an example of a new mode of research within the humanities, which I call cosmopolitan scholarship; a scholarship characterized by intimate, generous and long-lasting cooperation among scholars from many countries. By jointly addressing transnational processes and by combing knowledge of many local and national contexts and of many different languages, it is possible to generate a kind of understanding that would be impossible for individual researchers. This cosmopolitan scholarship in the humanities is different from the international cooperation that is so prominent in the natural sciences. In the latter case, it is rather economies of scale that are the major reasons for cooperation, not the combination of specific skills represented by the participants from different countries.

Cosmopolitan scholarship to address pressing issues of the world

I believe that cosmopolitan scholarship of the kind that the Tensions of Europe network is pursuing is necessary to address some of the pressing problems and issues that our world is facing today, such as climate change, environmental injustice and growing flows of refugees. I firmly believe that broad historical research can provide an invaluable understanding of the processes that led to the current situation and give guidance to how they can be handled in the future.

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