European History Quarterly, at least if its last three issues are an accurate guide, is a well-edited and well-written journal that focuses on a wide range of political and historical issues in Europe and the United Kingdom from the beginnings of the Renaissance through the present. (That is to say, the articles focus on the range of events within the historical sphere that is generally referred to as the modern world.) The articles in the first three issues of 2002 are somewhat more inclined to discuss politics within an historical context rather than history per se - although one may argue that this is simply the way in which history should be discussed.
Certainly, the editorial cast to these articles is very much within the model of new history - or new historiography. There is a definite avoidance of description that serves no other ends than simply to provide details about past great men and women or important events. The articles have, overall, a clear tendency towards both analysis (seeking to find underlying and recurring motivations of human behavior) as well as toward synthesis (as the scholars seek to understand a wide range of factors within a given society at a particular time. In other words, the bent of this journal is an attempt (usually quite successful) to combine the best aspects of both scientific and humanistic discourse.
When reading the articles in these three issues of the journal, one is reminded of the central lesson of historiography (which is the philosophical and scholarly examination of the ways in which history is written and used). We must remember, when we are reading any work of history, that that work actually describes to us as the reader two (often dramatically) different historical moments. That is because every historical text reveals to the reader something of the currently known and accepted facts of what happened at a particular moment in time. But each historical text also reveals to the reader a great deal about the historical era in which the work was written.
Each historian must consider from the context of his or her own time what is sufficiently important about another historical moment to focus upon, which events must be considered to be causative and which extraneous, which events are linked to others and which are coincidental. These assessments vary over time, in part because of changes in bias and perspective (for all history is written through a particular perspective - it could not be otherwise unless it were written by machines) and in part because of the changing knowledge of the past. A newly discovered telegram or diary or stash of letters may change the way we see a great many things and cause us to rewrite history.
The scholars writing for this journal along with its editorial board seem highly attuned to such historiographic concerns, which makes these articles a pleasure to read: They are very attentive to nuance in both the historical period about which they are writing and our own times.
This is not to say that the journal does not have an ideological perspective. That perspective might be described as thoughtfully left of center. It is not ideological in the sense that people often use this word to mean dramatically skewed to the left or right, nor is it ideological in the sense that only one side of political and cultural debates is given a fair summation.
Rather, it is ideological (and leftist) in the sense that the authors and editors of the journal clearly believe that it is important to consider the nature of the power structure of societies. This insistence on bringing a keen analytical focus to bear on those in power in any given society (whether those in power are themselves on the left or the right) is more commonly found among progressive than conservative critics, the latter of whom are quite happy to criticize progressive governments but even more likely than those on the left to ignore mistakes by their own.
The tone and content of this journal can be even more clearly understood by examining the three issues at hand in much greater detail to determine how the articles - as well as reviews and other supplementary material - contribute to the overall sense of a thoughtful, analytical, progressive historical publication. The nuanced and intelligent approach to modern European history is helped by the fact that both the editorial board members and the contributing scholars come from a variety of nations, thus helping to ensure a more diverse (and so less chauvinistic) approach.
Stefan Berger's "Democracy and Social Democracy" is an excellent example of the kind of article that the journal specialized in because it is an examination of the power structure of a number of European nations beginning with the late 19th century and running through the present. The focus of the article is primarily on the ways in which ideas about democratic structure and governance developed at different rates and in different ways throughout Europe (in large measure because of different local economic conditions), coalescing in what he refers to as the "golden age" of social democracy during the 1940s and 1960s.
Of particular interest in this article is his examination of the ways in which social democratic ideals (especially the pro-labor element of social democracy) began to fail in the face of the rising power of the New Right during the 1980s. Although the author's sympathies appear to lie with the advocates of social democracy (with its concerns for creating a society that is both diverse and fundamentally just), he provides a trenchant analysis of the failures of social democracy (especially the tendency of social democratic leaders to become out of touch with their core constituencies after being in power in the government) even as he reaffirms the enduring strengths of the movement that have helped the ideals of social democracy to begin to reestablish themselves in at least some contemporary European governments.
The article is analytic and pan-European in its approach, providing us with a good sense of the range of changes in left-of-center political ideals and strategies over the past century.
Sian Reynolds's "Lateness, Amnesia and Unfinished Business: Gender and Democracy in Twentieth-Century Europe" provides a fascinating new analytic tool through which to view the association of gender and democracy. Reynolds argues that it is fundamentally misleading to consider countries more or less democratic (vis-a-vis gender at least) by looking only at what year women in those countries gained suffrage rights.
While Reynolds is certainly not arguing that enfranchisement does not matter, the historian is making the valid (and all-too-often overlooked point) that voting rights are not the only nor perhaps even the best ways in which to judge the degree to which women are included in the democratic process. Reynolds argues that parity in governance may well be a better tool to measure the democractic-ness of a society.
While this might seem to be a very ordinary observation to make, in fact it is an important paradigm shift in the way that many historians view democracy and gender. Without a broad perspective that examines more than one country, such a new method of analyzing gender inclusiveness could well have been missed. Reynolds's article is an excellent example of how the journal's support of pan-European (or at least regional) analysis can allow for insights that might well not occur if the historian were focusing more narrowly.
Martin Conway's "Democracy in Postwar Western Europe: The Triumph of a Political Model" also demonstrates the ways in which the journal focuses on broad European trends especially in the arena of power and governance.
This article explores the post-World War II governments of European nations as being in many ways fundamentally similar to each other. Conway argues that these similarities are the major reason that there has been relatively widespread and relatively stable democratic governments across the western half of the continent during the past three generations.
This democratic stability, he argues, was to some extent shaped by a common opposition to the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War as well as a common response to the economic changes brought about by first the industrialization and then the shift to post-industrialization across the continent. While there were important differences among the nations, he argues, these similarities are probably more important.
Also contributing to the general level of stable, democratic governance was the rise across Europe of a relatively depoliticized population. We in the United States tend to decry the depoliticization of society because this process is linked in our own minds with declining voter participation rates and generalized apathy. This may also be of equal concern in European nations (it is not clear if it is so or not from Conway's article) but Conway provides a clear analysis of the advantages of depoliticizing society that we might not have thought of before.
While we (at least most of us) believe that many of the problems in American governance…