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Democracy in History

Democracy in History will complement and enrich the work of the other groups of the Democracy Institute by creating a broad historical perspective and opening up the research field toward the humanities.  It seeks to focus both on the emergence of democracy as a sociocultural practice and as an ideational framework. Thus, it will engage both with the long-term roots of democratic patterns in pre-modern societies (from political philosophies of classical antiquity and political theology of medieval universities to the medieval communes and early modern noble republicanism) and their modern and contemporary manifestations and legacies (such as debates on the relationship of democracy to constitutionalism, liberalism, or republicanism).

By analyzing various patterns of democratization, our group is aware that this is not a “one-directional” teleological process. Therefore, it will pay special attention to the study of earlier and recent crises of “de-democratization.” Thus, we seek to put contemporary debates into a broad historical framework, but also look at previous instances of de-democratization and processes of democratic revival while having in mind our current problems. Thus, the historical study of the rise of autocratic/totalitarian regimes in past times is relevant to current political discussions and it allows for a critical examination of the dominant civilizationist discourse. In connection to studying patterns and processes of democratization and de-democratization, this research group will also explore the history of “thick” and “thin” ideologies, such as liberalism, socialism, anti-liberalism, nationalism, populism, fascism and their impact on social and political changes.  

We will explore questions such as: How to map comparatively national, meso-regional, and global patterns of democratization and de-democratization if we want to go beyond the Huntingtonian “waves,” and consider the backlash of the last decade? Can we use populism as a trans-historical category of internal challenges to democratic regimes going back in time, or is it a recent phenomenon? What is the role of history (politics of remembrance, populist reinterpretation of medieval and recent past, erecting and reinterpreting monuments, rewriting of schoolbooks) in this process?  How and when did civil society function as an agent of democratization or of democratic backsliding? How was the creation of autonomous communities instrumentalized by monarchical and state power for various purposes? In order to address these issues, we also plan to involve colleagues working at the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA) on the history of transition to team up with Democracy Institute researchers and run common projects.

Website: DI Democracy in History



Balazs Trencsenyi Lead Researcher / CEU Research Affiliate / CEU Professor
Agoston Berecz Research Fellow
Zsolt Cziganyik Research Fellow
Iva Dimovska Post-doctoral Fellow
Ferenc Kanyo Junior Research Fellow
Agnes Kelemen Research Assistant
Gabor Klaniczay CEU Research Affiliate / CEU Professor
Laszlo Kontler CEU Research Affiliate / CEU Professor
Daryna Koryagina Research Assistant
Andras Kovacs CEU Research Affiliate / CEU Professor
Almira Ousmanova Research Affiliate
Daniel Palm Research Fellow
Zala Pavsic Post-doctoral Fellow
Vladimir Petrovic Research Affiliate
Marsha Siefert CEU Research Affiliate / CEU Associate Professor
Katalin Szende CEU Research Affiliate / CEU Professor
Renata Uitz Senior Research Fellow
Jordan Voltz Junior Research Affiliate


DI Launches €1.5 million ERC Grant Project

We are happy to announce that the CEU Democracy Institute is launching the ERC Starting Grant BENASTA - Becoming National against the State: Popular discontent and adherence to minority nationalisms in late nineteenth-century Eastern Europe. 

Call for Papers: New and Recurring Challenges In the Study of Life (Hi)Stories and Social Change

Call for papers for a conference by ELTE, the RC 38 “Biography and Society” of the International Sociological Association (ISA) and the CEU Democracy Institute to be held in Budapest, 4-6 September 2024. Deadline: March 1

1944-2024: Book Launch and Exhibition to Commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Hungarian Shoah

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Hungarian Shoah, our Democracy in History workgroup held a book launch discussing the book Jews in Hungarian Nation-building Before and After the numerus clausus by Viktor Karady and István Kemeny.

Renata Uitz on Hungary’s New Legislation to “Defend National Sovereignty”

Hungarians got tyranny for Christmas, our Senior Research Fellow Renata Uitz wrote in an op-ed in Hungarian weekly Magyar Narancs, referring to the new Hungarian legislation on the “defense of national sovereignty.”

Deadline Extended: Call for Papers: Utopia and Democracy

The organizers invite papers for the 24th Conference of the Utopian Studies Society/Europe: Utopia and Democracy, to be held in Budapest on July 3-5, 2024.


History as Democracy

RevDem assistant editor Bence Bari interviews László Kontler, Research Affiliate of the CEU Democracy Institute’s Democracy in History workgroup and lead researcher of the project “History as Democracy.”

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins About Liberalism

Kasia Krzyzanowska interviews Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, a faculty member in History Department at Dartmouth College, on the future of liberalism, especially post-Cold War liberalism as envisioned by American intellectuals.