A Brill Calendar: August 10
Few facets of European history are more underplayed than the unity of the continent.
Nevertheless, European history often seems the tale of little more than (North) Western European history. From an intellectual and scholarly viewpoint, the situation is aggravated by the fact that since the French Revolution, much important historiography has been produced within partisan, nationalistic perspectives. Yet, these histories of nation states, put together on one long and groaning library shelf, have not resulted in a coherent European history up to now; regardless of some fresh and impressive efforts to write one; like Norman Davies’s superb ‘Europe – A History’.
Parallelisms and multiplicity of cause have hindered the emergence of a history suitable and appropriate for all European citizens. The political and cultural wish for reform during the second half of the 18th century on many locations in Europe is a point in case. Usually it is seen in one perspective only: the spectacular French Revolution of 1789.
It is seldom, that comparable or affiliated developments elsewhere are mentioned in the context like they should; such as the one of August 10, 1767, when the Empress of Russia, Yekaterina Alekseyeva, ‘Catharine the Great’ (Stettin, Prussia, May 2 1729 – Tsarskoye Selo, near St. Petersburg, November 17 1796) installed a commission from all the provinces of her vast realm in which all social classes were represented; excepting serfs.
Her ‘Instruction’ for that day may be read as an enlightened draft of a Constitution and a Code of Laws. And in a truly European context it is not amiss to remember that the first ‘Constitution’ worthy of that name doesn’t hail from Marianne’s ‘Liberté, Egalité & Fraternité’, but from a much earlier Polish Kingdom.