Project Presentation

Capturing the Present in Northwestern Europe (1348-1648).

A Cultural History of Present Before the Age of Presentism

Capturing the Present is an international research program funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Sinergia, 2024-2028, Grant No. CRSII–222709).

This research project examines how the present was perceived and experienced in Northwestern Europe during the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era. This geographic area, including the current-day Netherlands, Belgium, Western Germany, Northern France, and Southern England, experienced significant shifts in politics, economy, religion, culture and art. With its diverse political systems, multiple languages, urban development, and evolving lifestyles, this region provides a unique historical backdrop, differing from the conventional Italy-focused Renaissance narrative.

Our study is multifaceted and multidisciplinary, encompassing history, art, literature, linguistics, media studies, anthropology, and political science. It has three principal objectives: tracing the evolution of the concept of the ‘present’ from 1348 to 1648; uncovering the unique cultural characteristics of Northwestern Europe; and exploring how individuals and their communities perceived and adapted to the notion of the present. We will investigate how discourses and visual media give shape to individual and collective perceptions of one’s own time, how events are represented and interpreted, and how people responded to novel ideas and political and societal changes.

The project’s aim is to redirect historical focus towards Northwestern Europe, highlighting its complexity and diversity and its critical role in influencing our comprehension of the present in a broader European context.

See related pages for project presentations in French, German, and Italian.