The Age of Questions


The Centre for the Study of Internationalism launched with a lecture by Professor Holly Case examining ‘The Age of Questions’. The talk focused on a period in modern history – roughly 1810 to 1950 – when ‘questions’ reigned. The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote his views on the ‘Eastern question’ through the character in Anna Karenina, the future president of Czechoslovakia penned over 700 pages on the ‘social question’, and a German novelist expressed his immoderate views on the ‘oyster question’. When and why did people start thinking in terms of ‘questions’ and what did it mean?

EVAN.993From a spattering of references to the American and Catholic questions in the mid-to-late eighteenth century, there followed an interrogative deluge in the nineteenth. Before long, publicists, scholars, statesmen, novelists, religious authorities, millers, doctors, and others competed to derive the best solutions to the Eastern, Belgian, woman, labour [worker], agrarian, and Jewish questions. These were folded into larger ones, like the European, nationality, and social questions, even as they competed for attention with countless smaller ones, like the Kansas, Macedonian, Schleswig-Holstein, and cotton questions. The most prominent figures put their pens to them: Alexis de Tocqueville, Victor Hugo, Karl Marx, Frederick Douglass, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Rosa Luxemburg, and Adolf Hitler, to name just a few. That questions were construed as problems is evident from another familiar formulation: the “definitive” or “final solution.” Consequently, in her lecture, Professor Case asked if there was there a family resemblance between questions, or certain patterns that recurred or migrated across them? Have they disappeared, or are they still with us?

Professor Case is currently completing a book project on this ‘Age of Questions’, tentatively subtitled “First Attempt at a History (in Aggregate) of the Eastern, Social, American, Jewish, Polish, Bullion, Tuberculosis, and Many Other Questions from Roughly 1800 to 1945, and Beyond.”