Laszlo Kontler

Head of the Doctoral School of History
egyetemi tanár
Year of Birth: 

Contact information

Vienna, Quellenstrasse 51

I am a historian born, raised and educated in Budapest, but my academic experience has been shaped by a great deal of time spent at universities and research centers across Europe and in North America. I have taught at the universities of Debrecen and Budapest (ELTE), as well as at Rutgers University (New Brunswick) and the University of Cambridge, but CEU has been my main institutional home since the first masters’ program in history in 1992. After nearly three decades, and having served the university in diverse capacities, I am still thrilled by the sense of the intellectual and socio-cultural adventure it represents for all members of the community.

Though my internationally best known work may be a full-scale history of Hungary,  (1999/2002), my specific background is in European intellectual history in the early-modern period and the Enlightenment. This was a quite unusual choice for a historian in Hungary in the 1980s, when I took my degrees and my career began (it has become less so in the meantime). My early inspirations were both "Cambridge" (linguistic contextualism) and "Bielefeld" (Begriffsgeschichte); I have worked extensively on the history of political thought (in Western and Central European contexts), which is still an active commitment, for instance in the European Society for the History of Political Thought (including as its president between 2016-2018), as co-editor of the volumes (2017) and (2021), and the book series .

From the later 1990s, this interest became increasingly combined with the study of the history of historical discourses, and of the phenomenon of translation and reception in the history of ideas. My 2014 book  is on the reception of the Scottish historian William Robertson in the 1760s to 1790s in Germany, as a case study on the potentials and limitations of intellectual communication across cultural and linguistic frontiers within the enlightened “republic of letters”, and as a contribution to discussions about the unity versus diversity of the European Enlightenment. This project implied the study of "doing history" as an emerging discipline and as a scholarly and academic practice in the eighteenth century, which has inspired an interest in practices of scholarship more broadly, and the contexts and agendas which shape the production of scientific knowledge. These more recent interests of mine have been very much motivated by communicating and working with an international group of scholars including “real” historians of science, resulting in the 2014 volume .

My most recent completed monographic project was a co-authored book, focusing on the intriguing Viennese Jesuit imperial astronomer Maximilian Hell (1720-1792), as a nodal figure of the eighteenth-century European universe of knowledge, connecting local, regional, imperial and global spaces and life-worlds. The book is a case study exploring the complex dynamics between science, state-building, Enlightenment and Catholicism in the Habsburg Monarchy and beyond, in a period of dramatic transformations.

My teaching and thesis supervising activity also ranges across the topics emphasized above, including neighboring areas. My recent courses include history and theory of historiography; intellectual history and the history of political thought, both in theoretical and methodological terms and empirically with a focus on the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century (in particular the interplay between political discourse and ideas and practices of "governmentality"); "negotiating knowledge" in spatial and temporal contexts between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; and “inventing humanity” or the cultural construction of the concept of mankind during the same period.  

Fellowships and Awards

Major international research and professorial fellowships in London, Oxford, New Brunswick (New Jersey), Wolfenbüttel, Göttingen, Edinburgh, Florence, Cambridge

Professional Activities

  • Editorial committee member: European Review of History / Revue Européene d'Histoire
  • Advisory Board member: Europa entdecken series (Fischer europäische Geschichte, ed. Wolfgang Benz); Central Europe; East-Central Europe; Modern Intellectual History; Europäische Geschichte Online (Leibniz Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz)
  • Member: Hungarian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies; Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society; European Society for the History of Political Thought

CEU Doctoral Supervision

  • (with Jan Hennings) Rethinking Mankind: The Ottomans in Early-Modern European Discourse on Humanity and Natural Rights / Oana Avram (current 
  • Between Sceptres and Tridents: The Balance of Sea Power in the Early Modern Era / Izidor Janžekovič (current)
  • Churches Wedding the Union: Comparing 18th-century Scotland and Catalonia / Barnabás Szabó ((current)

Courses taught in the previous years

  • Governance and Knowledge. State, Society and Legitimacy 
  • Inventing Humanity. History, Anthropology, Politics, Representation (16th-19th centuries)
  • The Enlightenment: history, historiography, legacyAdvanced Seminar in Intellectual History: Reading the Classic
  • Source Reading Seminar in Intellectual History I: Fontenelle, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
  • Source Reading Seminar in Intellectual History II: Locke, Second Treatise of Government


Doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (DSc), 2014
Habilitation, Eötvös Lóránd University, Budapest, 2006
Candidate of historical science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest), 1997
Doctor universitatis, summa cum laude, Eötvös Lóránd University (Budapest), early modern history, 1987