L-R: Prof Dr Andreas Fickers, Founding Director of C2DH; Stefan Krebs, Assistant Professor for Contemporary History; Credit: C2DH

May 2022 marks the fifth anniversary of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), an interdisciplinary research centre of the University of Luxembourg.

To celebrate this milestone, the C²DH is organising a fifth anniversary celebration at the Maison du Savoir in Esch-Belval on the evening of Wednesday 25 May 2022.

Ahead of this celebration, Chronicle.lu had the opportunity to speak with Prof Dr Andreas Fickers, Founding Director of the C²DH, about the origins of the centre, how it has developed over the past five years and what the future holds for the C²DH.

Creation & Mission

Discussing the origins of the C²DH, Prof Dr Fickers explained that it all began in 2013 when the then new Bettel-Schneider government coalition in Luxembourg explored the idea of creating a centre for contemporary history. Fast forward to 2015 and the Luxembourg Government had decided to dismantle some of the existing smaller institutions to create a new structure. Upon its creation in October 2016 and its official launch on 22 May 2017, the C²DH became the third interdisciplinary centre of the University of Luxembourg.

As Prof Dr Andreas Fickers explained, the C²DH was “built on existing structures” but “several new positions could be advertised”. In 2018, the centre had 30 team members; today, it counts 110 people.

Regarding the main mission of the C²DH (then and now), Prof Dr Fickers noted that he had presented his vision upon his appointment as Director in 2016, which has since been turned into a mission for the centre. The C²DH has a triple mission:

  1. To serve as a national hubfor critical debate and discussion about the contemporary history of Luxembourg” and to act as a public history institute, for instance by “organis[ing] new creative formats of debating Luxembourg's past”, such as “ForumZ” (Z for “Zeitgeschichte”, i.e. contemporary history); these new formats have become a “trademark” for the C²DH.
  2. To act as an international hub for reflection on what the C²DH frames as “digital hermeneutics”, i.e. offering a “place of critical reflection on new forms of doing history in the digital age”. The focus here is on training students but also doctoral students in different hermeneutics and the digital framework, looking at what digital tools can offer historians but also the limitations of such tools. There is thus a strong focus on promoting new skills, such as algorithmic and tool criticism (e.g. text mining). As Prof Dr Fickers noted, this digital hermeneutic framework has become “a niche for the C2DH in the global community of historians”.
  3. To promote digital literacy among students and thus “prepare the next generation of historians” for jobs linked to digital platforms. “This teaching mission is very important to us”, noted Prof Dr Fickers. In this area, the centre has developed and continues to develop new or more innovative teaching platforms, such as Ranke.2, an online portal for self-study based on digital source criticism. This tool is starting to “gain international traction”, the C²DH Director added.


Regarding his personal highlights during the first five years of the C²DH’s existence, Prof Dr Andreas Fickers expressed pride in the fact that the team had succeeded in creating a research culture at the C²DH based on “a philosophy of hands on experimentation”, or “thinkering”. He emphasised the importance of having created an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks and doing new things. He noted that this was linked to the social dimension, the “legacies of the smaller institutions that existed before”. Indeed, one of the main challenges at the beginning was managing expectations and making people who had perhaps previously worked at other institutions “feel a part of this new project”. As such, they invested in team-building activities, communication and expectation management. “We now see the fruits of that”.

Part of this included the establishment of a governance structure based on flat hierarchies, rather than a top-down structure, and following the guiding principle of “shared authority and shared responsibility”. Such an approach “really empowers people” in Prof Dr Fickers’ experience.

Another personal highlight was the creation of the Journal of Digital History (JDH), together with the De Gruyter publishing group, in 2021. Launching an open-access, free digital history journal had been part of Prof Dr Fickers’ long-term vision. The journal is a data-driven, multi-layered platform (featuring narrative, hermeneutic and data layers). As the C²DH Director explained, this journal caters to the key elements of transparency and traceability – something which has been “lacking in digital humanities so far”. The hope now is that this journal, unique in its field, will set new standards. However, it is a long-term project, which is currently undergoing a lot of development work in partnership with De Gruyter.

This project is also special for Prof Dr Fickers as a “perfect example of a co-design approach”. He elaborated: “Digital history is by definition for me collaborative work”, i.e. it is carried out between historians but also coders and web developers and designers, among others. However, traditionally, such professionals have been viewed as support staff for historians. Instead, the JDH presents these often hidden collaborators as co-authors.

Unprecedented times

Concerning the current climate of uncertainty, namely linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, Prof Dr Andreas Fickers noted that the role of historians has changed. “In the digital age, we as historians are becoming real-time archivists of such crises”, he stated, adding that the work of an historian today includes building datasets and digital archives to study such crises in the future. The C²DH has already launched memory bank projects such as the covidmemory.lu participatory project, and is working on similar initiatives with partners across Europe.

Concerning Ukraine, the centre has received around 100 terabytes (TB) of research data from the Center for Urban History in Lviv (Ukraine). Moreover, the C²DH has set up several fellowships specifically for Ukrainian researchers in the context of the war. “We try to support them as much as we can also with the digital facilities that we have”. Prof Dr Fickers added that the team was doing “what every contemporary historian does and has to do: contest the [political] instrumentalisation and misuse of history” – a practice that has long existed. He noted that these were all challenges for which neither they nor others had been prepared. “We have to react much quicker than in the past”. Similarly, skills related to digital source and data criticism have become more important than ever in the era of “fake news”.

Such skills are necessary not just among students but among teaching staff. According to Prof Dr Fickers, one of the biggest challenges has been “training the trainers”. With the rapid evolution of technology, the “gap is growing” and “we need daily to catch up with the digital”. Whilst the C²DH regularly offers skills training programmes also for its staff, the process is long. He noted: “Universities are not known for being the most innovative institutions regarding changing programmes”.


On the diversity front, Prof Dr Fickers said that the C²DH was doing rather well regarding gender balance: more than half of the centre’s PhD students are women. The centre is also diverse in terms of nationalities and backgrounds, with its first doctoral training unit having been composed of thirteen PhD students from eleven different countries, from Russia to Australia and Brazil. Nevertheless, “like everyone, we could do better in terms of de-westernising our perspective”, he stated. To address such issues, whilst the main focus of the C²DH is on Luxembourgish history and its role from a transnational perspective, the centre is making efforts to broaden its research agenda. Examples include the LETTERBOX project which looks at offshore companies and the global history of financial fluxes, as well as Luxembourg’s role within this as a mediator or even a hub.


In terms of funding, the C²DH receives about one-third of its total budget from external sources, whether it is competitive or bilateral funding or through conventions with government ministries. The centre also receives “very solid baseline funding” from the University of Luxembourg itself.

Next 5 Years

Looking to the future, Prof Dr Andreas Fickers noted that he had just started his second five-year mandate as C²DH Director in October 2021. Between now and 2026 (and possibly beyond), there are “still lots of interesting and challenging work and projects to do”, he noted. Whilst the first five years served to establish the centre as a national and international player (i.e. “built the base camp”), structural support is now needed to keep it going.