The period between 1970 and 1990 represents a break point in the study of contemporary history in Western Europe. History in these "dark years" was characterised by generational revolt, by national withdrawal, cultural demobilisation, a delayed presentism, a battle for transparency, and by a civil rights movement campaigning for a more open society. This period is now over and the discipline finds itself in a radically new situation. Working on the same objects no longer produces the same results nor does it have the same social and political impact. The challenges to national history, the memory competition waged by new and exclusive identity groups, the increasing recourse to legal categories, the competition from other social sciences and the discriminate effects of the digital revolution all call for a thorough rethinking of the role of the historian in public debate.