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Looking Ahead to Energy, Culture and Society in the Global South

By Josh Allen - May 20, 2019 (0 comments)

Received from Mattin Biglari (SOAS, London)

This two-day international conference brings together doctoral students and early-career scholars to discuss the different ways energy is and has been intertwined with economic, social, cultural and political developments and processes. The aim of the conference is centring attention on energy as a key agent in modern and contemporary history, in contrast to its typical designation as an external subject of research exclusive to the Natural Sciences.

Coal Fired Power Station by, Flickr user Vikramdeep Sidhu, licensed under CC BY 2.0

At a moment of global climate crisis, it is necessary to critically analyse energy systems and their entanglement in social, economic and political realities. This discussion will develop crucial understanding of the use of alternative and renewable forms of energy.

The conference (taking place at CRASSH, Cambridge 31 May to 1 June 2019) will address the significance of historically uneven development in determining the different ways energy is used and conceptualised around the world. As the negotiations of the 2016 Paris climate accord highlighted, plans for energy transition must also engage with calls for energy justice. Therefore, this conference will focus on cultures of energy in the Global South, drawing attention to particular connections between energy, colonialism and the post-colonial state.

We address an array of different forms of energy – carbon, geo-thermal, nuclear or electrical – and various energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, wood, wind, and water. The nature of world energy not only means that comparative analysis between different national contexts will be important, but also that papers at the conference will follow the transnational and global flows of the infrastructures, knowledge and people that form part of the construction of energy systems and assemblages.

Sub-themes include:

*The uses and effects of energy in everyday life at the point of consumption, especially its relationship to habits and rhythms of daily life, questions of power, agency, and resistance, as well as categories of identity such as race, gender, class and sect.

*Knowledge, representations and cultural imaginaries of energy, including alternative meanings, ontologies and cosmologies, as well as knowledge controversies.

*The construction and reproduction of energy systems and the role of both human and non-human actors such as workers, engineers, technocrats, infrastructural technologies and raw materials.

*The relationship between energy, politics and governance at local, national and international levels.

*The place of energy in colonial and post-colonial states and its connection to themes of sovereignty, rights, law, development, capitalism, imperialism and the nation-state.

Keynote speaker: Charlotte Lemanski (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge)

The full programme and paper abstracts can be viewed here. 

Registration is now open and can be made here. Attendance costs £40 waged, and £20 for those who are unwaged or students. It is possible to book attendance solely day one or two of the conference as opposed to the full two days.

Other than the Past & Present Society sponsors include: the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Murray Edwards College, Past & Present, the Society for the History of Technology​, SOAS (University of London), St John’s College, and University of Cambridge’s Centre of African Studies and Faculty of History.

Past & Present is pleased to support this event and other events like it. Applications for event funding are welcomed from scholars working in the field of historical studies at all stages in their careers.

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Introducing Modes of Authentication in Early Modern Europe

By Josh Allen - May 17, 2019 (0 comments)

received from Dr. Liesbeth Corens (Queen Mary, London) 


In a time of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ we may long for an earlier, purportedly simpler world in which facts were simply facts. But were facts ever that simple? How did past generations separate fact from fiction; truth from falsehood; and proof from hearsay? Tradition has it that written proof once ruled supreme, whether it concerned early modern scholarship or litigation, the spiritual world of demons and the saints or the worldly realm of land rights and taxation. As historians in different fields have since realised, proof was an omnipresent, but nevertheless contested practice that bred fierce conflicts about degrees of trust, the nature of truth, the boundaries between scholarly disciplines, and the purview of official institutions.

Section from: The lawyer’s office, Pieter de Bloot, 1628, from the Rijksmuseum collection, in the public domain

The historiography on proof is varied, and scholars work in parallel traditions; historians of science are inspired by Bruno Latour; historians of religion look at wonders and miracles; historians of scholarship discuss authenticity and forgery; cultural historians are fascinated by the witness. Proof, in short, has enjoyed much critical press within today’s scholarly disciplines. Rarely, however, have scholars integrated these individual observations to probe the shared European legacy of proof. This conference seeks to provide an international forum for an interdisciplinary exchange about the concept of proof in its different early modern guises. It invites scholars – from political to religious history, from law to the history of art and science – to think about the common intellectual problems that once underlay practices of proving in the early modern period.

With its focus on the period from roughly 1400 to 1800 it hones in on what we posit was a crucial phase in the history of proof. The early modern period is traditionally affiliated with the construction of precisely the disciplinary boundaries that continue to separate different strands of contemporary research on proving. Proof itself underwent a similar transformation: different ways of proving became specific to separate disciplines. To understand, then, why such a fundamental concept as proof is still too often studied within and hardly across separate scholarly disciplines we need to return to the very moment when different forms of proof were articulated for different spheres of life and thought. But instead of making the mute point that disciplines develop exclusive forms of proving, our conference seeks to understand the processes by which the disiplinisation of proof could ultimately come about: for instance, to what extent did the articulation and definition of proof contribute to the development of disciplinary boundaries, and vice versa? Did its articulation in one discipline influence the development in others? Did certain traditions of proving influence this process in disproportionate ways? Did the early modern period develop a hierarchy of proof?

Event Details

Modes of Authentication in Early Modern Europe will be taking place 4-5 July 2019 at the Warburg Haus, Hamburg

The organising committee consist of: Richard Callis (Princeton University), Dr. Liesbeth Corens (Queen Mary, London), and Dr. Tom Tölle (University of Hamburg)

Sponsors: Warburg Haus in Hamburg, Akademie der Wissenschaften in Hamburg, Exzellenzcluster Manuscript Cultures, Universität Hamburg, Society for Renaissance studies, Hamburgische Wissenschaftliche Stiftung, Past & Present Society


Download the programme here.

Keynote: Lorraine Daston

– Sara Barker
– Kim Breitmoser
– Richard Calis
– Liesbeth Corens
– Charlotta Forss
– Markus Friedrich
– Andrew Mendelsohn
– Noah Millstone
– Renee Raphael
– Virginia Reinburg
– Hester Schadee
– Kai Schwahn
– Richard Serjeantson
– Tom Toelle


Attendance is free (thanks to our lovely supporters!), but if you want to join, please register via email before 25 June 2019. Lunch and refreshments are provided during the day, but dinner comes at an extra cost (about €60), should you chose to join us for dinner.

Past & Present is pleased to support this event and other events like it. Applications for event funding are welcomed from scholars working in the field of historical studies at all stages in their careers.

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Reflections Upon 18th Century Now

By Josh Allen - May 13, 2019 (0 comments)

by Miranda Reading (King’s, London), Dr Joseph Cozens (UCL), Dr Sally Holloway (Oxford Brookes), Esther Brot (King’s, London)

On Friday the 26th April 2019, the British History in the Long Eighteenth Century Seminar at the Institute for Historical Research hosted it’s 30th anniversary conference at UCL. The sold-out event hosted attendees from all over Britain and Europe, giving a wide perspective to the conference’s stated aim, which was to examine the current state of the study of eighteenth-century British history.

The seminar began life devoted to the political history of the eighteenth century. Under the influence of the late Professor John Dinwiddy (1939-1990) it enlarged its remit, becoming a discussion space for all aspects of the long eighteenth century, which we generally define as being the period 1660-1830. As one of the longest-running seminars at the Institute for Historical Research, over the past thirty years, the Long Eighteenth Century Seminar has developed a distinguished reputation, providing space for scholars at all stages of their careers to bring new research to an engaged and receptive audience across thematic and methodological boundaries.

Matthew McCormack, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the Organisers (2019)

30 years as a time period, has a certain amount of resonance. It is about the time of a demographer’s generation and a good finite time in terms of studying intellectual trends, such as the rise and attack on revisionism in political history; the advent of gender, sexual, cultural and global history; and the big question for the conference – where have we got to and where are we going? The study of Britain in the long eighteenth century is a dynamic and rapidly expanding research area, with almost 30,000 books and articles published on the subject between 2007 and 2018, up 8% on the previous decade. Based on a search of the Bibliography of British and Irish History, subjects experiencing the most marked growth include the senses and emotions, the body, consumption, gender, and imperial history. Therefore, with those considerations in mind, the organisers developed a conference which sought to try and answer those questions. There was an exciting line-up of speakers from the most distinguished historians currently working on the period to the newest and most interesting young historians working in their respective areas. We also had a wide-ranging audience of all ages and all stages of their careers as well as historians working outside the academy who brought a different perspective to the event.

The conference opened with a roundtable examining recent historical ‘turns’. Identifying the influence of various ‘turns’ within the study of eighteenth-century history was a relatively easy task. Will Tullett spoke about his own work on the history of the senses as part of a broader shift towards the study of cultural history, Katrina Navickas highlighted the importance of the spatial turn to her own work on popular protest movements, while Matthew McCormack reflected on the ways in which the linguistic turn and the digitization of sources has, since the 1990s, profoundly shaped his own approach to the study of masculinity and citizenship in Britain. Although cultural, digital and spatial approaches are all demonstrable ‘growth areas’ within historical scholarship today, all three of our panellists questioned the usefulness of framing these developments as ‘turns’. A ‘turn’ suggests a ‘turning away’ from, or even a rejection of, older ways of doing history, which none of our panellists were entirely comfortable with. Rather than seeing themselves as methodological iconoclasts, the consensus was that approaches to eighteenth-century history have developed in a more incremental and interwoven fashion. Will Tullett argued that we should jettison the notion of ‘clonking great turns’, and instead adopt Katherine Gleadle’s metaphor of the knotted and interlocking root-system – or ‘rhizome’ – when conceptualising the intellectual development of the field.

First Panel on Historical Turns, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the Organisers (2019)

Our first thematic panel moved away from approaches and focused on two important aspects of eighteenth-century society; the state and religion. Gareth Atkins developed the themes of integration and connectedness by arguing that the history of religion should not be allowed to become ‘ghettoised’ and that social, cultural, and political historians must meaningfully link their research on the eighteenth century to recent scholarship on religious belief and the Church. Atkins argued that religion was ‘intensely personal’ in the eighteenth century and that further work is needed to explore the role of religious belief in the everyday lives of eighteenth-century men and women. Joanna Innes spoke of her personal connection to the British History in the Long Eighteenth Century Seminar, and its predecessors, dating back to the 1970s. At that time, the study of eighteenth-century history was synonymous with the study of high politics. However, in the wake of the Attica prison revolt (New York, 1971), Innes became interested in grittier (but no less political) topics, such as the development of social policy and the extent and limits of state power. For Innes, the eighteenth-century state is at once powerful and illusory. It may be embodied in sturdy and long-lasting institutions but, on closer inspection, it primarily consists of a select group of individuals engaged in the ‘routinized patterns and behaviours’ associated with the functioning of the state. In contemplation of where studies of the British state might go next, Innes suggested that the ‘power/knowledge nexus’ (e.g. the information state) requires further work, that historians of emotion have yet to turn their attention to the state, and that the ways in which Church and state were mutually reinforcing has been curiously underdeveloped by scholars of the eighteenth-century.

Past & Present President Joanna Innes, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the Organisers (2019)

Leonie Hannan opened the second thematic panel on ‘Enlightenment and Emotions’ by examining the home as a space of informal scientific enquiry. Hannan argued that studying tacit and material practices provides us with a broader understanding of non-elite knowledge making during the eighteenth century. Her case study explored how the postmistress Ann Williams cultivated a colony of silkworms in her home in the 1770s. This approach enables us to construct a much more diffuse and diverse Enlightenment, and see a wider range of men and women engaged in the production of ideas. Sally Holloway continued the theme of practices by analysing love as something that we do through particular socially and historically determined rituals. The courting couples studied in her work deepened their relationships through writing love letters, sending and receiving engraved coins, smelling fragrant posies, and gazing upon hair-work gifts. Holloway argued that by drawing upon a much wider range of textual, visual, and material sources, we can create a much more holistic history of emotions which also incorporates the body, gestures, and senses into our analysis.

Second Panel on Enlightenment and Emotions, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the Organisers (2019)

In the third thematic panel on ‘Gender and Empire’, Beverley Duguid argued that there was not one singular colonial project, but several formal and informal empires. She highlighted the drawbacks of looking to white, Eurocentric history to tell the histories of black people, and so looked to sources such as travel journals as a way to recover black voices. Her paper used Maria Nugent’s journal of her time in Jamaica from 1801–5 to unravel how Nugent raised questions of racial difference in the institutions of religion and marriage amongst black domestic servants. Kate Smith noted that women were initially excluded from histories of empire, which was presented as a characteristically masculine project. However, recent scholarship has considered the different roles of both native and European women, and the intersections between gender and race in shaping imperial and colonial identities. She explored how colonial homes were essential to aristocratic women such as Henrietta Clive in constructing a sense of gentility and selfhood, with Clive keeping detailed journals and building a laboratory to store the rocks and minerals collected during her time in Madras.

Beverley Duguid presents as part of the Third Panel on “Gender and Empire”, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the Organisers (2019)

The closing roundtable considered short and long-term approaches to the eighteenth century, and evaluated its usefulness as a distinct epoch. Penelope Corfield used Henri Lefebvre’s concept of trialectics to divide the eighteenth century into three distinct dimensions, characterised by 40% continuity and tradition, 30% macro-change and revolution, and finally 30% micro-change or evolution. Tim Hitchcock urged that amidst an apparent rising tide of racism and nationalism, historians must work harder to reconstruct non-Western lives. He advocated a return to a longer-term view of history, which does not neglect causation and explanation in appraising historical change. In the final paper of the day, Brodie Waddell emphasised that the long eighteenth century does not cohere as a period when studying either real wages or print outputs, stressing the arbitrariness of any start or end point. In the subsequent discussion, participants reflected on the eighteenth century more as a conversation rather than a standalone period.

Closing panel on “short” and “long” approaches to 18th Century, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the organisers (2019)

Sarah Lloyd brought the conference to a close by reflecting on some of the key terms and concepts of the day. She highlighted the prevalence of experience, practice, bodies, region, work, and space in the papers, while noting the absence of binary concepts, discourse, and identity. She finished with a call for collaboration across disciplines and chronologies, and urged greater reflection on the conditions in which we produce research in universities.

Alongside the main conference, current PhD students produced posters of their research work. They covered an amazing array of topics: from, dance and politics, emotions, transgressive femininity, loans and credit, the value of love, the public museum, architecture, astronomical discourses, the Foundling Hospital, agricultural prize medals, novels, to the Church of England. The Past & Present Society’s support was essential for facilitating this aspect of the conference, as it’s support allowed PhD presenters to travel to the conference from all over Britain, and from Finland. P&P’s support helped make this conference truly a current state of the field of eighteenth-century British history, which would not have been fully possible without the work of PhD students.

Attendees seated, Long 18th Century Conference, Photo courtesy of the Organisers (2019)

This was the first time for both the organisers and the participating PhD students to do poster presentations at a conference. We based the idea and the basic structure on scientific posters, asking the presenters to highlight the significance of their historical contribution, overarching arguments, and source material. Each presenter interpreted these general guidelines as best fitted their PhD projects.

The posters were displayed throughout the conference, with the official poster presentation during lunch. During this time, the presenters stood by their posters and talked with interested conference attendees. People took great advantage of this opportunity to survey so much new work – the poster presenters barely had time to eat lunch. Afterwards when reflecting on their experience, presenters found it to be a great way to make new academic connections and stimulate conversation on their work as a whole. The posters provided an overview of their entire PhD projects, so the discussions differed in content to what more specific paper presentations often stimulate. They were able to test how compelling their overarching theses were. In all, it was a highly successful aspect of the conference for the organizers and presenters.

All in all, it was a successful day with a great deal of intellectual engagement. We would like to thank all our funders for putting their confidence in the organising team to produce this timely event.

A record of online discussion prior to, during, and after; this event, has been created and can be viewed here.

Past & Present was pleased to support this event and other events like it. Applications for event funding are welcomed from scholars working in the field of historical studies at all stages in their careers.

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Past & Present logo, 2017 all rights reserved

Viewpoints on Temporalities and History

By Josh Allen - May 1, 2019 (0 comments)

By the Past & Present editorial team

A desire to accessibly explore the big themes the unite and animate those interested in historical studies has lain at the heart of the Past & Present project since the first issue of the journal in 1952. So pleasingly, since their revival in 2016, our Viewpoint articles-a series of person reflections-seeking to interrogate questions around and advance key overarching areas of discussion and debate for all who work in the discipline-have become some of our most read and engaged with publications. Continuing in this strong vein, Past & Present is pleased to publish as part of its May 2019 issue (#243) the thoughts, perspectives and insights of five scholars working across time and space, on the matter of temporality and history.

The Temporalities Viewpoints have been made free to read by our publisher Oxford University Press Academic and are available to read below:

“The History of Temporalities: An Introduction”, by Dr. Matthew Champion (Birkbeck, London)

“A Fuller History of Temporalities”, by Dr. Matthew Champion (Birkbeck, London)

“The Fetish of Accuracy: Perspectives on Early Modern Time(S)”, by Dr. Stefan Hanß (University of Manchester)

“Time and the Modern: Current Trends in the History of Modern Temporalities”, by Dr. A.R.P. Fryxell (Pembroke, Cambridge)

“Time, Space and Islands: Why Geographers Drive the Temporal Agenda”, by Dr. David Gange (University of Birmingham)

“Time, Temporality and the History of Capitalism”, by Dr. Vanessa Ogle (California, Berkeley)

To get a sense of the issues under discussion and the series as a whole, Matthew Champion has provided a very brief introduction:

“In recent years, and across multiple disciplines, temporality has become a focus of scholarly attention. Why is this the case? Haven’t historians always been concerned with temporalities? As the essays gathered here suggest, the answer to this question has to be ‘yes and no’. Like all categories of analysis, time has provoked scholars to think in different directions across multiple disciplines for many years. But with increasing unanimity scholars are now emphasizing histories of ‘temporality’ and not simply of ‘time’. What does this shift imply?

Thinking with ‘temporalities’ has helped historians to understand that ‘time’ cannot be considered as an object separate from human configurations, perceptions and measurements, as well as to emphasize that ‘time’ is always and everywhere a condition…”

Czech-2013-Prague-Astronomical clock face

Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons