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Call for Papers

Natural History, Politics and Religion in the Victorian Age

13th Summer School in British History

Conveners/Organisers: Historisches Seminar der Ludwig-Maxiliams-Universität München; German Historical Institute London

Date: 20-24 July 2015

Venue: German Historical Institute London

Closing date for applications: 15 May 2015

More information is available on the Summer School webpage.

Nostalgia — Historicizing the Longing for the Past

Date: 1-3 October 2015

Venue: German Historical Institute London

In the early seventies, intellectuals and journalists became aware of a new and worrying phenomenon: nostalgia. ‘How much more nostalgia can America take?’ Time magazine asked in 1971, soon echoed by Der Spiegel in Germany and New Society in Britain to name just two. Only a decade before, dictionaries had still defined nostalgia as a medical term for an extreme form of homesickness. Now, it described the sentimental yearning for an irretrievable past. And this yearning seemed to be everywhere: in popular culture, in the rising number of museums and the explosion of museum attendance, in advertising, retro fashions and the booming antique market.

Not much seems to have changed since then. History is as popular as never before, popular culture is still obsessed with its own past, fashion designers continue to look back to earlier decades for inspiration and the current upsurge of heritage television—Downton Abbey, Mad Men—is again being discussed in terms of nostalgia. What is much harder to pin down are the origins of nostalgia and the changes it has undergone during the twentieth century. Has nostalgia always been around or is it indeed a peculiar modern phenomenon? Did its rise really begin in the seventies? Who feels nostalgic and for what? How do age, gender and class constitute and influence nostalgia? And does nostalgia really account for the popular interest in the past?

While a number of studies on nostalgia have appeared throughout various disciplines, historians have taken surprisingly little interest in the phenomenon. If they use the term at all, it is often with condescension, variously describing nostalgia as a sickness, kitsch or even a sin. What we still know very little about, however, is the history of nostalgia. How can we historicize nostalgia? How did it change over time? Does nostalgia, distort the past, as many historians believe, or does it perhaps foster an interest in history?

These are some of the questions the conference wants to address. It is interested both in theoretical contributions to the history of nostalgia and in case studies of nostalgia in various times, places, groups and contexts. Possible topics are: nostalgia in museums, the heritage industry and tourism, nostalgia in popular culture and the media, everyday nostalgia, industrial nostalgia, postcolonial nostalgia, rural nostalgia, nostalgia and migration, nostalgia and identity, nostalgia as an emotion, nostalgia and material culture.

The conference is transdisciplinary and we welcome proposals for twenty-minute presentations from scholars of all fields, including but not limited to history, sociology, literature, philosophy, and cultural studies. Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, along with a short CV, by 31 March 2015 to Tobias Becker at becker(ghi) Accommodation during the conference will be covered. A limited number of grants will be given to contributors to cover their travel expenses.

Call for papers (PDF file)

The Global Public: Its Power and its Limits

Date: 22-24 October 2015

Conveners: Valeska Huber (GHIL) and Jürgen Osterhammel (Leibnizpreis-Forschungsstelle Globale Prozesse, Universität Konstanz)

Venue: German Historical Institute London

The conference will explore theories and practices of a global public in the long twentieth century. Recent forms of mass protest and debates around open, censored or intercepted flows of information have triggered debates about the power and limits of the global public. Yet many preconditions for such a global public had their origin in the last decades of the nineteenth century, when global travel became more standardised and new media such as telegraphy, mass print and later film entered the scene. During the two world wars, the global public was mobilized and manipulated in an unprecedented manner. Communication theorists and internationalists of the inter-war period, such as John Dewey, Harold Lasswell and H.G. Wells, saw it as a rising political force that would change future decision-making. In war or crisis, peace activists and humanitarians evoked it as a moral tribunal and normative entity. The organisers of cultural and sporting events hoped for new worldwide audiences, which businessmen and advertisers associated with opportunities for profit-making on a new scale. Politicians recognised the global public as a force for prestige and image cultivation, for instance during the Cold War, turning it into an arena of intense competition. At the same time the related technologies, especially print media and film, and their penetration of different world regions and layers of society provided a field of experimentation, and the limits of the global public, on a geographical and social but also on a normative scale, remained visible.

For the purpose of this conference, four areas seem particularly relevant:

  1. Infrastructures of the global public. New conceptions of a global public depended on new technologies, which were global but not worldwide in reach and often entered into competition with each other. Which media and technologies emerged as particularly promising? What were the educational preconditions for being part of the global public? Who were the actors promoting or driving the expansion of a global public, in technological, social and geographical terms? And who in turn benefitted from the remoteness of certain areas and groups?
  2. Scope of the global public. The production, penetration and limits of a global public, its geographical breadth and social depth await closer study. Notions such as world stardom, world fame or world records refer to the potentially global reach of cultural and sporting events and to a shared yardstick for measuring success in a global arena. Institutions like the Nobel Prize, first awarded in 1901, point to similar phenomena in the fields of science and literature. Who made it onto the global stage and who was instrumental in facilitating such staging? What were the centres and peripheries of this diffusion?
  3. Economics of the global public. The new global public was attached to tangible business interests, often in connection with the global rise of advertising and publicity. In this context, the question of media monopolies will be of particular relevance. This theme will investigate new commercial and marketing strategies and analyse who paid for, and who profited from, the new arenas of worldwide entertainment.
  4. Politics of the global public. The cultural and commercial mobilisation of audiences often had political aims and agendas, which took the form of competing claims over the public outside the nation-state. The political function of a global public thus merits closer investigation. What made a world event deserve global attention? When did information fail to reach the global public and why? Who invoked and who ignored the global public? These questions have not yet been studied in a common framework, although they connect with several existing or emerging fields of research concerned with terms such as global consciousness, public opinion, propaganda, public sphere, civil society, mass audience, or world population. They also relate to studies of internationalism, which so far have often centred on the elite circles of Geneva, Paris and New York, with more recent additions on different internationalisms beyond its liberal version, for example in the socialist world. Cultural histories of the Cold War show how the global public could become a field of rivalry. It is also important to highlight other rifts such as the knowledge gap or the digital divide, as studies on a ‘global civil society’ and other approaches stressing connections can at times be overly optimistic.

Contributions to the conference could come from a wide range of topics, covering the long twentieth century from the 1870s onwards. We are particularly looking for empirical case studies covering different regions in the fields of history or related disciplines such as anthropology or geography. They could address the following modes of actions:

  • Conceptualising: How did intellectuals, social scientists, or policy advisors envision the global public?
  • Informing: Who reached the public and through which media (radio, cinema, television or print)? What were its languages?
  • Misinforming: How was the global public manipulated, engineered, or captured? Who was disconnected from it and what information was withheld or censored?
  • Entertaining: Who reached the global stage in the fields of culture, entertainment and sport? Who used entertainment and cultural missions to brush up their image? When was cultural consumption employed to appease the global public?
  • Competing: Were there different publics and counterpublics with a global claim, for instance, Soviet and American? What were the hierarchies in the global public and how did they play out in the competition for radio listeners or Nobel Prize winners, for example? Who saw the global public as big business and was able to monopolize it?
  • Monitoring: How was the global public measured, controlled and censored and through which institutions? Who had the power to steer the global public and when did it become an actor in its own right?
  • Localising: What were the physical spaces of the global public such as public squares as sites of demonstrations? How did different publics and counterpublics interconnect or fragment?

The conference will take place on 22-24 October 2015 at the German Historical Institute London. Travel and accommodation expenses will be covered. If you are interested in presenting a paper, please send proposals (including your name, institutional affiliation or place of residence and title of paper; abstract no longer than 500 words) and a brief CV to the conveners at the following address by 28 February 2015: huber(ghi)

Call for papers (PDF file)