German Historical Institute London

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Call for Papers


The Best Ideas? Natures, Nations, and Collective Memory

Date: 1-3 December 2016

Conveners: Andreas Gestrich (German Historical Institute London), Frank Uekötter (University of Birmingham)

Deadline: 13 May 2016

In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park in the world. Forty years later, with similar parks existing all over the world, James Bryce declared that the national parks were "the best idea America ever had". The remark became legendary and stands as a fine example of post-colonial humour, as Bryce was the British ambassador to the United States. It raises interesting questions about the nationalisation of nature and the naturalization of nations.

Nature has served as a resource for nation-building, and the reverse is no less true: nations and nationalisms have framed the appreciation of the natural environment. Sometimes a historic first captured the collective imagination. For example, England has claimed a special attachment to animals ever since the foundation of the world's first society for animal protection in 1824. In other cases, the link grew out of a peculiar endowment of nature such as the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, tigers in India, or panda bears in China. Sometimes a disaster left its mark in national identity; Chernobyl and Bhopal may serve as examples. The meaning of environmental icons can be positive as well as negative, and places such as the silver mines of Potosí occupy an ambiguous place somewhere in between.

Both nature and nations came across with a whiff of eternity, but recent scholarship offers a different perspective: it views nations as imagined communities and nature as a cultural construction. Furthermore, nations were never homogeneous in their appreciation of nature, and the dividing lines shed revealing lights on societies, identities, and changes in the land. Memory studies have stressed the pivotal role of groups with specific interests and mindsets in the shaping of collective memory. For example, icons of nature were important commercial assets for hotel owners and tourist managers. Scholars have also shown how the construction of national identities was tied to processes of exclusion and inclusion. Environmental historians have recognized that human interventions in nature mirrored and created social inequalities. In short, both nations and natures show an enormous dynamism over time, and yet societies displayed a remarkable inclination to depict them as permanent and immutable - all the more reason to discuss the intended and unintended changes over time.

Events and objects of nature could gain iconic status in many different ways, and this conference explores these paths in transnational perspective. When and how did they achieve iconic status? What were the original motives, and how did they relate to interests and identities?

Can we identify certain groups that typically played key roles in the making of these myths? When and how did icons advance beyond national borders, and can we identify a divergence between national and international tropes? Can we identify differences in the construction of identities in Western countries and the colonial and post-colonial world? And how did all this change over time? With these questions, the workshop explores paths towards what one might call an environmental history of nationalism.

We particularly invite paper proposals that address one or several of the following issues:

  • Landscapes and Cultures: how did nations come to perceive certain landscapes as iconic, and what did this mean for these environments and their human inhabitants?
  • Nations and Disasters: how did catastrophic events shape national identities, and how did that influence political and social responses to these disasters?
  • Iconic Species: why did some animals achieve iconic status, and what were the consequences for species, humans, and the environments in which they both lived?
  • Identity as a Business Model: what was the role of economic interests (broadly conceived) in the construction and change of environmental icons?

Discussions during the conference will be based on precirculated papers that will be due no later than 15 October 2016. The conference will take place in London on 1-3 December 2016. We intend to publish selected papers in an appropriate venue.

Please send paper proposals of up to 500 words to Frank Uekötter at f.uekoetter(ghi)bham.ac.uk. The deadline for proposals is 13 May 2016.

Call for Papers (PDF file).


Pop Nostalgia
The Uses of the Past in Popular Culture

Venue: German Historical Institute London
Date: 10-11 November 2016
Dion Georgiou (BSSH South Sport and Leisure History Network), Tobias Becker (German Historical Institute London)

Deadline: 30 June 2016

Pop nostalgia, we are told, is everywhere. Our current golden age of television—from Mad Men to Vinyl, Downton Abbey to Call the Midwife—lovingly recreates earlier periods of the twentieth century, while club nights devoted to the 1980s or 1990s allow us to return to our youth. What is more, popular culture is, in the words of music journalist Simon Reynolds, addicted to its own past. It not only reminisces, it revives, reissues, remixes earlier forms and styles instead of coming up with genuinely new. Finally, our most modern technologies are always also time machines: producing sepia-coloured images of the present for an anticipated nostalgic recollection in the future.

These very different cultural phenomena, which are often subsumed under the term nostalgia, raise a number of still under-explored questions. How new is this development, given that period films are as old as the cinema and that popular culture and music has drawn on earlier periods as long as it exists? Can, contrary to Reynolds’ argument, the recycling of old styles and forms not also be highly creative and result in innovations? Are period settings and costumes, retro and vintage styles as such indicative and synonymous with nostalgia? Is it really nostalgia—a sentimental longing for yesterday—that drives our interest in and our engagement with the past? And if not what other motivations are at play? What role, for example, have media technologies such as film and the internet played in preserving the culture of the past in the present?

These are some of the questions the workshop Pop Nostalgia addresses. It explores the uses of the past in popular culture across all media and genre, from literature, cinema, television, and video games to theme park, club nights and sports events. It is interested not only in representations of the past but also in their production and circulation as well as in audiences and reception. The workshop is particularly interested in the historical dimension of pop nostalgia, namely how it has changed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century.

We welcome proposals for twenty-minute presentations from all disciplines and particularly encourage comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives. Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, along with a short CV, by 30th June 2016 to both Dion Georgiou (BSSH South Sport and Leisure History Network) at diongeorgiou@hotmail.co.uk and Tobias Becker (German Historical Institute London) at becker@ghil.ac.uk. The conference will take place from 10 to 11 November at the German Historical Institute London. Accommodation during the conference will be covered. Up to 100€ of travel costs will be reimbursed to those traveling within Europe; 800€ for those traveling from elsewhere.

Call for Papers (PDF file)


The Long End of the First World War. Ruptures, Continuities and Memories

Venue: Herrenhausen Palace, Herrenhäuser Straße 4A, 30419 Hannover, Germany

Date: 8-10 May 2017

Organized by the University of Hanover, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Volkswagen Foundation and the German Historical Institute London

Application for Travel Grants

Deadline: 1 November 2016

The symposium focuses on the relation between global history and social history, highlighting actors and regions, and it systematically engages with the issue of diverse periodizations. In discussing linkages between experience, historiography, and commemoration, the symposium aims at unsettling the notion of a static and clearly defined “end” of the First World War, a construct mainly based on European developments.

The Volkswagen Foundation offers travel grants for PhD Students researching on the First World War in an outer-European perspective. Successful applicants will get the chance to discuss their research with senior scholars and present their main argument in the plenum. Poster on each PhD project will be displayed during the symposium. The Grants include travel expenses and accommodation,

More information (PDF file)