Call for Papers
Urban Microcosms (1789-1940)
University of Bristol, 14-16 September 2015
Deadline: 15 February 2015
It is a commonplace of scholarship that modernity in literature and culture is bound up with city life. The growth of cities over the course of the nineteenth century, so the argument runs, fostered social and intellectual, literary and artistic diversity; and as a result, new ways of seeing things emerged, which were captured most prominently, but not exclusively, in the works of Charles Baudelaire. Yet public life in cities is not evenly distributed across the various urban spaces. It is concentrated in a variety of small locations. Many of these - railway stations, arcades, department stores, coffee houses, hotels, theatres, universities, churches - constitute the cities’ cores. But the range also includes places such as salons, parks, brothels and even public lavatories, which are less quintessentially metropolitan. Others again, such as spas, beaches or railway interchanges, are located on the peripheries of cities or even outside them altogether. Indeed these networks of non-metropolitan urban spaces are every bit as important as catalysts for modernity as their big city counterparts. While all these spaces - which we propose to call urban microcosms - constitute environments that are to some extent anonymous and serve as spaces of human interaction or mere observation, they differ from one another in function and design. Peculiar orders of space and time may be inherent in them, and specific (unwritten) rules apply. In each of them, the relationship between social stability and fluidity is also subtly different. These characteristics have contributed to the imaginative quality of such urban microcosms, and have subsequently inspired paintings, films, literature, and, not least, architecture.
We propose to devise a comprehensive comparative phenomenology of these urban microcosms for the period from 1789 to 1940, and invite papers that investigate the history of such places as well as their representation in literature, art and film. The conference will enable scholars working on social, urban, political, cultural, literary, art and theatre history and theory, across a broad range of regions, to exchange their thoughts and findings.
Confirmed keynote speakers are Sven Hanuschek (LMU, Munich), Esther Leslie (Birkbeck, London) and Robert Lethbridge (Fitzwilliam, Cambridge).
Questions addressed might include, but are by no means limited to:
- In what way, and by what means, are urban microcosms depicted? What kinds of stories are told about them? What distinguishes them as settings and what is distinctive about events that are set there?
- Based on the definition of the city as a scene of sociability in which “strangers are likely to meet” (R Sennett), in what way do urban microcosms serve as forum for encounters, or facilitate the emergence of milieus? More generally, what function do they have in the emergence/composition of “social formations” (Simmel)?
- Which (literary) types emerged in these microcosms (e.g., the dandy, the doppelgänger, the flaneur)? How are they portrayed, and how is their experience captured?
- What role do gender and class play; fashion trends, conversation habits and behaviour patterns?
- How do these microcosms function as ‘catalysts’ of modernity? In how far do works of art art/drama/film/literature, reflect the atmosphere and tensions of different eras?
- What changes in the aesthetics of writing and modalities of visualisation have the dynamics of these spaces brought about?
The aims of the conference are:
- to map out a possible literary, artistic, scenic and cinematic phenomenology of urban microcosms
- to trace an “etymology” of urban microcosms (H Lefebvre), and, in doing so, to conceptualise a differentiated typology of the city
- to examine the dynamics that inhere in particular urban microcosms, and explore relevant similarities and differences between them
- to evaluate the role of borders and thresholds (W. Benjamin), including the relationship between the public and the private
- to facilitate and to foster interdisciplinary exchanges
The conference, generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust, will be held from 14 to 16 September 2015 at the University of Bristol. A publication of contributions is envisaged; the conference language will be English.
Please submit an abstract of ca. 300 words, along with a short list of questions and terms that are relevant to your paper - by 15 February 2015 - to [log in to unmask] and [log in to unmask] Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Margit Dirscherl (University of Bristol) and Astrid Köhler (Queen Mary University of London)
Dr Margit Dirscherl
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow
Co-Editor of ANGERMION: Yearbook for Anglo-German Cultural Relations
University of Bristol
School of Modern Languages
17 Woodland Road
Bristol BS8 1TE
t +44 117 928 74 31
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