CFP: Reference Cultures and Imagined Empires in Western History: Global Perspectives, 1815‐2000 (Utrecht, June 2014)

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Call for papers 'Reference Cultures and Imagined Empires in Western
History: Global Perspectives, 1815‐2000'

Deadline proposal: February 16
The conference will be held from 11‐13 June 2014 at Utrecht University,

Call for Papers
This conference explores the concept of reference culture as a way to
approach the cultural dimensions of territorial and non‐territorial
power. By studying reference cultures we want to draw attention to the
fact that cultures may assume a role as benchmark or model, both
positive and negative, in the international circulation of ideas and
practices. Referencecultures offer a model that other cultures may
imitate, adapt, or resist. In contrast to essentialist and territorial
concepts such as empire and nation, the idea of reference cultures
allows us to address the shifting subjectivities central to cultural
encounters. We take reference cultures to be mental constructs or
“cognitive maps” that do not necessarily represent a geopolitical
reality with an internal hierarchy and recognizable borders. They may
take the form of imagined empires and may also be informed by utopian
visions or mythological pasts. Such reference societies are typically
established and negotiated in public discourse over a long period of

The academic discussion suggests that the interplay of political and
economic supremacy with the “soft power” of cultural attraction and
reputation plays a crucial role in how certain cultures establish
guiding standards for other cultures. Historical examples such as the
Dutch Republic in the Golden Age, nineteenth‐century Great Britain,
twentieth‐century America—and perhaps twenty‐first‐century China—point
to the importance of reference cultures.

This conference aims to open up this new field of historical inquiry by
exploring the role of these transcultural models within western history
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This includes transatlantic
history as well as the complex cultural relations between the West and
“the Rest”. We encourage papers that explore and interrogate the concept
of “reference cultures” by investigating its theoretical and empirical
validity, or by exploring concrete historical examples of transnational
or trans‐local referencing, cultural adaption/hybridization, or
resistance. The conference aspires to open an interdisciplinary
exploration of “reference cultures”. We warmly welcome a dialogue with
ongoing debates in relevant academic fields such as European studies,
American studies, cultural history, empire studies, postcolonial
studies, literary studies, history of science, transfer studies, and
comparative history. Methodologically, we are interested both in
conventional historical approaches and in approaches based on digital

Participants are encouraged to discuss the various manifestations of
reference cultures during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such

  • the hegemonic cultures of nineteenth and twentieth‐century empires as for example Great Britain, the United States (“the American Century”), Austria‐Hungary, Soviet Union, and Germany;
  • (post‐)colonial cultures, of both the colonizers (ranging from France to Japan) and the colonized (since the periphery may well act as point of reference for the center);
  • Historical reference cultures, such as ancient Rome, ancient India, or ancient China;
  • Mythical and/or utopian cultures, as represented in the Promised Land,

Atlantis, narrative utopias, or dystopias in science fiction; ·
Self‐declared models, including French universalité or laicité, American
Exceptionalism, Indonesian Pancasila, South American Bolivarianism.

Conference participants are expected to cover their own travel and hotel
expenses, and the conference fee of €75. Since a selection of the papers
will be published in an edited volume, we request that all papers are
based on original work that has not been published previously. Those
interested in presenting a paper are kindly requested to submit a
250‐word abstract for 20‐minute papers (indicating any
equipment/technical requirements) and a brief biographical note by 16
February 2014 to dr. Pim Huijnen ( or dr. Jaap Verheul
(, History Department, Utrecht University, the

Further information and updates will be posted on the conference


Categories: CFP
Keywords: empire, CFP