Category Archives: Round Table

Confidence Games and/as Modern Times – Round table.

 

Our first event of the term at the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History is upon us! All welcome and details are below.

 

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Abstracts:

 

The Confidence Game of the Chicago School

 

Prof Matt Houlbrook

(Birmingham)

 

It is easy to find the confidence trickster anywhere, if you are looking closely enough. The global networks of trade and empire along which people and goods moved from the sixteenth century, the expanding cities of the modern United States, and the turmoil of revolution and civil war in the new Soviet Union: in each of these contexts the trickster was identified as characteristic or archetypal. Mobility and anonymity provided opportunities for personal reinvention and social advancement. They also allowed fakes and frauds to flourish, created intense anxieties about the difficulties of trusting those one met, and ensured social interactions and commercial exchange were haunted by the possibility of deceit. Britain’s bogus honorable and Weimar Germany’s hochstapler; Herman Melville’s Confidence-Man; Al-Hasan al-Wazzan and Martin Guerre; Felix Krull and Ostap Bender; Netley Lucas. The paradox of the trickster was that they seemed both universal and exemplary of their time and place. What, then, should we do with these elusive figures as historians?

 

 

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Of Spongers, Sharpers, and Cannibal Eunuchs: Swindle Story Collections around the World

 

Prof. Christopher Rea

(University of British Columbia)

 

Why do collections of swindle stories appear at certain times and places? In China, for example, the swindle story has experienced bursts of popularity during the late Ming, the early Republican era, the early Mao era, and during the last 20 years. And comparable works exist around the world. What, for example, do Zhang Yingyu’s Book of Swindles (Ming China, 1617), Richard King’s The New Cheats of London Exposed (Georgian England, 1792), and P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World (Reconstruction-era United States, 1867) have in common—and how do they differ? Swindle stories, clearly, serve a double purpose: they teach techniques for navigating perilous social environments, and they entertain. But their authors tend to frame these narratives within a questionable claim: that ours is an age of unprecedented peril. Focusing on the example of China, this talk will highlight one thread running through literary history: connoisseurship of the swindler’s ingenuity.

 

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‘All That Is Solid Melts into Air’: Modernity and the proliferation of liminality.

Dr. Lucie Ryzova

(Birmingham)
Tricksters are creatures of liminality. I will first broaden our discussion by looking at the nexus of modernity and liminality. Modernity is a historical condition in which transition becomes permanentized. The acceleration of time, shrinking of space, mass-mediated popular culture and unprecedented social mobility all worked to normalize fluidity and bring about new configurations of personhood. ‘Becoming another’ became a reality for many, and a fantasy for many more. Novel cultural practices and forms emerged that allowed for a ritualised consumption of this permanent flux and where liminality and enchantment could be safely indulged. I will use as example the photographer’s studio, a place of modern magic where anyone could momentarily transform the self into another. Secondly, I will present some thoughts on whether late modernity, specifically the current crisis of capitalism, creates the conditions in which trickster figures proliferate. Here I will propose to understand late capitalism through another archetypal figure of liminality, notably that of a vampire.

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Research Round-table: Reconstructing the Historical Subject

We’re delighted to be hosting a round-table on Wednesday 22 February 2017, in Muirhead Tower Room 112, from 4-6pm. Around the theme ‘Reconstructing the Historical Subject’ Dr. Adam Dighton, Dr. Marta Filipová, Dr. Ben Mechen and Dr. Zoë Thomas will discuss their current research. Prof. Matt Houlbrook will chair.

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All welcome! Contact: Dr. Simon Jackson, S.Jackson.1@bham.ac.uk

Abstracts:

Dr. Adam Dighton: Military History at the British Army’s Staff College, 1885-1914.

The study of military history formed an important part of the syllabus used to train high ranking officers at the army’s Staff College during the latter half of the ‘long nineteenth century’. During the period between 1885 and 1914 the justification for teaching this subject underwent a fundamental transformation. This was caused by a change in the perceived didactic function of history during this time. It is the aim of this paper to examine why this change took place and how it affected the way in which history was taught at this institution.

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Dr. Marta Filipova: The people or the proletariat? Class appropriation in interwar Czechoslovak culture.

The paper examines the attention to the working classes in the visual arts and literature in Czechoslovakia after 1918. I look at the different interpretations of proletarian art on the background of the emergence of the new political entity, negotiations of modernity by artists and art critics, and their attempts for renewal of art. I therefore address the questions of identity, belonging and construction of artistic narratives.

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Dr. Ben Mechen: ‘A positive advance of our standard of civilisation’ – consuming and defending pornography in postwar Britain.

This paper will outline my postdoctoral project exploring the cultural politics of pornography in postwar Britain. In particular, I will seek to locate the pornographic consumer within this history, a problematic figure – like those who laboured to produce explicit imagery – usually absent from existing work. Drawing upon letters sent by buyers of pornography – men and women, straight and gay -to a late 1970s inquiry into obscenity, I will ask: how were sexual subjectivities formed in the age of pornographic reproduction?

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Dr. Zoë Thomas: Historical pageants, citizenship, and the performance of women’s history before second-wave feminism.

This paper argues that the early twentieth-century craze for historical pageants provided an opportunity for women’s groups to bring a nascent, popular form of women’s history into the lives of local communities across Britain. Prior to second-wave feminism, when scholars advanced the study of women within the academy, thousands of people had been invested in re-enacting women’s history since the inter-war years. Emphasizing the bravery and public duties of women in the past, pageants also provided a non-controversial format through which women’s groups could effectively project their beliefs about the role they felt women should play as newly enfranchised citizens.

*Image Credits, from top-left, clockwise: Officers reading military history in the Prince Consort’s Library in the army camp at Aldershot; Pravoslav Kotík, Accordion player, 1923; Women’s Institute outdoor pageant in 1927; Walker’s Court in Soho. All images courtesy the speakers.

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Roundtable: Photography and Writing History

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All are welcome! Please contact L.Ryzova@bham.ac.uk for details.

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Rivers of War and Recreation: Round Table on Global Environmental History.

Micah Muscolino (Oxford) and Marianna Dudley (Bristol) will be our guests at this term’s closing Round Table on Global Environmental History this Friday, December 5th, 14:30 in Arts Building G-20.

All are welcome. Tea will be served, and the event will be followed by drinks.

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Round Table Poster British JPEGMuscolino abstract:

‘Over the past decade, research on the relationship between war and environment has emerged as a vibrant sub-field of environmental history. Based on my forthcoming book on war-induced disasters that in China’s Henan province during World War II, this talk proposes a model for conceptualizing the ecology of war in terms of energy flows through and between militaries, societies, and environments. This framework highlights how efforts to procure and exploit nature’s energy in various forms has shaped the choices of generals, the fates of communities, and the trajectory of environmental change.’

Dudley abstract:

This paper will explore how different recreational groups have developed distinctive understandings of water and watery environments. By exploring a conflict of use that has emerged through the twentieth century (and continues in to the twenty-first) between canoeists and anglers, it will suggest that recreational engagement with place has produced meaningful, and very different, ways of knowing water that speak to broader academic discussions of water, waters, and the notion of a hydrocommons.

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