University of York Department of History Cultural History Conference 2009
Cultural Histories of Sociability, Spaces and Mobility
9-11 July 2009
CALL FOR PAPERS
Deadline 28 November 2008
Spatial mobility has moved to the centre of lively debates in a number of key areas of social inquiry. Terms such as ‘travel’, ‘mobility’, ‘displacement’, ‘diaspora’, ‘frontier’, ‘transience’, ‘dislocation’, ‘fluidity’ and ‘permeability’ are central to thinking about the nature of subjectivity and hence the formation of identity on any number of geographical scales and social dimensions. In particular, some scholars argue that the contemporary meaning and practice of what it is to belong is changing as new technologies of transport, along with communications, help to reduce the power of traditional places to define personal and communal identities. Some commentators even suggest that unparalleled levels of mobility are shaping a ‘post-societal’ world of extreme individualization in which nation-states and civil societies are being replaced by global ‘citizens’ moving endlessly through worldwide ‘networks and flows’. Critics argue that this assumption of unbounded movement and geographically fluid identities is unwarranted, and that what matters is understanding how inequalities of mobility arise and with what consequences for social equity and ecological sustainability. But without a sure grasp of the historical precedents to these scenarios, it is all too easy to misconstrue the significance of the changes that are taking place.
This conference therefore aims to explore how, from the mediaeval period and earlier through to (post)modern times, what it means to be fully social has evolved in relation to spatial movement, whether of an everyday or an exceptional character. What role did mobility – and immobility – play in defining the meaning of participation in social, economic or political life and the spatial scale at which such participation took place? how were such meanings formed, sustained and dissolved by particular social structures, mechanisms or processes? and with what consequences for the lived practice of collective and individual life? The conference will address the complex and heterogeneous ways in which historical (im)mobilities were both produced and consumed in relation to human sociability in any sphere and at any geographical scale. It will explore how the modes of governance and organization, infrastructures, vehicles and other artefacts which together constituted transport or mobility systems as material cultures acted as intermediaries engaging, ordering and distributing the spaces, conceptions and practices of communal participation from micro to macro levels. Understood in this way, the highway, for instance, implicated in the making of mobility networks from mediaeval times to the computer age, emerges as a key notion. It has played an important role in conceptions of a civic sphere of free movement and speech since mediaeval law enshrined the right of passage along certain designated routes. Important for the movement of political correspondents in the 18th century and the formation of a nascent working-class politics in the 19th, a space of contestation between automobilists and those seeking to maintain it as a locale for the conduct of neighbourhood life in the 20th, the highway (as the ‘information superhighway’) is frequently invoked as a triumph of western liberal-capitalist democracy in the 21st.
We welcome proposals for papers from any perspective in relation to the historical connections between human sociability and mobility, including:
- different kinds; from the transport of people to the mobility of goods, merchandise and ideas, from enforced movements to the discretionary consumption of mobility
- different periods; from mediaeval or earlier to the contemporary
- different scales; from large transport regimes to individual mobilities, from neighbourhood to global flows
- different actors; from mechanical technologies to human- and animal-powered mobilities
- different spaces; from developed to developing countries and transnational zones.
Please see over for more details.
The Keynote Address – ‘Home Lands: How Women’s Movements Made the West’
The conference will open on the Thursday evening with a keynote address by Virginia Scharff, Professor of History and Director, Center for the Southwest, University of New Mexico. Currently Beinecke Senior Research Fellow, Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders, Yale University, Professor Scharff is author or editor of five academic books, including Twenty Thousand Roads: Women, Movement, and the West (University of California Press, 2003) and Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age (Free Press, 1991). She also works as a consultant with museums and documentary film makers, as well publishing best-selling mystery novels under the pseudonym Virginia Swift.
Virginia Scharff’s keynote address is based on her work over the past five years with the Autry National Center in Los Angeles on a museum exhibition and book titled Home Lands: How Women Made the West. The exhibition looks at three places in the American West, examining the ways in which women used a particular resource to claim that place as ‘home’ over hundreds, and in one case, thousands of years. One of those places is the region articulated around the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, ultimately including the city of Denver, Colorado, and the resource examined is transportation. The project looks at the relation between women’s history and the horse, the railroad and the motorcar, to discuss changes in cultural landscapes and social patterns. In each case, the mode of transportation shaped (and was shaped by) locals’ and transients’ notions about who belonged to the place, who had authority to determine what happened there, who had the right to claim the place as ‘home’ and on what terms.
The York Cultural History Conferences
The Department of History at the University of York enjoys a high reputation for its Cultural History Conferences with their emphasis on allowing ample time for presentations and discussion coupled with a lively social programme. This conference is organized in conjunction with the Institute of Railway Studies & Transport History, the Department’s partnership since 1995 with the National Railway Museum. The Museum, one of the UK’s leading tourist attractions, will be the main location for the conference, including an evening social event in one of the spectacular exhibition halls.
York is one of Britain’s most attractive and popular cities with an almost compete set of mediaeval walls encircling a city centre with extensive remains from a history dating back to the Romans. Located just under 200 miles (320 km) north of London, York is easily reached by train from most UK cities, as well as from continental Europe by Eurostar and an easy interchange in London. Public-transport connections are also available from international seaports (including Hull and Harwich) and airports (including Leeds/Bradford, London Heathrow, East Midlands, Manchester, Newcastle).
Submitting a Proposal
(to whom informal inquiries may also be sent). Please include as a single attached file a title for your proposed paper and abstract of no more than 500 words, and as another file a one-page CV. All files should be in .odt, .doc or .rtf formats. The deadline is Friday 28 November 2008.
Please note that all participants will be expected to register for the conference. Registration fees are expected to be around £125, including all lunches and evening events, with a limited number of bursaries for students and others without institutional support. We intend to publish a selection of the papers as a edited book or as a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal. Further details will be posted at www.york.ac.uk/inst/irs/ .