Spectacles of Decline: A Symposium on the Waning British Empire
Time & Location
About the Event
The symposium will address the aesthetics of waning empire during what is popularly known as Britain’s “Imperial Century” (1815-1914), characterized by accelerating territorial and bureaucratic expansion. This period is marked from its outset by events that precipitated the Empire’s eventual demise—from the abolition of slavery in 1833 to the nationwide Indian Rebellion of 1857. Developed in the nexus between cultural production, exhibition, and public spectacle, the aesthetics of flagging empire shore up British exceptionalism even as they integrate, and accelerate, the processes of decline. Our symposium will focus on the final century and a half of the British Empire, from the emergent internal tensions of the mid 19th century to postwar decolonization -- asking how imperial design was mobilized, taken up, and reckoned with in cultural and aesthetic works. This topic is historically capacious, politically urgent, and specifically designed to foster conversations between disciplines. It is animated by such diverse questions as: why, how, and to what end do we acknowledge political and cultural decline? How does imperialist power remain operative after the loss of direct control over colonized peoples? What precedents for contemporary narratives of Western decline exist in literature of and about the British Empire? And how, or in what ways, do narratives of the end of the British Empire obscure the ongoingness of British Imperialism, both in the UK and in former British colonies whose subjects continue to be integral to the work of Empire, even as they are blamed for its decline?
In the midst of the global pandemic, these inquiries are attended by a discrete but equally timely set of questions about the contours and possibilities of intellectual dialogue conducted online. To account for remote schedules and time-zone differences, we have modified the traditional symposium format: our event will convene Monday, March 8 through Friday, March 12 from 12-3 pm CST. The first 90 minutes of any given day will be devoted to graduate student and faculty panels. The second 90 minutes will be occupied by a keynote event, which might take the form of an roundtable, guided digital curation, Council for Advanced Studies (CAS)-style workshop, reading, or screening.
1 hour 20 minutesPanels 1A and 1B
1 hour 20 minutesRoundtable on Knowledge Construction and Empire