On 15 March 2019, a self-confessed white supremacist, now standing trial for terrorism and murder, is alleged to have walked into two Christchurch mosques and killed 51 people. The weapons and body armour employed in the attack contained the dates of several events in Crusading history; the manifesto of the alleged perpetrator placed his actions in an imaginary war of east-west, ongoing for a millennium. Ideas of ‘western civilisation’ implicitly situated against ‘other’ civilisations, or perhaps an absence of civilisation altogether, can be argued to have underpinned this attack. The concept of Western Civilisation, with various definitions, thus continues to be prominent in the public sphere. For some, such as the Ramsay Centre which promotes a degree in Western Civilisation, the idea continues to have social and political utility, reflecting a coherent body of knowledge, and their associated values, not least the ‘liberal’ tradition of western democracy. For others, this interpretation of European history can elide the almost continual global encounters and exchange of information that occurred, whilst denying the political uses of ‘western civilisation’ as a discourse of colonialism and imperialism.
This symposium provides a moment to reflect on the concept of Western Civilisation today, not just as a topic of historical interest but an idea that continues to hold a significant political function. What role do the histories that we write and teach play in the production of discourses of ‘western civilisation’ or resistance to it? What role do historians have in shaping ideas about the past in the present? And what responsibility do we have towards ‘western civilisation’ as a discourse? What is the future of ‘Western Civilisation’, both as taught in universities and in the public sphere?
Expressions of interest are now invited that speak to this theme from any discipline, time period or place, and any political perspective. We have a limited number of slots but are interested in proposals for 90-minute panels, roundtables or other creative contributions. We also welcome individual expressions of interest. We encourage submissions from Indigenous people, people of colour, queer people and members of other traditionally marginalised communities. Proposals are welcome from those at all career stages.
Please send expressions of interest to email@example.com by 18 October 2019.
Supported by ANZAMEMS, the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
Image credit: Giovanni Paolo Panini, A Capriccio of the Roman Forum (1741). Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.