February 24, 2023

Introducing Keynote Speaker – Kathryn Yusoff

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/territorialbodies/

“Territorial Bodies” Keynotes (1/2): Kathryn Yusoff

When deciding the keynotes for “Territorial Bodies”, we had a number of key considerations in mind. Given the interdisciplinarity at the heart of the conference, we were keen to find keynotes who embraced this interdisciplinarity within their own work. Those academics who are redefining fields, thinking across disciplines, and breaking out of traditional silos were at the top of our list. We were also searching for the keynotes to bring a variety of perspectives on the central notion of “Territorial Bodies”, particularly considering the idea from across social, political and environmental frameworks. Introducing Prof. Kathryn Yusoff, Professor of Inhuman Geography at Queen Mary University of London…

About Kathryn

Kathryn is a Professor of Inhuman Geography at Queen Mary University of London. In her own words, “Kathryn’s work is centred on dynamic earth events such as abrupt climate change, biodiversity loss and extinction. She is interested in how these “earth revolutions” impact social thought. Broadly, her work has focused on political aesthetics, social theory and abrupt environmental change”.

Currently, her research is examining questions of “Geological Life” through the temporal frame of the Anthropocene. In particular, she focuses on “how inhuman and nonorganic dimensions of life have consequences for how we understand issues of fossil fuels, human-earth relations and materiality in the politics of life”. Kathryn’s work sits at the intersection of contemporary feminist philosophy, critical human geography and the earth sciences.

Kathryn’s publication record includes her seminal text, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), “The Anthropocene and Geographies of Geopower” (Handbook on the Geographies of Power, 2018), “Indeterminate Bodies” (Body and Society, 2017) and “Geologic subjects: nonhuman origins, geomorphic aesthetics and the art of becoming inhuman” (Cultural Geographies, 2014).

Prior to her current position, Kathryn held the role of Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Queen Mary University of London and Lectureships at Lancaster University and University of Exeter.

Kathryn’s Keynote: Geologic Bodies, Planetary States

Thinking bodies as earth systems and one of the social stratums of earth processes (as racial capitalism), I will address differentiation and aggregation in the social body as a political and environmental state. Understanding bodies as implicated in geochemistry and seeing the geologic as a medium of social struggle, I will shift the focus from a scalar perspectivism to a temporal one. I will argue that Geologic Life substantiates a key analytic for geography that positions inhuman forces in political terms as preceding biopolitical concepts of life and understanding changes of state as a political domain.

February 22, 2023

Introducing Keynote Speaker – Dr Lauren Wilcox

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/territorialbodies/

“Territorial Bodies” Keynotes (1/2): Lauren Wilcox

When deciding the keynotes for “Territorial Bodies”, we had a number of key considerations in mind. Given the interdisciplinarity at the heart of the conference, we were keen to find keynotes who embraced this interdisciplinarity within their own work. Those academics who are redefining fields, thinking across disciplines, and breaking out of traditional silos were at the top of our list. We were also searching for the keynotes to bring a variety of perspectives on the central notion of “Territorial Bodies”, particularly considering the idea from across social, political and environmental frameworks. Introducing Dr Lauren Wilcox, Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge...

Dr Lauren Wilcox

About Lauren

Lauren is an Associate Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge, and the Centre Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. Lauren’s research works through the disciplines of international relations, political theory and feminist theory, with a specific focus on what happens when we think through bodies and embodiment as a central framework for exploring violence and security at an international level.

Lauren is currently working on a monograph tentatively entitled War Beyond the Human, in which she is exploring, in her words, ‘the ways that the political and technological assemblages of bodies that make up the so-called ‘posthuman’ nature of war and political violence pose a theoretical and political challenge to how we theorize the relationship between violence, desire, embodiment, race, sex, and gender’.

Lauren has published on a range of relevant topics, including the destabilization of the idea of the body through suicide bombing (Wilcox 2013), the theorization of bodies in International Relations (Wilcox 2014), notions of ‘embodied’ and ‘embodying’ drone warfare (Wilcox 2016), and security and the gendered body (Wilcox 2017).

Lauren’s Keynote: On the Map, the Territory, and the Body

In this address, I begin the work of unpacking the entanglements of ‘the map,’ ‘the territory’ and ‘the body’ in modern international and political thought in order to provide an understanding of their co-constitution. I engage with Black and Indigenous feminist thought to critically analyse the foundations of these concepts and their implications for theorizing a global politics of ‘the body’. To start, I analyse Sylvia Wynter’s “On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory.” Wynter engages the map/territory metaphor to argue “systemic devalorization of racial blackness was in itself, only a function of another and more deeply rooted phenomenon” (1997, 115). Representing “the human” as a natural organism, for Wynter, “mistakes the representation for the reality, the map for the territory,” (Wynter 1997, 49) and overrepresents the bio/economic man associated with Europeans as the sole expression of humanity.

I engage the concept of the body as res extensa as in Hobbes and the mechanistic and calculative functions of the map were a condition of possibility for the political concept of territory to emerge (Elden 2013) through the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva. In her work, the Enlightenment project which produces the human body as the exteriorization of the mind and establishes the distinction between the ‘transparent I’ of Europe post-Enlightenment and the ‘affectable other’ institutes race as the signifiers of those spatialized subjects who subject to the universal reason of self-determining, Enlightened subjects even as they are not capable of grasping this reason. In Ferreira da Silva’s mappings of the analytics of raciality, “self-determination remains the exclusive attribute of the rational mind, which exists in the kingdom of freedom, where transcendentality is realised, namely where reside the ethical-juridical things of reason, modern subjects whose thoughts, actions and territories refigure universality.” (2009, 224).

I bring this and other work to bear on the concept of self-defence, both of territory and of self/body, and its links to property, to shed light on the racial and patriarchal roots that condition the violent production of territories and bodies, and of bordering practices that delimit, in Ahmed's (2007) terms, "where certain bodies are extended while others are stopped."

January 31, 2023

Territorial Bodies in Context

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/territorialbodies/

In the following blog post, organisers Maddie Sinclair and Charlotte Spear reflect on the inspiration behind their upcoming conference Territorial Bodies: World Culture in Crisis.

Taking place on 25th February 2023, Territorial Bodieswill critically evaluate the interconnections between bodies, territories and violence in contemporary world culture. The conference takes inspiration from the Latin American feminist transnational concept of body-territory, which has been used as a ‘strategic’ tool to engender new forms of global solidarity, linking multi-form violence at various scales (Gago, 2020: 95). As Veronica Gago discusses, the transversal concept of body-territory draws on the collective knowledge of indigenous women on the front lines of resistance against neo-extractivism (fracking, mining, agri-business). In such feminist imaginaries, the renewed conceptualisation of the ‘body-as-battlefield’ underlines the ‘organic connection’ between accumulation, heteropatriarchal and colonial violence (Gago, 2020: 84). The concept has infused the ‘practical cartography of the strike’ in the twenty-first century, offering a ‘diagnosis’ of intersecting forms of violence unleashed by financialised ‘popular indebtedness’ and neo-extractivism targeting ‘common resources’ in indigenous territories (Gago, 2020: 11). Gago describes the strategic ‘idea force’ of the body-territory as it intersects with the extractive operations of capital:

Feminist International‘The notion ties together a perspective that explains how the exploitation of territories is structured in a neo-extractive mode today, and how that also reconfigures labor exploitation, mapping the ways the dispossession of the commons affects everyday life. That is why it is strategic in a very precise sense: it expands our way of seeing, based on bodies experienced as territories and territories experienced as bodies. That image of the body-territory reveals the battles that are occurring here and now, pointing to a field of forces that it makes visible and legible on the basis of conflicts. The body-territory is a practical concept that demonstrates how the exploitation of common, community (be it urban, suburban, peasant, or Indigenous) territories involves the violation of the body of each person, as well as the collective body, through dispossession’ (Gago, 2020: 86).

Territorial Bodies situates this renewed conceptualisation of ‘body-territory’ within a wider nexus of materialist thinking on the human body as a site of crisis. As Jason Moore writes in Capitalism in the Web of Life:

'Capitalism in the Web of LifeThe transition from capitalism and nature to capitalism-in-nature asks us to place human bodies as sites of environmental history, as bodies engaged in producing "real" commodities and reproducing the "false" commodity, labor power. From here, we- can reconceptualize capitalism: as a system whose chief contradictions turn on the antagonism and interdependence of commodity-relations and the totality of the conditions of reproduction. The human body, in this frame, becomes a crucial site of the contradictions of world accumulation’ (Moore, 2015: 26).

With this in mind, Territorial Bodies considers how the ‘territorial body’ offers a critical framework for addressing what Moore describes as the ‘singular process’ of socio-ecological crisis today (2011: 136). The conference invites critical debate surrounding the strategic “idea force” of the territorial body: bodies experienced as territories, and territories experienced as bodies (Gago, 2020: 86). In particular, the conference will explore how the territorial body “expands our way of seeing”, offering a critical framework for addressing urgent social, ecological and political challenges, from ecological breakdown to the rise of statelessness, violence against women and racial exploitation. Bringing together delegates from across the world, the conference synthesises diverse and interdisciplinary research interests, from aquatic bodies to mining bodies, to embodied extractivisms and narratives of sexualised resistance. We hope to consider how cultural registrations work to locate the body as a distinct part of socio-ecological crisis, bringing new perspectives to bear on the notion of “territorial bodies” as a framework for deciphering ‘crisis’ in the twenty-first century. You can register for the conference here.

January 18, 2023

Veteran Poetics: An Interview with our Keynote Speaker Professor Kate McLoughlin

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/homecoming/

In this third blog post for the HRC Conference on Homecoming after war, the co-organiser, Niels Boenderinterviews the keynote speaker, Professor Kate McLoughlin, Fellow at Harris Manchester College Oxford.

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, andgiving the keynote at our conference. Let me start by asking about your recent book Veteran Poetics. You draw on a huge and diverse range of texts from modern British literature. Why do you think the figure of the veteran is so salient during this period and in this place?

Literary texts in this period, which begins with the French Revolution, are grappling with the implications of modern, mass, industrialisedwarfare. Those implications called into question many ideas associated with the Enlightenment: that we remain the same person over time, that hospitality is a good thing, that problems can be solved scientifically, that we can learn from experience. Modern war undermined all that and the product of modern war - the veteran - is the obvious and ideal figure through which to explore the situation. Or, more succinctly, veterans tell us what it's like to be modern. 

To what extent do you draw on inter-disciplinary approaches for your work? How for instance do literary studies and history co-exist in your work?

In Veteran Poetics, the main other discipline I draw on is philosophy. I'm a specialist in modern literature but I'm also a trans-historicist. That doesn't mean cutting across history but being historically aware in a local way and alsobeing very aware of literaryhistory.

Do you think there is a specific significance to the moment of homecoming?

The moment of homecoming is what inspired Veteran Poetics: specifically, the moment of homecoming in Wolfgang Borchert's Drauβen vor der Tür(Outside the Door). Reading this German play, which is an instant of post-Second World War Trümmerliteratur(rubble-literature), I was struck by the textual chaos wrought by the veteran who returns home to find he has lost everything. The familiar-turned-stranger, the effect of lost time, the sense of alienation: all these struck me as extraordinarily rich in emotional and conceptual terms.

Especially in light ofyour present work, how do we accommodate the figure of the silentveteran? Im thinking particularly of historians for whom silence is often uncomfortably unassimilable.

I'm still trying to answer that question! The final chapter of Veteran Poetics reads the silent literary veteran as embodying crises in post-Enlightenment communication. I start to suggest in the Conclusion that, rather than trying to get the silent veteran to speak, we might honourtheir silence. This ties in with theories about silence from critics such as Edouard Glissant, Judith Butler, Rita Felskiand Dorothy Hale in the so-called 'post-critique' turn. But I'm still not sure what 'honouringsilence' looks like as actual literary criticism. All I can say is that 'uncomfortable' doesn't necessarily equal 'bad'. 

Your most ambitious claim in Veteran Poetics is the way in which the figure of the veteran upsetsstandard narratives of the Enlightenment. Could you just briefly explain this thesis to our readers?

I say a little about this above. It seems to me that there are certain figures - the war veteran is one example, the refugee is another - who stand counter to the flow of narratives about Enlightenment progress. That's not to say that reason hasn't brought immeasurable benefits. But not without cost, and these figures are the human embodiment of the cost.

Your discussion of the Enlightenment made me think especially of how veteransfigure in non-Western contexts. In countrieswhich had liberation struggles for instance, they are of immense importance to national identity. While accepting this is not your area of expertise, do you have any thoughts on what role the figure of the veteran might play outside Britain?

How we understand veterans is very much culturally specific, becauseit's also about how we understand bravery, gender, sexuality, gratitude, service, sacrifice and a host of other things, including God. Not something I'm qualified to comment on further, but I'dbe fascinated to know more about how these elements contribute to the shaping of the veteran figure in non-western contexts.

Thanks very much for those answers, and we look forward to hearing more about your work in May!

January 09, 2023

Disaster and the Territorial Body

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/territorialbodies/

In this blog, HRC Doctoral Fellow Charlotte Spear, reflects on how the conference - 'Territorial Bodies: World Culture in Crisis' links to one of the most recent chapters of her own thesis.

In the aftermath of the devastating 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Raghu Rai takes one of the most famous images to come out of the disaster, “An Aborted Foetus When The Tragedy Struck, 1984” (Rai). Unborn babies are contorted and forced into the space of makeshift test tubes, cruelly taken from the safety of their mothers’ wombs after the release of ‘46.3 tons of methyl isocyanate from the factory run by the Union Carbide corporation, an American transnational with a pesticide-manufacturing facility in Bhopal, India’ (Kovel 28), killing between 5,000-10,000 people instantly and leaving over 500,000 injured (Kovel 28). These children, simultaneously prematurely born and yet fated never to be born, by what we now know to have been an avoidable disaster, are pictured on a wall overlooking a city. They are both within and without, overlooking and overlooked by the cityscape behind.

Rai, like streams of other photographers, writers and activists following the disaster, intimately connects non-human place and the human body in his work. Bhopal becomes the horrific archetype of Naomi Klein’s sacrifice zone; those zones which are abandoned to the toxicity of a contemporary energy regime which is ‘so inherently dirty and toxic that [it requires] sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed’(Klein). Whilst we often think of disasters as somehow accidental, sudden, ‘a rupture or inversion of the normal order of things’ (Anderson 1), the Bhopal Tragedy was none of these. Union Carbide ‘had designed the plant in a way that made accidents more or less inevitable’, ‘switched to the use of [methyl isocyanate] in order to produce more cheaply’ and built the plant in an area close to the population of Bhopal in order to save money (Kovel 32).

Not only does the disaster harm the people who breathe in this toxicity, a toxicity which ‘is driven inward, somatized into cellular dramas of mutation that – particularly in the bodies of the poor – remain largely unobserved, undiagnosed, and untreated’ (Nixon 6), but it lingers in the other-than-human nature which absorbs the poisons and houses them even now. Multiple reports over the last few decades have found the soil and water in the area to hold significantly higher than safe levels of a variety of chemicals including mercury, organochlorine compounds (Labunska et al. 3), lead, pesticides, Volatile Organic Compounds and Halo-Organics (Surviving Bhopal 2002: Toxic Present - Toxic Future).

Andy Spyra

Andy Spyra/Getty Images

“January 24 2007: Local men are standing on the edge of a contaminated water pond which was used for cooling the factory but got completely poisoned after the gas-leak. In the water swims the remains of a dead dog.”

The status of the people and land of Bhopal as somehow sacrificial extends into and directly impacts upon the fight for justice after the disaster. After the case was originally brought to court in the US, Judge Keenan mandated the Bhopal case to the Indian courts on May 12th 1968 under the auspices that ‘the Indian legal system is in a far better position than the American courts to determine the cause of the tragic event and thereby fix liability’(Baxi 68). As Mukherjee argues, ‘this legal defence is in effect a philosophical position that assumes an unbridgeable gap between two apparently discontinuous worlds. What is human in one, is not so in the other’ (Mukherjee 142).

And so, the question becomes, where are universal human rights in all of this? A large American company cuts corners to save costs, and in doing so essentially sacrifices not only the land on which the Union Carbide factory stood, but also the population surrounding it, many of whom lost their lives. As the people of Bhopal attempt to seek justice for this dire abuse of their human rights, their fight for justice is forcibly spatialised; not allowed to exist in the ‘world’ or ‘universal’ human rights, but rather enforced as a distinctly Bhopali issue. In this sense, then, the experience of so-called ‘universal human rights’ appears in fact to be entirely dependent on locationality: the human body as the site of the abuse of human rights becomes not a singular unit but rather entirely relational with the land and geopolitical organisation of that land. The body, in its experience of – and abuse of – human rights, becomes inherently the geopolitically territorial body.


Disaster, territorial, body, rights, Bhopal

Works Cited

Anderson, Mark D. Disaster Writing: The Cultural Politics of Catastrophe in Latin America. University of Virginia Press, 2011.

Baxi, Upendra, editor. ‘Judge Keenan’s Decision’. Inconvenient Forum and Convenient Catastrophe, N.M. Tripathi PVT. LTD., 1986, pp. 35–69.

Klein, Naomi. ‘Let Them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World’. London Review of Books, vol. 38, no. 11, June 2016, https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v38/n11/naomi-klein/let-them-drown.

Kovel, Joel. ‘Capital’. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?, by Joel Kovel, Zed Books, 2007, pp. 26–50.

Labunska, I., et al. The Bhopal Legacy: Toxic Contaminants at the Former Union Carbide Factory Site, Bhopal, India: 15 Years after the Bhopal Accident. microform, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, Dept. of Biological Sciences, University of Exeter, 1999.

Mukherjee, Upamanyu Pablo. ‘Dead Air: Indra Sinha’. Postcolonial Environments: Nature, Culture and the Contemporary Indian Novel in English, by Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, Palgrave Macmillan/Arts & Humanities Research Council, 2010, pp. 134–62.

Nixon, Rob. ‘Introduction’. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2011, pp. 1–44.

Rai, Raghu. An Aborted Foetus When The Tragedy Struck, 1984. Online, 1984, https://raghuraifoundation.org/bhopal/.

Surviving Bhopal 2002: Toxic Present - Toxic Future. Shrishti, 2002.

November 10, 2022

‘Have you forgotten that I am one of you?’: Returning Mau Mau in late–colonial Kenya

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/homecoming/

In this second blog post relating to the HRC conference on Homecoming after war, the co-organiser, Niels Boender, a third year PhD student in History, outlines one aspect of his research and how it relates to the conference.

With these words, ‘Have you forgotten that I am one of you?’, the former Kenyan freedom fighter Gucu Gikoyo lambasted his neighbours, who were forcing him to confess his involvement in the anti-colonial Mau Mau movement (Gikoyo 1979: 246). His bitter and tortured experience of return after time in British-run detention camps, as all homecoming stories do, connects violent conflict and detention to the post-war world. In Kenya’s case, the post-war transition was also the transition to independence. The post-colonial state would be shaped in large part by the afterlives of the Mau Mau insurgency; these are best understood through the lens of homecoming. This short blog uses the story of Gikoyo, recounted in his 1979 memoir We Fought for Freedom, to trace how a perhaps unexpected moment of homecoming can expand our understanding of post-war return as a significant historical process.[i] Opening the door to more literary and political readings of such memoirs, this is a sample of the kind of subjects we would expect to be discussed at the conference.

Gikoyo, like so many young and uneducated Kenyans, took to the forests in the face of colonial racism, police brutality, and landlessness. Far from claiming any leadership role, he admits he was a simple soldier who had been tasked with killing informers. Like so many that went to fight in the forest, eventually his luck ran out and he was captured by British colonial forces in 1955. Captured while travelling away from his unit he was not tried and executed like so many fighters (1,099 were hanged under judicial procedures), but instead was despatched into the ‘Pipeline’: the archipelagic system of detention camps in which torture and confession were regularly employed to ‘rehabilitate’ Mau Mau suspects. In his memoir he testifies to the fact that he was repeatedly beaten with a club, flogged, and forced to confess taking the Mau Mau oath. As part of his interrogation, he was taken back to his home village. There he witnessed the consequences of the colonial state’s counterinsurgency campaign, which involved herding hundreds of thousands of Gikuyu into carefully planned ‘Emergency Villages’. A curfew had been imposed, houses had been ransacked, and six children had already died of hunger and disease. He wrote: ‘I was deeply moved by the sight of the people who had withered and lost all life and lustre through hunger’ (Gikoyo 1979: 227). The local villagers, knowing of Gikoyo’s involvement in several murders, called on him to confess them. One elder said to him: If you were willing to give your life for the salvation of this country, give it now so that the children, women and elders of this place may be saved’ (Gikoyo 1979: 227). Gikoyo did not relent and was eventually released in April 1958 without confessing to murders he had been accused of.

As he walked from the detention camp, ‘a master of [him]self, [he] thanked God for guiding me in the battle of wits which I had never fought before and which, through his grace, I had won’ (Gikoyo 1979: 235). However, his ordeal did not end upon his return. The continuing State of Emergency forced him to report daily to a local official and everyone in his village had to go through back-breaking communal labour, which was made especially difficult by a testicular disease he had got after being flogged in detention. Soon he fled his village for the colony’s capital, Nairobi, where he fell in with several other ex-detainees. Without residence or work licenses, they were forced into criminality, committing armed robberies, and soon he was back in prison.

Over the coming months he would repeatedly escape and be returned to prison. In his brief moments of freedom, he was especially angered by his village’s refusal to help him. He lamented: ‘Have you forgotten that I am in my own country now [for] which many of us have given our lives?’ (Gikoyo 1979: 246). He was frustrated by the way in which the counterinsurgency campaign had transformed his community and turned them against violent nationalism. Gikoyo would continue to embrace a militant vision of Mau Mau activism, even as the Emergency came to an end in January 1960. He formed a new gang of eight ex-detainees which raided European homes with the intention of acquiring firearms. Their plan was to ‘organise bands of terrorists to harass Europeans until such time as they gave up and handed over this country to an African government under our dear leader, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’ (the alleged Mau Mau leader who remained in detention) (Gikoyo 1979: 261). Their raids of European houses called forth massive police action by the colonial state and only after a shootout in the Nairobi suburb of Makadara was his gang detained, all sent to ten years hard labour.

It was not until October 1969, almost ten years later and six years after Kenya’s independence, that he would be released. His ‘dear leader’ Jomo Kenyatta became the country’s Prime Minister in June 1963 but never offered an amnesty for Gikoyo or his compatriots as his crime was not deemed ‘political’ or in the service of anti-colonialism. A Government policy of ‘forgive and forget’ towards Mau Mau also meant his service in the forest would not grant him any special treatment. Even after his release in 1969 he felt unwelcome and unrewarded. He found a country that had not fulfilled the promises of the anti-colonial struggle, reminding the rich ‘that their joys are the result of much suffering and death’. As Mau Mau, their ‘role has not always been appreciated and the dark records are still held against’ them (Gikoyo 1979: 324). He stayed ‘unrecognised, having neither land on which to make a living or trade to follow’ (Gikoyo 1979: 325). Especially this final peroration ought to be read in the context of Kenya’s late 1970s political crisis when writers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and politicians like Bildad Kaggia were attacking the post-colonial regime in part for its failure to live up to the promises of Mau Mau. The latter helped Gikoyo to edit and translate his memoirs from Gikuyu to English.

This account of a tortured, fractured, and problematic homecoming is symptomatic of civil war, states of emergency, and colonial impunity. Counterinsurgency efforts by the British Army and colonial administration had fundamentally transformed the ‘home’, both physically through villagisation and land reform, and emotionally by forcing a community to turn on its own fighters. Physically broken, unrepentant, and without a programme for economic re-integration, fighters like Gikoyo quickly re-mobilised. The fine line between revolutionary activism and criminality was effaced by the problematic process of homecoming. Government-supported efforts at reconciliation between opponents and supporters of the Mau Mau precluded any serious attempt at repairing colonial-era injustices and leaving a bitter legacy for the coming decades.

Like all papers at the forthcoming ‘Homecoming after war’ conference, this is but one example in a constellation of such stories. Gikoyo’s memoir does however open us to exploring unconventional times and spaces when trying to understand post-war transitions. Humanities-based approaches can break free from normative and prescriptive straitjackets attempting to understand post-war ‘disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration’, embracing the complexity of stories like Gikoyo’s. Much more can be done using comparative and inter-disciplinary approaches, even with this specific Kenyan example.

[i] Gucu. G. Gikoyo, We Fought for Freedom (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1979).

A suspected Mau Mau fighter is taken to interrogation by a British serviceman, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, MAU 864, Accessed 10/11/2022:


Mau Mau Fighter

October 04, 2022

‘Homecoming’ after war: Comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/homecoming/

In his first blog Niels Boender discusses the Vision for the Conference: Mediations of the theme of ‘homecoming’

Central to our vision of this conference is the nebulous, historically contingent, and complex notion of ‘homecoming’ in post-war contexts. At a time of seamless global connectivity and slow deconstruction of the nuclear family, what constitutes the home, coded as safe and intimate, becomes increasingly questioned. This is far from unprecedented historically, never more so than at a time of war. In a physical sense, borders move, families are devastated, and people are displaced en masse. On a different plane, human subjectivities are entirely discombobulated by the experience of extreme hardship. New worlds are made not just on the battlefield, but in the moment the battlefield returns, the sphere previously understood as safe and domestic. With millions of the people on the move again due to the conflict in Ukraine, there is a growing importance in drawing together a wealth of scholarship on post-war homecoming and reconciliation to new conditions.

We are very glad to take this opportunity, provided by Warwick’s Humanities Research Centre, to organise a conference which can investigate this topic. The multidimensional nature of the homecoming experience provides great scope for interdisciplinary exploration. This approach must have a special concern for the representational elements of homecoming, enshrined most typically in art and literature. These approaches can be fruitfully combined with historical methodologies, unpicking the archive left by states and individuals experiencing post-conflict ruptures. We are especially excited to see the fruitful combination of older, historical schools, with newer ones, like the history of emotions and the study of public memorialisation. Similarly, there are no limits on the geographical or temporal scope of this study. A comparison of representations of homecoming in the Odyssey and Rambo: First Blood is not just possible, but entirely desired.

The stories people tell about homecoming, both as a historical source and a piece of art/literature, will form a significant component of this story. These come in the moment of homecoming itself, and as a crucial part of longer-term historical memory. The above painting, a product of German nationalist romanticism, depicts the return of Tyrolean fighters in 1809. This links the glorious return of Swiss fighters from the struggle against Napoleon, with the welding together of the German Empire in the 1870s. The moment of homecoming in particular is emphasised, signifying the sealing of a victory. By contrast, this image from prominent Weimar artist Otto Dix, depicting a very different homecoming in the aftermath of the First World War. This is of course the defining return after war, the one that led to genocidal campaign in the Baltic, the militarism of the Freikorps, and the paramilitary street battles which aided the rise of the Nazi Party. In these two images divided by less than half a century, two very different representations of homecoming appear. This points to a rich area of further investigation which this conference hopes to invite.

Our research as hosts, coming from two very diverse geographic and disciplinary spheres, exemplifies the precise interdisciplinary and comparative perspective we are trying to evoke. For example, my research in totality concerns the legacies of the Mau Mau Uprising in late colonial Kenya. However, a central and thus far disregarded moment in the study of the anti-colonial insurgency is the return of Mau Mau fighters from British-built detention camps in the latter years of the insurgency. These moments, ubiquitous in memoirs and oral recollections of the Uprising, tend to form a central dramatic moment in the working-out of future trajectories. Moreover, managing homecomings was an important part of the counterinsurgency effort of the colonial state. A future blog will explore this process in more detail.

Altogether, the conference will hope to place stories like the ones briefly cited above in conversation. The eventual desire is the production of an edited collection (with Routledge) that will significantly move forward the scholarship on this topic, and feed into a wider discussion of the post-war within the Humanities to rival the growing field of Peace Studies within the Social Sciences. While these hopes are ambitious, we hope that bringing together senior academics and early career researchers across various disciplines can achieve this goal.

Return Home of the Victors

Heimkehr der Sieger (Return home of the victors)(1874) by Franz Defregger (1835-1921).

Held at the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:


Roll Call of Returning Troops

Appell de Zurückgekehrten (Roll Call of Returning Troops) (1924) by Otto Dix (1891-1969).

Held at the Museum of Modern Art.

Courtesy of user Spelio on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/spelio/28388017797

July 04, 2022

'Following Living Things and Still Lifes in a Global World': Reflections on the conference

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/flt/

In this final post, Cheng Heand Camilo Uribe Bottareflect on their experience of organising the conference 'Following Living Things and Still Lifes in a Global World'.

Cheng: What do you feel about the conference in general?

Camilo: I think it was really successful. I feel happy that we managed to take the conference to the final stage, and our purpose is achieved—we managed to target at specific academic audience, and to invite scholars whose proposals we are interested to attend the conference. And the quality of the papers proves it.

Cheng: Yeah. The papers we received are quite diverse in terms of the topics, but they are all well related to the conference theme in different ways, which is nice.

Camilo: Even their approaches to their research are varied and show interdisciplinary methods. We got scholars from history, geography, art, biology, literature and so on. This shows the diversity of approaches to plants, animals and objects in academia now.

Cheng: Yes, that’s true. Actually what I felt right after the conference was that , I was so exhausted (laugh). We have attended many conferences before we organised one. But it was not until we did it on our own that I realised how much energy it took.

Camilo: Yeah yeah. We had stressful moments. One was when we had to decide whether to extend the Call for Papers deadline, another one was to decide the format of the conference—whether hybrid or online.

Cheng: Yes, because that would affect Call for Papers as well.

Camilo: Uh huh. We had to make the decision and to see if all the speakers would be fine with it. And eventually, there was potential technology issues when the conference was held online. This type of issues often happen, but when you were the organiser, the pressure was always there.

Cheng: Yes. I feel that when the conference is online, the stress of coping with technology is stronger than having face-to-face events. In terms of this, I’m wondering what was the most difficult thing for you throughout the whole process (of organising the conference)?

Camilo: I think the most difficult part was probably to have a clear idea of what you wanted to accomplish, like what topics/questions you wanted to address and make them sufficiently clear.

Cheng: Yes, it took a while for us to clarify it in the beginning.

Camilo: And another thing was to have a good keynote speaker who can open up the theme or summarise it well. We had a brilliant keynote speaker Prof. Cowie, who shared a wonderful paper that presents the goal of the conference and also well connected it with other conference papers. It was a great conclusion to the conference. Also our chairs were very nice and supportive to the panels.

Cheng: Yes, absolutely. Any other tips for PG students who would like to organise a conference?

Camilo: My suggestion would be: find a topic that you are really passionate about to be the conference theme.

Cheng: I would suggest to prepare everything in advance, and remember that accidents could happen.

Camilo: Yes!

Cheng: I feel it was a right decision to have an informal rehearsal with speakers, checking if there could be any technological issues.

Camilo: Yes that really helped save time during the conference.

July 01, 2022

An organiser’s guide to putting on a conference (as an ECR)

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/supernatural/

The last blog post by Francescaand Imogenis slightly different, offering final reflections in the form of top tips for making both the planning and running of your own conference as smooth as possible. Of course no two conferences are the same, with different themes, disciplines, durations, funding bodies and institutions all shaping the final product but they hope you find these suggestions useful in some small way.

Tips for the early stages of planning:

1. First and foremost, we would highly recommend organising a conference in a pair or small group, rather than going solo.

It was an immense help to have someone to brainstorm ideas with and to turn to for support. This may be a natural decision for those of you with closely shared research interests, as it was with our conference, but if this isn’t an option then still consider reaching out to people with experience in organising conferences who can advise you irrespective of their field.

2. Carefully cater themes and scope of the conference.

Having identified a broad topic of interest very early on (the supernatural), we then honed in on a specific and largely unaddressed angle of this wider theme (suffering) to fill a specific knowledge gap. To accommodate the interdisciplinary nature of the conference without making it a free-for-all, we kept other aspects as wide as reasonably possible (the pre-modern world, the typology of our suggested sites). For more on how to come up with interdisciplinary themes, check out our previous blog post.

3. If you can, get funding to support your conference.

This will enable you to charge less (or nothing) for tickets, to have catering, and to reimburse your keynote speakers. We secured funding from the HRC through their fellowship competition, which gave us a lot more freedom than we otherwise would have had. As ECR conference organisers, it was also very reassuring to have someone to turn to (other than each other) when we needed guidance. If you’re university affiliated, departmental and faculty schemes should be the first place to check for funding support. You could also approach a body relevant to your interests (such as the Society for the Social History of Medicine).

4. Speaking of funding, carefully construct and keep an eye on budget.

While this turned out to be less important for us as we ultimately moved to an online conference (which was much cheaper), we were required to make a preliminary budget as part of our proposal, so it made sense to make it as detailed as possible even in the earliest stages of planning. Update it as you go and agree what is high priority (e.g. expenses for speakers, inclusive food options) and what can be kept low cost.

5. Scope out your timeframe!

This was helpful for both big and small jobs, such as having specific dates by which drafts had to be finalised or emails had to be sent out, as well as larger windows carved out for more time consuming tasks, such as going through abstracts. Not only is this essential for the sake of the conference but for your own sanity as no doubt you’ll have other academic commitments to keep to. Moreover, it’s good to keep the rhythms of the academic year in mind, such as being aware of when terms roughly start and end so you’re not going to be met with a slew of out of office emails at the end of term or piling onto the usual barrage of work at the start of it.

6. It’s never too early to think about venues.

Think about your options for venues early in the planning stages. What requirements do you have for your venue in terms of facilities, accessibility, hybrid options etc? On-campus locations get booked up quickly, particularly if your conference is taking place during term time so you want to ensure you can secure one that works for you. If you have a particular venue in mind, this can influence when you are able to hold the conference.

Room booking

Room booking

Warwick’s room booking system allows searching by capacity and facilities, as well as providing 360 room tours online

7. Customising calls for papers

A good start is to look at others for inspiration. In conferences you’ve attended, what worked, and what didn’t? What caught your eye about the CfP? When writing the call, think of examples of the sorts of papers you want to hear (especially ones outside of your own field to help broaden the interdisciplinary appeal of the conference). Get someone outside of the organising committee to read over the call to check that it adequately explains the scope and aims of the conference.

Poster designs

Some example poster designs we found to be effective

Tips for getting it off the ground:

1. Jazz up your publicity and social media assets to give your conference a professional and identifiable ‘brand’.

In 2022, the importance of marketing is rather unavoidable - whether this means maintaining a social media presence or creating a unique look for your promotional materials. If you’re not confident with design yourself, see if you have any friends who’d be willing to help you out! We’d also definitely recommend setting up a dedicated conference email address to add to that professional feel, as well as to prevent your own email from getting swamped.

2. When it comes to dealing with abstracts, collation and organisation is key!

It goes without saying that you should allocate a generous amount of time to reading and debating the submissions you receive. We compiled ours in a shared Google sheets that could be worked on simultaneously by organisers, using discipline, period and keywords we associated with the abstract to help filter through them. We worked through several ‘rounds’ of narrowing down until we reached the number we had space for. Give yourself enough time to properly read through on your own and discuss them together - be open to the other’s opinions in terms of accepting/rejecting papers you may have different thoughts about.

Spreadsheet for abstracts

The spreadsheet layout we used as we went through the submitted abstracts

3. Be conservative with papers

While you may receive many exciting abstracts, all of which you’d like to find time for, it is important to be conservative about how many speakers you ultimately accept to ensure you don’t fill the day(s) with too many things going on. Synchronous panels might be a good option if you want to fit more than 12 speakers for a day-long conference, but remember that this limits your audience’s choice as to what papers they can hear in case there’s clashes, so being cautious about how many abstract you accept is very important.

4. Be generous with timings

In being conservative with the amount of papers you accept, it allows you to be generous with timings of the day and when it comes to compiling the programme for the conference, feeding in extra time for each segment of the day is a wise decision. Not only does this allow you buffer time in case anything goes wrong, but it also will allow you to run ‘over’ the allotted time when panellists got into engaging discussions during the Q&A portions of the day, which was really beneficial for the conference and isn’t something you want to cut short.

5. Be flexible

Things may change from your initial proposal/idea, either due to your own changing ideas, or because of factors outside of your control. We had been planning for an in-person conference for upwards of 8 months, but made the decision to pivot to online 3 months before the conference due to COVID concerns. At the outset of the conference, we had also initially planned to have two keynote speakers but soon realised this would create scheduling constraints and limit the number of papers we could include, so ultimately opted for one.

Tips for making the day run smoothly:

1. Practice is preferable for virtual conferences.

Having made the decision to move the conference online, we opted for Teams as our platform, as it was one we were familiar with and had an institutional licence for. Making sure you’re confident using the platform you choose and that you can explain its functions to attendees is essential, as not everyone will be familiar with it. Different computer setups, such as using desktop or browser versions of a platform, or even the system that their device runs on may alter their ability to interact with the platform. For instance, as we found out, people using desktop versions of Teams aren’t usually able to access chat. Ensure beforehand whether there’s anything you need to edit in terms of permissions to allow your presenters from external institutions to share their powerpoints; you may ask to have powerpoints sent to you in advance, just in case. We also asked speakers about to present to return a few moments early from breaks to check that audio, video and screensharing would all run smoothly during their papers.

2. Dedicate time to your opening and closing remarks.

We would highly recommend planning your opening and closing remarks in advance, and if possible, find some time to make final edits to the closing remarks during the conference day for finishing touches and tailoring - perhaps during the lunch break. We opted to split the actual delivery of the remarks between us, which created a nice back and forth and mirrored the way the conference came together.

3. Assign roles!

You can save time and effort in the lead up to the conference by assigning roles e.g. one person keeps an eye on emails, another handles social media. It’s also a good idea to do this on the day with your organisational team. For instance, we agreed that one person could monitor chat and incoming personal messages while the other was on standby for screensharing issues. Moreover, communication should be kept open between organisers at all times - as we were online, we used Whatsapp for speed and ease as well as to reduce the number of tabs open on the computer.

4. Make effective use of your chairs.

Bringing in panel chairs can also help lessen your stress throughout the day. If you have a large organisation team, you may be able to split up chairing duties between you, but as a pair, we felt we would have been stretched thin trying to do all this ourselves. You should obviously select chairs who will engage meaningfully with the panels, as well as being natural orators who can pose thought-provoking questions if participants are slow to ask their own. Equally, make sure you have prepped them adequately, making sure that your chairs are clear on how you want the conference to run, and it’s especially useful to provide them with a ‘crib sheet’ with all the necessary information.

5. Be friendly!

This is an academic conference but it is also an opportunity to be social with colleagues and peers and having a convivial and relaxed atmosphere will help engagement and put speakers at ease.

June 20, 2022

Bridging the gap: reflections on running an interdisciplinary conference

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/hrc/confs/supernatural/

In this blog post Imogen and Frankie reflect on their experience putting on an interdisciplinary conference, and offer some advice for others hoping to do the same.

When we set about planning for our conference, The Supernatural: Sites of Suffering in the Pre-Modern World, we knew it would be an interdisciplinary one. Partly this was because the Humanities Research Centre require the conferences they fund to be interdisciplinary, but without this stipulation we recognised the important work in the broad field of ‘the supernatural’ coming from a range of disciplines. We firmly felt that any conference we put on, particularly around the supernatural, would be better for being interdisciplinary, but as two historians, we were concerned about how we might actually achieve this.

It’s fortunate that our research interests, and the focus of the conference, hit upon themes that had real potential for interdisciplinarity. As mentioned already in this blog post and in our publicity, the supernatural is a topic that scholars from a range of fields have addressed - history, literature, and psychology, to name just a few! Suffering too, can be approached from a broad range of perspectives, and we kept the temporal and geographical boundaries deliberately broad (pre-modern world) to avoid limiting the disciplines from which people could apply. Having themes that were too broad was a concern, but on the day, we realised we had got this just right, when we witnessed scholars from different disciplines engaging in fruitful dialogue with one another.

Thomas Fludd, Tomus secundus

Thomas Fludd, Tomus secundus...de supernaturali, naturali, praeternaturali et contranaturali microcosmi historia, in tractatus tres distribute (Frankfurt, 1619-21), via Wellcome Collection

We made particular efforts to make the call for papers attractive to a range of disciplines. Our definitions were kept deliberately broad, to allow applicants to bring their own perspectives on our core themes. We also provided a long (but not exhaustive) list of potential topics which we hoped would appeal to researchers working in different fields.

Another aspect of interdisciplinarity was our keynote speaker. Professor Diane Purkiss is based in the English faculty at Oxford, but also makes use of historical and psychological approaches in her work. Having her as our keynote signalled to potential applicants and attendees that this would be an interdisciplinary conference, and, as two historian-organisers, we felt we ought to have a keynote outside our field to prevent the conference becoming dominated by our own discipline.

Interdisciplinary was a key consideration in our publicity. As historians, we knew of locations to post an advert to other (particularly early modern) historians, but were less well versed about the places other disciplines looked for calls and information about upcoming conferences. We posted the information with a number of interdisciplinary organisations, including the Renaissance Society of America, and circulated via a range of interdisciplinary university groups, such as CEMS at Exeter. Twitter was also a valuable tool to get the news out about our conference, and, through appropriate hashtagging and tagging, it was picked up by groups such as the Folklore Society which helped to share the conference more widely.

W. P., The History of Witches and Wizards

W. P., The History of Witches and Wizards (London, 1720), p. 23, via Wellcome Collection

When it came to narrowing down the abstracts to successful applications, we were careful not to overrepresent one discipline or topic within the conference. This did unfortunately mean that we were unable to accept many fantastic abstracts, at the risk of tipping the conference in one particular direction. We also made a particular effort to prevent any one discipline taking up a whole panel, so that each individual session would be interdisciplinary. As it turned out, all of our applications (both those successful and unsuccessful) were from fields within arts and humanities, which may not have been surprising given the topic and the purview of the HRC. We were delighted with the dialogue the panellists and all attendees were able to have with each other, across their different disciplines.

The interdisciplinarity of The Supernatural: Sites of Suffering in the Pre-Modern World was certainly one of its strengths, more so than we could have imagined when we set out to put on the conference. The feedback we received from speakers and attendees highlighted the value and enjoyment they had got from this interdisciplinary approach, and we couldn’t agree more.

Our advice for those planning an interdisciplinary conference:

• Choose your conference themes carefully - can you base your conference around a topic that is of interest to scholars from different backgrounds, or can be considered from multiple angles?

• Avoid using discipline specific terminology in the call for papers, or if you do, make sure to also include terms used by other subject areas

• Pick a keynote that can speak to and is of interest to scholars working in different fields

• Make sure your publicity reflects the interdisciplinary aims of your conference - don’t just send to the places you would look for CfPs

• When choosing who to accept, prevent one discipline from dominating the conference

• Group the panels thematically, rather than by topic or discipline

• Pick chairs from different backgrounds, or that you know will be able to ask relevant questions to those outside their own subject area (and if you’re chairing your own panels, try to step outside your role as a ‘historian’, ‘linguist’ or etc when interacting with your speakers)

March 2023

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