EVENT TOMORROW: Imperialism, Globalization, and Interdisciplinarity

Regenia Gagnier (University of Exeter) and Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge)

February 5th

Management Building Lecture Theatre, Royal Holloway


Studies of imperialism are now contested by larger inter-imperialities, dialectical co-formations with horizontal contexts between empires and vertical struggles of class, caste, race, ethnicity, and gender within each of them.   From the Islamic Abbasid and Ottoman, to the Persian, Byzantine, and Indian, to the Russian, Swedish, Polish, British, Spanish and Portuguese, to the Han, the Tang, and the Sung, all empires developed within processes of modernization, capitalization, and domination, trading goods, people, institutions, cultures, and sign systems, with credit, interlocking trade systems, and print money.


Not dissimilarly, academic disciplines today might best be viewed as inter-disciplines, co-dependent fields of interaction and friction. They maintain their disciplinary distinctions to serve purposes, whether these are scientific, pedagogical, socio-cultural, geopolitical, or material. And they are subject to constant definition and negotiation in consequence of new intellectual discoveries, paradigm shifts, political change and economic flux.

How can these two fields of mutability be examined today? What connections can we trace between them? What light do historical changes in empire and disciplinarity shed on our current concerns?

Regenia Gagnier (University of Exeter):

“Inter-imperialities and the Global Circulation of Actants and Ideas”

In my paper I argue that the intercultural transvaluation of actants and ideas often associated with Victorian Britain is a valuable case study through which to examine questions of globalization, transculturation, and liberalization. Key actants include geopolitical ideologies such as individualism, collectivism, nationalism, internationalism, and cosmopolitanism; geopolitical institutions and state apparatuses such as modes of government, trade, legal systems, and armed services; and geopolitical commodities and technologies like cotton, tea, railways and sanitation systems. The clashes and formal aporias of modern literatures often move between the poles of progress/optimism/hope and nostalgia/resentment/melancholy, offering us unique insights into very broad transformations of the modern era.

Simon Schaffer (Cambridge University):

“Inter-disciplines and their Colonial Histories”

The talk connects current administrative enthusiasms for interdisciplinarity with aspects of disciplines’ history. This history suggests that disciplines have often emerged from interdisciplinary enterprise, and that such enterprise was frequently linked with colonial projects of knowledge and power. Such genealogies raise interesting questions about the current fate of interdisciplinarity.

2.30-4.30pm Postgraduate workshop

Led by Regenia Gagnier and Juliet John (Centre for Victorian Studies). Room 1-03, Windsor Building, Royal Holloway


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