Venue: School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon
Date: 26-27 October 2016
Convener: University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies (ULICES)
Call for papers
‘Progress. A blessing or a curse?’ will be the third of a series of international conferences at the School of Arts and Humanities (University of Lisbon), promoted by the Research Group 2 (English Culture) of ULICES which have brought together Victorianist and Neovictorianist researchers, among others. The first event, (Victorians Like Us. Memories, dialogues and trends) in 2012, aimed at underlining the features of a complex and often contradictory period, where matrices of modernity and postmodernity could be found, a cultural influence still discernible today. Victorians Like Us II, with the subtitle The Victorian household. Power, policies, practices, in 2014, drew attention to a unique platform for the assertion of the British middle classes and one of their values, the home.
In 2016, we will challenge participants to inquire into the concept of progress in the same period. J. S. Mill approaches the issue from a socio-political angle in On Liberty (1859). He believed that society progresses through stages towards its ultimate achievement, a system of representative democracy. However, ordinary Victorians, less acquainted with intellectual debates than with the palpable effects of techno-scientific developments, had mixed feelings about progress and improvement and their benefits. Although advancements in technology and science, as well as in society, were generally believed to contribute to the improvement of human living conditions, they also had negative side effects, to be first felt by the working class. ‘Progress’ and related aspects also fueled controversy in public debates about religious matters, as new acquisitions and ideas challenged religious beliefs and the prevalent understanding of the Bible. Contemporary literature and the written press amply reflected the main debates about progress and its implications.
As the ambiguous attitudes of some Victorian towards ‘progress’ go to show, the concept is not a linear one, and its positive understanding, inherited from the Enlightenment, has been challenged from the moment it entered public awareness. According to an enlightened perspective, each successive stage in human history represented an improvement on the previous one. Mankind developed from savagery and ignorance to civilization and enlightenment, peace and prosperity, all because of its faculty of reason and the ability to make choices.
Whether taken for granted, rationalized as positive, or faced with uneasy feelings, ‘progress’ was an ever present concept in an era that had to come to terms with the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. The concept became entangled in public debates with other key concepts, such as the British Empire, the evolution of the species and social reform. Its influence can also be traced in less obvious areas were new developments were favoured by artistically inclined Victorians: in art, architecture, design and literature.
A closer look at ‘progress’ thus invites an interdisciplinary approach, and participants at the conference are expected to come from very different research areas. This is all the more likely if you take into account that Victorian thoughts on progress have influenced how we think about it today.
This conference will reveal both the dynamics set in motion when the concept of progress became popular with the Victorians and its implications for us today.
Papers are welcome on topics that encompass, though not exclusively, subtopics such as:
– Origins. The Enlightenment ideal of progress and how Victorians challenged it
– Spencer and Comte. The process of social growth
– Theorising progress. Progressivism
– Utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, a legacy
– Social progress and doubts about the human progression towards perfection
– Progress as a motor of History and Culture
– Darwin, The Origin of Species and human evolution
– Victorian culture and the ability to make choices
– Literature, Architecture, print, design and art. Exploring new paths
– Gender issues, labour conditions and legislation
– The environment debate. The human hand and the transformation of Nature
– Human progress and conflict. Suffragism
– Challenging progress in factories. The luddites. All against the machine
– Museums and commodity culture in the Victorian Era. New things and uses
– Challenging the idea of progress today. Migrants and Europe, the aim to live «in a better place»
Language of communication: English
The Organising and Scientific Committees expect to publish a selected collection of essays in a peer reviewed book or journal.
John van Wyhe, founder of Darwin online, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences and a Fellow of Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.
Keynote speaker from Portugal (TBA)
We expect abstracts of about 300 words in English for 15-20 minute presentations, and a brief bionote to be submitted until July, 30. A notification will be sent within two weeks maximum after reception.
Fees: 150 euros
Early bird (if registration is completed until 16 April 2016) 120 euros
Student: 75 euros
Organising committee (CO):
Scientific and Screening Committee:
Júlio Carlos Viana Ferreira
Luisa Leal de Faria
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org