Imagining Europe: Cultural Models of European Identity, 1814-2014

Imagining Europe: Cultural Models of European Identity, 1814-2014

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Lecture Theatre One, 43 Woodland Road

Team leader:
Dr Martin Hurcombe (French)

Team members:

Dr Emily Baughan (Historical Studies); Dr Grace Brockington (History of Art); Prof Charles Burdett (Italian); Dr Rajendra Chitnis (Russian and Czech); Dr Steffan Davies (German); Dr James McFarthing (French); Dr Joanna Michlic (Historical Studies); Dr Mike O’Mahony (History of Art); Dr Dorothy Price (History of Art); Dr Bradley Stephens (French); Prof Robert Vilain (German)

Rationale and aims:

Since the economic crisis of 2008, there have been calls (notably from the UK, but also from some of those countries worst affected by the near collapse of the euro) to revisit the European project. The history of this project reveals, however, that there have always been tensions between competing visions and conceptions of European identity. Indeed, many of the current calls for revision draw upon these tensions. The original model of the Franco-German axis may seem inappropriate in the light of enlargement, for example, but it has always been contested by alternative international and transnational models founded on politico-cultural factors rather than the economic pragmatism of the former.

‘Imagining Europe’ will explore these older and more deeply entrenched forms of European identity, mapping a history of their development from the Napoleonic Wars, and the first international attempt to create a stable Europe at the Congress of Vienna, to the present. It will privilege non-governmental discourses, turning primarily to cultural imaginings of European identity drawn from a broad range of sources. Through two symposia, a keynote lecture, and a one-day conference, it will examine the extent to which these cultural imaginings contribute to the articulation and circulation of a range of transnational and international concepts as well as the expansionist agendas of individual nations across existing borders. (These include Latinity, pan-Germanism, pan-Slavism, and the internationalism of the radical left among others.)

‘Imagining Europe’ will examine:

  • literary representations (from poetry to travel writing and science fiction);
  • journalism (from the explicitly political to reportage and sports coverage);
  • film and the visual arts (considering film production as a locus for international co-operation, for example);
  • music (an art form that transcends national languages, but which has so often been called upon to support national identities);
  • extra-governmental international movements and bodies from Save the Children to the PEN Club.

Through the events listed below, the programme will consider the extent to which these alternative politico-cultural imaginings of Europe are underpinned by factors such as race, religion, regional and national identities, as well as the ways in which they cross and redraw borders through culturally generated and imaginary maps. It will also explore the tensions that exist between national and regional stakeholders within such concepts and necessarily include the study of states currently outside the European Union.

In so doing, it seeks to reach a fuller understanding of the cultural limits of a range of putative European identities, but also of transnationalism and internationalism as concepts. How far are these cultural constructs and the products of cultural elites, alien abstractions in the eyes of the European masses? Or, conversely, how far are they a reflection of a certain cultural reality for sections of the European population at particular moments in European history? To what extent do they remain the unrealised imaginings of cultural producers? Or do they offer viable, alternative models and paths for genuine international and transnational exchanges in a Europe where borders have often been porous?

In asking these questions, the programme intersects with the AHRC-funded project ‘Literatures of Small European Nations’ led by Rajendra Chitnis in collaboration with Cardiff University. It also draws upon the work carried out by the Political Cultures and Transnational Modernisms research clusters within the Faculty of Arts and is intended to allow the Bristol team to invite a wide range of scholars to Bristol from other UK institutions (such as Birmingham, Cardiff, KCL, Leeds, UEA) but also continental Europe (notably Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands).

The ultimate aim of the programme is to lay the foundations for an application both to the Leverhulme International Network Grant scheme and the AHRC Research Networking Scheme in 2015-16. A selection of proceedings from events will form the basis of a proposal for a special issue to the Journal of European Studies or equivalent peer-reviewed journal.

Timetable of events:

To register for these events please email:

4 March 2015

‘Discovering the European Other’. This one-day symposium, comprising six twenty-minute papers, will open the programme by considering a series of initial encounters between cultural producers and the European other and the processes through which these encounters lead to the formulation and expression of alternative forms of European identity. These processes may include appropriation, acculturation or cultural translation, or sheer hostility.

Keynote lecture to be delivered by Prof Michael Wintle (University of Amsterdam).

29 April 2015

‘Alternative Spaces of European Identity’. This second symposium will build on the processes identified in the first symposium by exploring actual cultural productions, representations and iterations of alternative European identities, considering, for example, networks and organisations of artists, cultural producers and/or non-governmental organisations which together generate models of European identity which can be clearly differentiated from the dominant models of their day.

15 July 2015

Imagining Europe: Cultural Models of European Identity, 1814-2014