Call for papers: The Uses and Abuses of History

The Graduate Early Modern Student Society (GEMSS) at the University of Wisconsin Madison is seeking presenters for its second annual symposium, (Mis)appropriating the Past: The Uses and Abuses of History, on Friday, April 27 at the Pyle Center.

Recent events have forcefully reminded us of how immediately present the early modern period remains in contemporary life. Celebrations of the Luther Year, debates about Columbus Day, and big-budget screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays have demonstrated the continued salience of early modern experiences and ideas in the twenty-first century. People today still look backwards to the era of Machiavelli, Elizabeth I, Cervantes, and the French Revolution both to understand our own society and to make arguments about it.

However, early moderns themselves also turned to the past to make sense of their world. They evoked Ancient Greece, the Roman Republic, the Carolingian Empire, and innumerable other historical moments in order to discuss their own society. Both today and then, different observers have had astoundingly diverse ways of talking about the past. Cultural producers have represented and dissected history in painting, political treatises, theatre, novels, film, and more. Some have approached it with exacting empirical rigor, while others have mythologized or even purposefully misconstrued it. What motivations and assumptions underpin early modern and contemporary portrayals of the past? What polemical and intellectual work do imaginaries of the past perform in the present? How are depictions of the past imbricated in ongoing social, sexual, racial, artistic, and economic concerns?

The Graduate Early Modern Student Society (GEMSS) at the University of Wisconsin Madison invites papers exploring these questions to be presented at its second annual symposium. We seek to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue among graduate students interested in early modernity however defined. Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Area Studies
  • Art and Art History
  • Classics
  • Communication Studies
  • Film Studies
  • Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Political Theory
  • Religious Studies
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Theatre and Drama

Presentations will be limited to 15-20 minutes and must be presented in English. Please email abstracts of 250 words or less, along with your name, academic department, and a brief biographical statement in PDF format to Alice Coulter Main ( The submission deadline is Friday, February 16, 2018.