Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Power and the State: Early Modern Perspectives

Birkbeck College, University of London
14 July 2010

Organisers: Dr Laura Stewart and Prof. Julian Swann

Keynote lecture: Prof. Jim Collins, Georgetown, USA

Speakers: Dr Catherine Casson (Newnham, Cambridge), Dr D’Maris Coffman (Newnham, Cambridge), Dr Daryl Dee (Wilfrid Laurier, Ontario, Canada), Prof. Joel Felix (Reading), Prof. Steve Hindle (Warwick), Prof. Marie-Laure Legay (Lille, France), Prof. Maarten Prak (Utrecht, Netherlands), Dr Hannah Smith (St Hilda’s, Oxford), Prof. Chris Storrs (Dundee).

State formation is a vibrant and contentious area of enquiry that has, in recent years, shown the merits of international and interdisciplinary collaboration. Yet the subject still has an image problem. It is often perceived by non-specialists to be an exclusive and inaccessible field that bears little relation to mainstream political, social or cultural history. Relatively abstracted concepts of fiscal, military and governmental development do not always relate easily to the specifically historical issues of political and social change. Theories of state formation based on the methodologies of the social sciences continue to be criticized for sustaining determinist narratives and imposing an anachronistic language of modernity onto past societies. The subject remains dominated by the study of a handful of large, powerful survivor states, which were unrepresentative of the several hundred diverse political entities in existence around 1600.

This conference brings together leading experts and younger researchers, who will explore how people thought about and experienced state power in early modern Europe. A great deal of attention has been given in recent years to negotiation, persuasion and legitimization – the state did not, as was once thought, simply roll over the local cultures and forms apparently blocking the path towards the modern nation-state. But have historians over-emphasised these processes of negotiation and forgotten about the essentially coercive nature of the state? The way in which historians have conceptualised the state has been heavily influenced by the putative dichotomy between two great powers, ‘constitutionalist’ England and ‘absolutist’ France. Pioneering work by historians on both sides of the Channel, some of whom are participating in this conference, have exposed this polarity as misleadingly simplistic. Specific aspects of the French and English state will be considered comparatively. However, contributions from those studying Europe’s smaller entities will provide opportunities for us to think more carefully about the way in which all states developed in relation to the existing social structures within their territorial boundaries.

All enquiries to Dr Laura Stewart:


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