Center for British Studies

Past Events

Fall 2014 Events

September 5: Democratic Innovation in Britain

September 11-12: Rethinking British Governance

September 20: On or About 1814: A Symposium on Literature in History

October 17-18: Graduate Conference in the History of British Political Thought

October 24: Genealogies of Governance: Britain in a Comparative European Context

November 7: Thomas Hobbes: Reasons and the Passions in Politics

November 14: Multiculturalism in Contemporary Britain: Policy, Law, and Theory

November 21: Historicizing Rawls: Explorations in the Archive

December 5: Governmentality after Neoliberalism: The British Experience

December 12: Intepreting Security: Building and Policing Communities at Home and Abroad

Spring 2014 Events

January 31: Multiculturalism in the British Commonwealth, cc. 1945-2013

February 13: Britain and America's Special Relationship: Myth, Reality, or Anachronism

March 15: Politics, Nature, and the Imagination in the work of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

April 28: Rethinking Britain Between the Wars


Democratic Innovation in Britain: Tradition, Contestation, Innovation

The UK has a strong tradition of democratic innovation. Some of the grand theories of liberal democracy were formulated in the 19th century by British thinkers such as Bentham and the Mills. Later, British ideas about social democracy and the welfare state, and still later localism, were widely emulated by other countries in Western Europe.

In this seminar we will explore this complex landscape of democratic innovation in the UK. The aim of the seminar is to treat renewal in the ideas, modes and institutions of collective problem solving and democratic decision making as reactions to dislocations that are brought about by the wider economic-social-political context. We will also look forward in the seminar to the future of democratic innovation in the UK.


Rethinking British Governance

Scholars often define governance in contrast to government; where government was about bureaucracy, governance is about markets and networks. This view of governance has led to vigorous debates about whether the state has been hollowed out, whether the number of networks has risen, and whether the state can still steer effectively. Although these debates cast light on some issues, they suggest a monolithic view of governance – as if governance can be identified with a new pattern of hollowing-out or metagovernance and perhaps as if that pattern is a necessary result of broader socio-economic changes.

The purpose of this conference is explore the utility of a compatible but more historical, dynamic, and variegated approach to governance. This concept of “governance” suggests less that bureaucracy has declined and markets and networks spread than that the British state consists of a vast array of meaningful actions that may coalesce into contingent, shifting, and contestable practices This conference will explore those contested practices and the forms of knowledge embedded within them.


On or About 1814: A Symposium on Literature in History

On or About 1814 brings together a group of scholars to mark the bicentenary of Walter Scott’s Waverley, published in July 1814, and other literary events associated with ‘that fated year’ (Robert Louis Stevenson).  Along with works published in Britain in 1814, participants explore a range of ways of thinking about historical dates and periods and what such data might mean for the study of literature. The format will feature short (15-20 minute) papers with plenty of time for discussion and a seminar-style workshop on Waverley and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Speakers include: James Chandler (Chicago) on Austen’s Mansfield Park; Adriana Craciun (UC Riverside) on Helen Maria Williams’s translation of Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative; Claire Connolly (Cork) on inheritance, property, and Maria Edgeworth’s Patronage; Simon During (Queensland) on William Wordsworth's The Excursion and Post-Revolutionary Anglicanism; Penny Fielding (Edinburgh) on Scott’s northern lighthouse tour;Rae Greiner (Indiana) on wartime idiots in Scott and Thackeray; Sara Hackenberg (San Francisco State) on mutations of Romanticism by Victorian writers born in 1814 (Sheridan Le Fanu, G. W. M. Reynolds, James Malcolm Rymer); Yoon Sun Lee (Wellesley College) and Ian Duncan (UC Berkeley), leading the Waverley and Persuasion workshop; Deidre Shauna Lynch (Harvard) on Austen, Scott, the novel and the scrap-book; Ann Rigney (Utrecht) on Waverley and the culture of commemoration; and Matthew Wickman (Brigham Young) on 1814 in 1936. 

Graduate Conference in the History of British Political Thought

The Third Berkeley Graduate Conference in the History of British Political Thought features work in the history of British political thought across disciplines and periods with papers on William Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Algernon Sidney, David Hume, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Stuart Mill, and the Fabians presented by doctoral students from the Universities of New Castle, Cambridge, Bilkent (Ankara, Turkey), Columbia, Cornell, London, Munich, Oxford, Pennsylvania, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Yale.  

Multiculturalism in the British Commonwealth, cc. 1945-2013


January 31, 2013 9am-6pm
223 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley

Many countries are culturally diverse, and this raises the question of how to treat cultural minorities.  Although cultures have come into contact with each other throughout history, the issue of how to manage these interactions between and within states became especially prominent after 1945, with the rise of human rights discourse, globalization, the process of decolonization and the mass immigration this engendered, and an increasing awareness of the unique issues facing sub-national groups, particularly indigenous peoples. 

‘Multiculturalism’ serves as an umbrella term which covers a wide variety of issues, including appropriate modes of dress, the question of language and educational policy, land rights, ethnic tensions, the nature and scope of human rights, and even the basic aims and structure of the polis. It therefore provides a meeting point for a variety of issues and disciplines, including social science, law, history, anthropology, philosophy, and public affairs.

Whilst the British Empire has been dismantled in the post-war period, its influence can still be felt through the modern inter-governmental Commonwealth of Nations, and many Commonwealth states, including Britain itself, have had to face acute multicultural challenges in recent years.  Given the geographical and cultural diversity of the Commonwealth, the particular issues raised and challenges posed by ‘multiculturalism’ vary widely between different member states.  The Commonwealth thus provides a unique opportunity to examine ‘multiculturalism’ in various forms and from different perspectives, facilitating an awareness of the historically specific circumstances of each country whilst also providing a degree of commonality and furnishing a framework for comparison.

This conference will look at issues that fall under the umbrella of ‘multiculturalism’ in Britain and the Commonwealth.  It will explore the differences and similarities between the issues faced by each country, examining and comparing their responses to the challenges of multiculturalism.  It will consider the specific historical, social, and legal contexts in which various countries have conceived of and responded to multiculturalism.  And it will consider what normative principles have and should guide these responses.  The aim is to identify the commonalities and differences amongst the countries and the issues they confront.

Each paper will focus on a particular country, which it can approach through any relevant discipline or disciplines.  Participants should address such questions as:

  • What are the particular issues faced, and responses proposed by, each country?
  • What are the particular historical circumstances that gave rise to these issues and responses?
  • What principles or ideals inform these responses?
  • What can these cases teach us about the issue of multiculturalism in both its normative and empirical aspects?

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Britain and America's Special Relationship: Myth, Reality, or Anachronism

February 13, 11am-6pm
223 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley

This day-long conference takes the idea of the “special relationship” as a starting-point to examine relations between the two countries in foreign policy, domestic policy, and racial politics. Is there a future for the “special relationship” and if so what might be its content?

Conference Schedule:

11:00 am - 12:45 pm: The Special Relationship in Foreign Policy

  • Kathleen Burk (University College London)
  • Walter Russell Mead (Bard College and Editor-at-Large of The American Interest magazine)
  • Moderator: Daniel Sargent (UC Berkeley)

12:45 - 2:00 pm: Lunch break

2:00 - 3:45 pm: The Special Relationship in Domestic Policy

  • Matthias Matthjis (Johns Hopkins SAIS)
  • Janet Laible (Lehigh University)
  • Isaac Martin (UC San Diego)
  • Moderator: Paul Pierson (UC Berkeley)

3:45 - 4:00 pm: Tea

4:00 - 5:45 pm: The Other Special Relationship: UK-US Protest Movements  

  • Stephen Tuck (Oxford University)
  • Moderator: TBA


Politics, Nature, and the Imagination in the work of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Program and Abstracts

March 15, 2014, 9am-5.15pm
Geballe Room (220 Stephens), University of California, Berkeley

This interdisciplinary conference explores a number of themes traversing Francis Bacon’s natural, scientific, legal, and political writings. Topics to be discussed include the role of nature in Bacon's thought, and whether the discussion of nature in early modern political thought is conducive to environmental or ecological thinking. Bacon's natural philosophy and juristic thinking will provide a context for rethinking the relevance of modern ideas of objectivity to Bacon’s epistemology. Bacon’s legal writings will be considered in the context of early modern continental legal science, as against this background Bacon appears to share ambitions for reform in a Romanist direction with English Civilians of his time. The views of Bacon on classical education, rhetoric, and politics will be considered and compared to Hobbes's claim that these classical sources led to the English Civil War. From civil war to the context of international war and empire, the limits of Atlanticism in Bacon’s political thought will be measured.


Rethinking Britain Between the Wars
Matt Houlbrook (Magdalene College, University of Oxford)

April 28, 2-6pm
201 Moses Hall




Fall Events 2013

Pre-Industrial Technologies of Knowledge
IEAS Haas Junior Scholars Conference

August 30 11am-6.30pm and August 31 10.30am-6.30pm 
300 Wheeler Hall, University of California, Berkeley
Conference Program

The conference will include two keynote addresses:

Friday 30 August at 5:00pm in 300 Wheeler Hall
Elaine Treharne (Professor of English, Stanford University)
“Securing Permanence through Manuscript Testimony”

Saturday 31 August at 5:00pm in 300 Wheeler Hall
Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Professor of Art History, UCLA)
“Technology, Esthetics, and Mentality in Early China: Archaeological Reflections on Their Interrelations”

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Blake’s Agitation: A Colloquium

September 13, 3-6pm
300 Wheeler Hall, University of California, Berkeley

3:00     Agitation 1: Poetics, Affect, Blake

            Saree Makdisi, UCLA

            Rei Terada, UC Irvine

            Joe Albernaz

4:30     Agitation 2: Poets and Critics

            Steve Goldsmith on People on Sunday

            Geoffrey O’Brien on Blake’s Agitation

            Jane Gregory

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The Eurozone: Financial Conditions for Survival
Lord John Eatwell (University of Cambridge)

September 18, 12pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall, University of California, Berkeley

Economic policy in the eurozone has been designed to secure a reduction in the divergence of competitiveness as between member countries. This emphasis is misplaced. Even if the sharp falls in GDP and increases in unemployment lead to convergence of unit labor costs, without the creation of a eurobond the threat of severe financial instability will remain.


Religion and the State in Today's Britain (Workshop)
Maleiha Malik (King’s College London) and Ronan McCrea (University College London)

September 19, 4-6pm
109 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley

One of the most salient features of the new millennium is the assertiveness of religious faith in current and former secular states.  Nations and states are struggling to accommodate the claims of citizens who increasingly insist that their religious faith forms part of their public identities, and not merely their private consciences. The clash between faith-based practices and secular ideals has revolved centrally around issues of religious doctrine and symbols in public education, claims of bodily integrity and genital cutting, sexual equality versus gendered roles, animal rights and ritual butchering practices.  A new twist, however, to these conflicts, has been the deployment of religious liberty claims as speaking to the standing of communities in relation to the state, as opposed to the traditional frame of an individual right of conscience.

There are no easy practical or theoretical resolutions to these conflicts, given citizens’ firm anchors in faith, and Western (and Mediterranean) anchors in secularism.  While the tensions have been well explored in a burgeoning literature in the social sciences, their treatment in law has necessarily remained theoretically underdeveloped, since they are addressed case-by-case by judges.  Our goal is that initiating a series of conversations that cut both across disciplines, and within and without the courtroom will enrich both legal decision making and scholarship.

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Sea-Changes: Readings from Family Secrets and Household Gods (Workshop)

Deborah Cohen
Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University

September 20, 1pm 
201 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley

The readings will include: Family Secrets (pp. ix, 1-10, 156-192) and Household Gods (pp. ix-xvii, 1-31)

On September 19 at 5pm in 3335 Dwinelle, the author will also give a talk, entitled "Other People's Bastards: Adoption and Illegitimacy in Modern Britain"

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Offshore Balancer or Liberal Hegemon? Revisiting Nineteenth Century British Grand Strategy

Paul MacDonald (Wellesley College)
Seminar, Part of Berkeley International Relations Colloquium

September 23, 4-5.30pm
223 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley

Relations of sovereign inequality permeate international politics, and a growing body of literature grapples with the question of how states establish and sustain relations of hierarchy amidst anarchy. For structural realists, hierarchy reflects the national interests of powerful states and is sustained exclusively by force. For those drawn to a relational contracting approach, it is the product of conscious decisions by states to reach mutually beneficial arrangements with one another. This paper argues that neither of these approaches offers a theoretically coherent or empirically compelling explanation for hierarchy. Drawing on classical realist authors such as Hans Morgenthau and Raymond Aron, it develops an alternative theory that explores the much more subtle ways in which great powers exercise dominance in international politics. States seek hierarchy not as part of a purposive search for security or mutual interest, but for a multiplicity of purposes: to garner prestige, to spread their ideology, and to quell unrest along distant frontiers. Nor are relations of hierarchy sustained solely by intimidation or mutual interest, but also through the manipulation of ties of economic dependency, the drafting of unequal rules, and the appropriation of local sources of authority. To examine the plausibility of this classical realist approach, this paper examines the critical case of Great Britain during the nineteenth century. It finds that British dominance stemmed not from its overwhelming material power or its liberal values, but from its capacity to enmesh distant societies into unequal networks of political, economic and social exchange.


Poetry and/or Revolution

October 5, 10-12 (roundtable), 2-4 (manifestos), 4-7 (reading)
Roundtable and Manifestos: 300 Wheeler Hall, University of California, Berkeley
Reading: 2141 Broadway, Oakland
Conference Flier Berkeley
Conference Facebook Page

Note that the event will also take place at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis on October 3 and October 4 respectively
Conference Flier UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Berkeley

Participants: Jasper Bernes, Sean Bonney, David Buuck, Chris Chen, Joshua Clover, Jennifer Cooke, Danny Hayward, Francesca Lisette, Marianne Morris, Jill Richards, Juliana Spahr, Keston Sutherland, Wendy Trevino

This conference is a pendant to the recent UK conference on Militant Politics and Poetry at Birkbeck College (Saturday, 18 May 2013). It features a large number of US and UK scholar-poets with national and international reputation. It will take up the relationship of poetry to political antagonism, one which has recently been reanimated through the extensive participation of poets in political militancy. There will be an opening event and discussion including a summary of and response to the Birkbeck conference, at UC Santa Cruz. The second day will feature "scene reports": from the UK poet-scholars on recent debates and on the situation in the UK, and from poetics scholars and poets involved with Bay Area political struggle. The third day will feature discussions about the situation going forward, including both theorizations of the poetry/politics relation, problems of identity and representation, and practical proposals for next activities. There will be poetry readings each night.- Expected audiences: poetics scholars, poets, modern/contemporary British literature, British Studies. modern/contemporary US literature, Cultural Studies, Transatlantic, Political Science & Theory

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Berkeley Graduate Conference in the History of British Political Thought

October 18: 9am-6pm 370 Dwinelle Hall
October 19: 9am-5.30pm 223 Moses Hall 
University of California, Berkeley

Conference Program

The University of California—Berkeley Graduate Conference in the History of British Political Thought will take be held on October 18-19.  The conference shall feature work across the disciplines of history, English literature, philosophy, and political theory in the history of British political thought, and shall feature work from doctoral students at the Universities of Cambridge, Constance, Harvard, Hebrew University-Jerusalem, Helsinki, London, Oxford, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UC-Irvine, and Yale.

Graduate student papers will receive commentary from members of the Berkeley faculty including Professors Victoria Kahn, Joseph Lavery, Daniel Sargent, Ethan Shagan, Shannon Stimson, and James Vernon.

The conference is open to the public and all are welcome to attend.


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Victorian Studies Minus Britain

October 22, 5pm
315 Wheeler Hall, University of California, Berkeley

Featuring Zarena Aslami (Michigan State University), Lauren Goodlad (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), & Joseph Lavery (Berkeley), with Ian Duncan (Berkeley) responding.

This colloquium will ask what insights might be gained into the cultural and historical meanings of the category "Victorian" if by blotting out, however provisionally and perversely, those emanating from the British Isles. Each of the speakers is working in different ways with Victorian peripheries: Professor Goodlad will be presenting work stemming out of her recently submitted manuscript, which revels in the august title of The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic; Professor Aslami will be reading from her work on Victorian constructions of sovereignty in Afghanistan, and Professor Lavery be sketching an historiography of the notion that Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Mikado is not "about Japan". 

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Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain
Camilla Schofield (University of East Anglia)

October 28, 5-7pm
201 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley

Dr Camilla Schofield will present some of the findings of her new work, Enoch Powell and the Making of Postcolonial Britain (October, 2013), on British anti-immigration rhetoric in the late 1960s and 1970s. Through Powell, Schofield will work to further illuminate the complex relationship between British social democracy, imperial decline and the reformation of black politics in Britain.

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Form as Theory: The Case of Medieval Boethius
Eleanor Johnson (Columbia University)

November 6, 5-7pm
315 Wheeler Hall 

Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy has long been mined for its thematic contributions to late medieval literature, but what about its formal and literary-theoretical contributions? Reading Boethius for the formal properties of his work reveals a seed crystal of literary experimentation that inspired a tradition of self-consciously ethical literature in the late Middle Ages--a tradition that includes Dante, Guillaume de Machaut, Chaucer, and Thomas Hoccleve.


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British European Policy: Traditions and Dilemmas

November 8, 2013 9am-5pm
223 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley
Conference Program

Forty years after the UK’s accession to the EU (1973), the place of Britain in Europe remains as contested as ever. The financial crisis has given new vigour to those Eurosceptics who call for withdrawal on the grounds that Britain is now ‘chained to the corpse of Europe’. In December 2012 the Prime Minister, David Cameron, publicly said he could imagine Britain leaving the EU and in January 2013 pledged an in/out referendum that could bring about that very scenario. Yet, the last forty years have seen ever closer contacts between Britain and Europe. A generation has grown up getting cheap flights to spend weekends all across the continent. Students spend time studying around Europe under the Erasmus scheme. Many Britons work and/or own homes in other European countries. How should social scientists make sense of this complex, fraught, and constantly debated relationship?

In political science and international relations scholarship, constructivists and others now routinely emphasize that people make the world according to their particular webs of belief. A moments’ thought shows that these beliefs and norms are historically contingent. Thus, although concepts like “language”, “discourse”, and “norm” can draw attention to the contingency and contestability of beliefs and actions, they manifestly need supplementing with a concept of “tradition” that captures the fact that these languages, discourses, and norms arise out of particular historical backgrounds. Traditions are, in other words, the inescapable contexts of all thought, action, and policies. They are inheritances that people might nurture, squander, build upon, or even reject.

This workshop will explore the usefulness of traditions to the study British identities and British attitudes and policies towards the EU. Papers will explore how past British thinkers and policy actors conceived of, extended, modified, and dismissed traditions of thought and/or how these traditions influenced policy and practice. Key questions and topics thus include:

  • What are the leading traditions of British national identity?  How do they relate to other traditions of knowledge about British society, the state, and Britain’s place in the world?
  • How did particular thinkers or groups modify and renegotiate these traditions in response to novel circumstances and dilemmas?  How have these traditions thus evolved over time?

How did these traditions influence policy actors? What has been the relationship between thinking about British identity and Britain’s changing role in Europe?

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Wittgenstein and Anglo-American Philosophy: The Case of Normative Inquiry

December 2, 2013 9.15am-6.00pm
223 Moses Hall, University of California, Berkeley
Conference Program

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings have shaped much of twentieth century Anglo-American philosophy and continue to inform its questions today. Can the same be said of Wittgenstein’s importance for normative inquiry? In his lifetime, Wittgenstein published little on ethics, politics, religion, or aesthetics. In the 1950s and 1960s, his influence in these fields stemmed largely from his philosophical method. Later, as Wittgenstein’s private notes and conversations on culture, value and aesthetics were published in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, his influence arguably changed. Today, Anglo-American philosophers continue to draw inspiration from Wittgenstein to elaborate political and ethical visions.

This conference examines Wittgenstein’s views on ethics, politics, religion, and aesthetics in an Anglo-American context. It explores his engagement with Anglophone traditions of inquiry. It traces his impact on Anglophone philosophy. It asks what Anglophone philosophers still might learn from him today.

Key questions and topics thus include: 

  • Wittgenstein in context: What were Wittgenstein’s own views on ethical, political, religious, and aesthetic life? What was the influence upon him of Anglo-American traditions, including analysis? How did he challenge Anglo-American traditions?
  • Wittgenstein’s Legacies: How did Wittgenstein’s philosophical method and his normative views influence Anglo-American traditions in ethics, politics, religion, and aesthetics? Are there Wittgensteinian traditions in one or more of these fields? 
  • Wittgenstein today: Are Wittgenstein’s writings on the nature of philosophy and normative inquiry useful for us today? Are they sufficient by themselves to yield normative conclusions, or do we need to supplement them with insights from other traditions?

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The State of the Union: The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum
A lunchtime panel discussion* with Corey Gibson, Ian Duncan, and Eric Falci.

December 6, 2014 12pm-2pm
305 Wheeler Hall, University of California, Berkeley

On 18th September 2014, the Scottish electorate will be asked a disarmingly simple question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ If they answer in the affirmative Scotland’s ‘independence day’ is to be declared in March 2016, bringing the Union established in 1707 to an end. At this lunchtime event, visiting Fulbright Scottish Studies Scholar, Corey Gibson, will provide a brief introduction to public debates on this issue – from the vituperative and hyperbolic, to the dispassionate and nuanced – and to the conspicuous role of the literary imagination in framing the discussion. Professor Ian Duncan (English) and Professor Eric Falci (English) will provide responses and interjections. 

To reserve a place and receive short pre-circulated documents please contact: Professor Eric Falci (

*Lunch will be provided.
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Past Events

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Institute of European Studies
207 Moses Hall, #2316
University of California
Berkeley, CA  94720-2316

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