The symposium will address the aesthetics of waning empire during what is popularly known as Britain’s “Imperial Century” (1815-1914), marked by accelerating territorial and bureaucratic expansion. This period is marked from its outset by events that precipitated the Empire’s eventual demise—from the abolition of slavery in 1833 to the nationwide Indian Rebellion of 1857. Developed in the nexus between cultural production, exhibition, and public spectacle, the aesthetics of flagging empire shore up British exceptionalism even as they integrate, and accelerate, the processes of decline. Our symposium will focus on the final century and a half of the British Empire, from the emergent internal tensions of the mid 19th century to postwar decolonization — asking how imperial design was mobilized, taken up, and reckoned with in cultural and aesthetic works. This topic is historically capacious, politically urgent, and designed to foster conversations between disciplines. It is animated by such diverse questions as: why, how, and to what end do we acknowledge political and cultural decline? How does imperialist power remain operative after the loss of direct control over colonized peoples? What precedents for contemporary narratives of Western decline exist in literature of and about the British Empire? And how, or in what ways, do narratives of the end of the British Empire obscure the ongoingness of British Imperialism, both in the UK and in former British colonies whose subjects continue to be integral to the work of Empire, even as they are blamed for its decline?
Co-sponsored by The Nicholson Center, COSAS, The Franke Institute, The Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, The Department of English, 3CT, The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, The Department of History, The 20th and 21st Century Cultures Workshop, The 18th and 19th Century Cultures Workshop, and The Seminary Co-op Bookstore
Symposium Schedule: https://www.spectaclesofdecline.com/schedule