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Encounters of Empires

Interimperial Transfers and Imperial Manifestations, ca. 1870-1950

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Published on Thursday, March 15, 2012


The conference will take place in Cologne from January 16th to January 18th 2013 and is co-organized by Morphomata Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Cologne. An initial evening lecture will be followed by two days with 3-4 panels each including a comment. The publication of the conference proceedings is foreseen.


Encounters of Empires. Interimperial Transfers and Imperial Manifestations, ca. 1870-1950

Dr. Volker Barth, Dr. Roland Cvetkovski (Department of History, University of Cologne)


For several decades empires have been a central topic of international research; the attempts to grasp both the unique character of every single empire and their functional similarities are legion. Most studies are concerned and struggle with a comprehensive definition of exercising imperial power. After all, the term empire does not only refer to the formation of hierarchical power structures but also comprises the coexistence of different practices and specific regimes of imperial rule. However, this coexistence of separate imperial formations was also significantly characterized by cooperation, inasmuch as for example scientific conferences, diplomatic relations and other forms of exchanging colonial practices represented fields of mutual willingness to learn from each other.

In addressing interimperial encounters as well as the different processing and materializations originating in these interactions, the conference focuses on the origins, circulation and manifestations of concepts of empire. We are interested in the various definitions empire had for leading imperial protagonists and how they accordingly conceived their specific imperial self-descriptions. Therefore the conference will highlight historical trajectories in tracing the ways ideas of empire originated in imperial contact zones and follow them to their materializations and implementations within specific political, social and cultural frameworks. Encounters of empires allow to investigate three major problems and repeatedly described desiderata in current empire studies:

  • Firstly, interimperial fields of action quite obviously define spaces of cooperation between competing entities. Recent research hints more and more frequently at transimperial alliances. A mainly historical focus on interimperial encounters allows to probe the paradigm of transnationality on the scale of empires. What dynamics and which processes were exactly at work when empires not only observed but interacted with each other? What genuine discourses did encounters between empires actually provoke? How can one distinguish interimperial collaborations from global entanglements?
  • This leads, secondly, to a different perspective on imperiality. For quite some time global history studies repeatedly tried to conceptualize the essential constitution of empires in order to enable systematic comparisons. In establishing general criteria of ideal-typed empires one risks to assume that contemporaries equally disposed of a clear-cut notion of imperial power relations. Instead, reconstructing cross-border connections between imperial protagonists helps to explain how widely accepted and applied tools of empires were continuously established and re-established in day-to-day practice. Additionally, within interimperial cooperation chosen experts could invent and practice a set of imperial rhetoric in order to communicate imperial values to colonizers and colonized. To what extent did interimperial fields of action produce a common understanding of imperiality? How constitutive were power relations defined not only through competition but also through cooperation for the self-description of single empires? And who actually took up this rhetoric, in which contexts were they adopted, by which media were they disseminated and, eventually, how where they processed?
  • Finally, focusing on specific fields of imperial rule and their definitions as well as delimitations through interimperial exchanges helps explicate the elaboration of analytical tools of governance which were soon to characterize imperialism as such.

Possible conference topics include examples of globally applicable colonial concepts such as Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s A View of the Art of Colonization (1849) as well as colonial manuals such as Max Beneke’s Die Ausbildung der Kolonialbeamten (1894) written in direct comparison to other imperial powers. Of further interest are all forms of knowledge production, their interimperial transfers and manifestations in specialized areas and disciplines like colonial medicine or the cultivation of tropical plants. Papers on the institutionalization of interimperial cooperation like the Institut colonial international (Brussels 1894) are also highly welcomed. In order to provide a first systematic overview of interimperial transfers and imperial manifestations engendered by the encounters of empires we suggest to focus on the following topics:

  • Science (i.e. anthropology, medicine, hygiene, botany etc.) and their relationship to different scientific formats (museums, exhibitions, expeditions etc.)
  • Administration (i.e. citizenship; statistics; demographic engineering etc.)
  • Agriculture and labor (i.e. repartition of farm lands; questions of workforce in-cluding slavery and serfdom; commercialization of agricultural products; irrigation etc.)
  • Communications (i.e. material infrastructures; techniques of information exchange etc.)
  • War (i.e. Crimean War, Boxer Rebellion etc.) and military (organization, transport, disciplining of troops etc.)


Abstracts of approximately 500 words and a short CV should be submitted by May 31st, 2012.

Please direct submissions and questions to Volker Barth (volker.barth[at]uni-koeln.de), Roland Cvetkovski (roland.cvetkovski[at]uni-koeln.de) and to the co-organizer on behalf of Morphomata Larissa Förster (larissa.foerster[at]uni-koeln.de).


  • Morphomata Center for Advanced Studies
    Cologne, Italian Republic


  • Thursday, May 31, 2012


  • Empire, Interimperialism, Transfer


  • Volker Barth
    courriel : volker [dot] barth [at] uni-koeln [dot] de

Information source

  • Volker Barth
    courriel : volker [dot] barth [at] uni-koeln [dot] de


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Encounters of Empires », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, March 15, 2012, https://calenda.org/207697

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