The Modern Invention of Dynasty: A Global Intellectual History, 1500-2000

University of Birmingham
Arts and Law, International, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Research
Thursday 21st (09:00) - Saturday 23rd September 2017 (18:00)
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Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures

Call for papers

Organisers: Ilya Afanasyev (BRIHC) and Milinda Banerjee (Presidency University, Kolkata)

What is dynasty? Historians rarely ask this question. It is automatically assumed that the word corresponds to some real institution(s) that played an extremely important role in pre-modern politics. At this conference, we intend to overturn this uncritical assumption, and, instead, interrogate ‘dynasty’ as a modern conceptual construct, which has been projected onto both the past and the present. 

The conference is inspired by the publications of late Cliff Davies, the ongoing work on the Jagiellonians Project at Oxford, as well as the ‘Nationising the Dynasty’ project at Heidelberg. These researches have shown that the Latin word dynastia was rarely used in the Middle Ages and was infrequently deployed even in sixteenth century Europe, while, in many other regions of the world too, including in South Asia, the construction of the concept of ‘dynasty’ was, in part, the result of modern interventions. Terms which were used to articulate genealogical and familial identity in premodern societies often do not necessarily map well on to the modern historiographical concept of ‘dynasty’. Collective ‘dynastic’ names, such as ‘the Tudors’, ‘the Plantagenets’ or ‘the Jagiellonians’ were late or retrospective inventions, rarely, if at all, mentioned in contemporary sources. If ‘dynasty’ and ‘dynastic’ identity are so difficult to locate in medieval and early modern sources, this begs a question: how has ‘dynasty’ become one of the key concepts for narrating and explaining pre-modern political history, as well as for defining modern monarchical regimes?

In existing scholarship on intellectual history, particularly those emanating from Anglophone and German scholarly worlds, concepts such as ‘kingship’ or ‘sovereignty’ have received detailed attention, but not the related notion of ‘dynasty’. We hope to address this scholarly gap, while also engaging with the newly emergent field of global intellectual history. We believe that the modern construction of ‘dynasty’ as an encompassing concept can be understood only in resolutely transborder, transcontinental, or even global terms. It was the result of reflections by actors not only about polities in one’s own region, but also about other polities, including spatially or temporally distant ones. The increasing interconnectedness of the early modern and modern world resulted in growing European awareness about political regimes in other societies, while extra-European actors often hybridized (and thereby radically transformed) their regional political categories by bringing them into dialogue with European political vocabulary. Imperial encounters often lay at the heart of such ‘transcultural’ exchanges, leading ultimately, by the nineteenth century, to the crystallization of ‘dynasty’ as a globalized category of historical narration.

The conference invites paper proposals from prospective speakers who bring specific case studies from around the world (focusing on the period of ca. 1500-2000) into dialogue with these broader theoretical questions. In line with recent discussions about global intellectual history, we welcome papers that explore issues of multi-scalarity, bringing regional scales of transformation into conversation with translocal shifts in regimes of power. We are especially looking for papers that use intellectual history as a vantage point to tackle broader questions of material and ideological power and see transformations in concepts as not just rarefied academic shifts, but as the result of changes in political economies (including relating to colonialism), arrangements in gender relations, religious and cultural formations, and in the (often, revolutionary) reorganization of political/state power. The conference seeks to understand how the globalized construction of the concept of ‘dynasty’ was ultimately a matter of importance not just for scholars, or even for ruling elites, but for wider publics as well, including for various subaltern actors and groups: issues of class, gender, or race which structured conceptual formations lie at the heart of our investigation.

We are delighted to announce that keynote lectures at the conference will be delivered by Julia Adams (Yale), Pamela Crossley (Dartmouth College), Faisal Devji (Oxford), and Richard Wortman (Columbia).

Prospective speakers are invited to submit abstracts of approximately 300 words. Submissions should include name, affiliation, and contact details. The deadline for submissions is Monday, 30 January 2017. For more information about the conference, or to submit an abstract, please email the organising committee at and