Photo copyright Steve Blunn 2015. Used with kind permission.
London and the Nation, 10 July 2015
A conference sponsored by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and the London Studies Network, hosted by Birkbeck, University of London
Call for papers
The Raphael Samuel History Centre and London Studies Network are delighted to announce ‘London and the Nation’, a conference exploring the many dimensions of London’s complex and ever-evolving relationship to the rest of the United Kingdom. The cultural, demographic, socioeconomic, geographical, and political connections between the metropolis and the nation have appalled, excited, perplexed, and fascinated commentators for centuries and have played a decisive role in shaping British history. This conference seeks to illuminate the nature of these connections and the organizers are particularly interested in continuities and ruptures in the way that the relationship between London and the nation has been perceived and portrayed over time.
To submit a paper proposal, please send a 250-word abstract, along with a proposed paper title and the name and institutional affiliation of the speaker, to the organizing committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Papers should be 20 minutes in length.
Deadline for submissions: 20 March 2015.
As James Boswell’s ‘great field of genius and exertion where talents of every kind have the fullest scope and the highest encouragement’, London has long acted as a cultural and economic magnet, drawing in Britons of every description. Of course, this gravitational pull has also been amongst the most criticized elements of London’s place in the nation. From William Cobbett’s characterization of London as the ‘Great Wen’ to Vince Cable’s worrying over its role as a ‘giant suction machine’ in the British economy, the metropolis’s seemingly inexorable expansion has often been portrayed as a malignant growth, choking the life out of the nation. Yet this very dominance has helped London to play a far more positive role in the national economy, whether as a source of capital and innovation or as the ‘warehouse of the world’ and the first port of the empire. And, given its global importance, London has often been the platform upon which the nation has sold itself to the world, from the Great Exhibition of 1851 to the Olympic Games of 2012.
At once the largest city in the United Kingdom and its capital, determining London’s appropriate place in the political nation has vexed generations of policymakers and caused much tension and mutual resentment across the country. For instance, fears of London ‘outweighing’ the rest of the nation led to its deliberate underrepresentation in Parliament before 1885, while the infrastructural demands of its huge population have caused it to receive a relatively high per capita allocation of public funds in the twenty-first century. Moreover, despite its role as the capital city, London has often seemed oddly out-of-sync with the rest of the nation’s politics. Historians of radicalism have long puzzled over the relative weakness of London Chartism or the robustness of working class Toryism in the late Victorian East End. Conversely, London produced radical Poplarism in the 1920s, pioneered legislation on the rights of racial and sexual minorities in the 1980s, and has recently proved relatively immune to the populist nationalism of UKIP, all during periods of national conservative ascendancy.
Examining London’s relationship to the nation also calls into question the nature of the nation itself. Although indisputably situated in England, much of London’s identity since the early modern era has turned on its status as the capital of the multinational United Kingdom and of the global British Empire. As a destination for migrants across England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, London has served as a melting pot for the British Isles and arguably become the most ‘British’ city in the kingdom. As the first port of call for imperial, Commonwealth, and international immigration, London has also long been the focal point for discussions over what constitutes, and who can claim, British national identity.
These and similar concerns have similarly seized the imaginations of countless artists, authors, and other cultural commentators. From the pages of classic novels like Dickens’s Great Expectations and the vivid visual satire of George Cruikshank’s London Going Out of Town, to filmic representations like Withnail and I, imagining the links and contrasts between London and the nation has provided a mainstay of crucial source material for British cultural production.
As all of this suggests, there is a multitude of ways in which the relationship between London and the nation might be explored, and the conference organizers are very happy to accept papers from researchers in any discipline on any topic related to the rich subject of ‘London and the Nation’.
Organizing Committee: Dr. Matt Cook, Prof. David Feldman, Prof. David Glover, Dr. Thomas Jones, Prof. Jerry White
For further information, contact email@example.com
Public event at the British Library, 11 July
The conference at Birkbeck will be followed on Saturday 11 July 2015 by a day-long public event at the British Library which will bring together politicians, journalists, activists, and academics to discuss the relationship between London and the United Kingdom as it stands today. Registration for the British Library event is separate, and will soon be available through the British Library’s website.