2017 SSNCI conference – Irish College, Leuven, Belgium, 29-30 June.
Figures of Authority in 19th-Century Ireland.
The 19th century is often seen as a period when age-old sources of social, political, spiritual and cultural authority were eroded by various crises, triggering searches for alternative forms of leadership. While such a diagnosis may certainly ring true for Victorian Britain and by extension for the neighbouring island, 19th-century Ireland also witnessed both the restoration of older forms of authority (e.g. the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy at a time when papal power was reinforced) and the rise of figures who defined new models of authority (e.g. Daniel O’Connell as a prototype for the charismatic politician in a democratic age). The struggle for the definition of the Irish nation empowered conflicting claims to public authority. New cultural and educational forces vied to assert authority on an increasingly literate population, while new media saw themselves as leaders of opinion and gradually helped fashion a cult of personality centered on public figures. Despite his notorious anti-Irish pronouncements, Thomas Carlyle’s views on hero-worship and on the nature of authority exerted an influence on generations of Irish intellectuals across sectarian and political divides. Romantic concepts of literary authorship prompted some to think of poets – both dead and living –as (un)acknowledged legislators, while in the scholarly sphere, new distinguished Societies emerged to enshrine intellectual authority. Social and economic changes entailed reconfigurations of authority within age-old family structures. Various studies suggest that the waning of Ascendancy power did not automatically entail a corresponding decline in traditional deference, while others have shown how existing public offices could be reinvented and reinforced as well as contested.
The conference will bring those various strands together in a collective reflection on the forms that authority assumed in 19th-century Ireland, on the complex relations they bore to wider British and international redefinitions of authority, and on the specificity of Irish contributions to the reshaping of authority in the modern age.
The resulting publication of selected proceedings will be an interdisciplinary volume of interest to the various fields of Irish studies as well to 19th-century historians in general. If authority seems to be in crisis in early-21st-century Ireland, it is important to bear in mind that many contested forms of authority that look ‘traditional’ from our point of view emerged from 19th-century crises and developments.
Please contact the local organizer Raphaël Ingelbien (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions. 200-word abstracts or panel descriptions and a brief CV should be sent to the same address by 15 January 2017.
There will be no registration fee. Two postgraduate travel bursaries of up to 400 euros each will be available for students without full scholarships, eligible students should send an accompanying letter about their finances together with their abstract and CV to the organizer.