CfP: Re-examining Empires from the Margins: Towards a New Imperial History of Europe

Call for papers, deadline 15 July 2021

This workshop will bring together scholars working at the forefront of new research into the imperial entanglements of European spaces not conventionally thought of as major imperial powers (e.g. the Nordic countries and parts of Central and Eastern Europe). The purpose of the event is to provide an opportunity to take stock and learn from each other, but also to identify gaps in the emerging literature and push the field into fruitful new directions transcending individual national contexts.

Re-examining Empires from the Margins: Towards a New Imperial History of Europe

From toppled monuments to debates about history curricula and restitution claims for looted artefacts, the present moment finds the continuing legacies of empire and colonialism firmly at the forefront of public engagement with history. In historiography, this surge in interest has been accompanied by challenges to commonly accepted notions of what can or cannot be understood as ‘imperial’ or ‘colonial’, including a renewed focus on the colonial histories of countries or regions that have not conventionally been thought of as major imperial powers.

The last decade or so has seen the emergence of a body of literature examining the imperial entanglements of such ‘marginal’ or ‘minor’ countries as, for example, Norway (Kjerland & Bertelsen, 2015) or Switzerland (Purtschert & Fischer-Tiné, 2015). In addition to English-language works, this has also included a number of publications in smaller languages, including dedicated special issues on Finland (Lahti & Kullaa, 2020) and Sweden (Für & Hennessey, 2020). Simultaneously, the latest historiography on major empires (e.g. Schär, 2019) has also tended to emphasise their nature as transnational entities shaping global flows of people, goods and ideas, rather than merely national enterprises, opening up space for a ‘view from the margins.’

Our workshop will bring together scholars working at the forefront of this new research in a range of European contexts. The purpose of the gathering is to provide an opportunity to take stock and learn from each other, but also to identify gaps in the emerging literature and push the field into fruitful new directions. Three issues in particular will guide the discussion:

- Much of the existing work on ‘marginal’ imperial histories has been designed to address internal – often national – audiences, making the case that “we were also involved” or “we also have a colonial history”. While these interventions have been valuable in their specific contexts, more could be done to bring these varied national histories together and to analyse them as a unified phenomenon. In short: how can a view ‘from the margins’ improve our global understanding of the transnational workings of empire?

- Similarly, this emerging literature has tended to focus on unique – and potentially unrepresentative – case studies, such as the stories of particularly mobile individuals or specific settler communities. As a consequence, there remains a need for a more analytically rigorous understanding of the broader structures at play. What were the concrete – economic, cultural, religious etc. – flows and networks involved in tying various ‘marginal’ European locales into the global web of empire, and how evenly or unevenly were they spread across the continent?

- Finally, how does this recent ‘imperial history from the margins’ relate to other contemporary trends and challenges in global and colonial history? Is there a potential danger of re-centring Europe and Europeans in analyses of imperialism, especially if the literature produced emerges primarily from a dialogue between the mainstream Anglophone and individual national historiographies? And given that also in the European ‘margins’ most historical archives privilege literate male experiences, how can we use these archives to produce more balanced, intersectional analyses of empire?

We welcome submissions that address one or more of these questions with reference to any parts of Europe not conventionally associated with major overseas empires. Work relating to the area of the Nordic countries and to Central and Eastern Europe is especially welcome, but all well-argued cases will be considered. Proposals can also deal with the earlier histories of countries that later became major colonisers, such as the activities of Germans or Belgians in the nineteenth-century Dutch East Indies. Apart from historical case studies, speakers may also choose to discuss specific public history projects relating to colonial histories or contemporary debates around colonial historiography in specific national or regional contexts.

The workshop is jointly organized by Dr Mikko Toivanen (Munich Centre for Global History) and Dr Bernhard Schär (ETH Zürich) in collaboration with the ‘Nordic Colonialism and the Global’ project and will take place at the Munich Centre for Global History (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität) on 22–23 October 2021. We hope that circumstances by the autumn will allow participants to attend a small workshop of ca. 15 participants in person. However, we will naturally follow the situation closely and update plans as necessary. We also expect to provide the opportunity to participate via Zoom to participants not wishing to travel.

Please submit an abstract (max. 250 words) and a short biography (max. 150 words) in English by 15 July 2021 to the organisers at and Decisions of acceptance will be announced by 15 August. Confirmed participants are expected to submit a short paper of ca. 3,000 words in early October. We will consider options for a collective publication on the basis of the submissions.

Literature cited:
Alsaker Kjerland, Kirsten and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen (eds), Navigating Colonial Orders: Norwegian Entrepreneurship in Africa and Oceania (Berghahn, 2015).
Für, Gunlög and John L. Hennessey (eds), ‘Svensk kolonialism’, special issue of Historisk Tidskrift, 140:3 (2020).
Lahti, Janne and Rinna Kullaa (eds), ‘Kolonialismi ja Suomi’, special issue of Historiallinen Aikakauskirja, 118:4 (2020).
Purtschert, Patricia and Harald Fischer-Tiné (eds), Colonial Switzerland: Rethinking Colonialism from the Margins (Palgrave, 2015).
Schär, Bernhard (ed.), ‘Empire of Demands and Opportunities’, special issue of BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review 134:3 (2019).