Geographies of contact: contexts of encounter between Britain and the Middle East

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Université de Strasbourg (France)

The Université de Strasbourg (France) is hosting a conference on the geographies of cultural contacts between Britain and the Middle East from medieval times to the end of the 19th century to be held on June 12th-14th 2014.

Encounters between Britain and the Middle East have taken many forms through the centuries (pilgrimages, crusades, commercial travels, scientific expeditions, pleasure trips, colonial wars…). They have also resulted from transpositions of objects, artefacts, texts, manuscripts, animals, from one geographical sphere to another. More fundamentally, such contacts have been perceived and considered from different points of view, whether the observer be British or from the Middle East. While nineteenth-century orientalist discourse tended to erase this variety and temporal or spatial specificities in its representation of a unified Orient, contemporary research has emphasized the impact of the material conditions of encounter on the nature of cross-cultural exchanges and subsequent representations. The study of specific geographical contexts and of privileged places of contact, in particular, has made it possible to highlight the reciprocity, complexity and fertility of such exchanges as well as phenomena of cultural hybridization.
In this context, the present conference intends to examine the material conditions of encounters between Britain and the Middle East, and their cultural and aesthetic impact. A long period of investigation has been chosen in order to account for the evolution and heterogeneity of those geographies of contact. The emphasis will be put not only on British verbal and visual representations of and reactions to the Middle East (as visited or discovered through transpositions in Great Britain), but also on their Middle Eastern counterparts (whether in the Middle East or through travels in Great Britain).
Angles of study may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The tangible modalities of direct encounter through travel, in particular in multicultural towns (like Istanbul, Alexandria, Jerusalem, or London), places of sociability or accommodation, archaeological sites, modes of transport…
- Processes of mediation and transposition, in particular in sites where objects, art works, texts, manuscripts are relocated from one geographic area to another, either in an isolated fashion or as collections (in monasteries, universities, libraries, museums, clubs or zoos).
- Places of cultural intertwining such as sites of cultural hybridity, where stylistic and aesthetic dialogue is made possible (artists' studios, the theatre, operas, gardens, but also the world of fashion, the decorative arts and gastronomy).
- The linguistic aspects of intercultural encounters: how travellers made themselves understood, the processes of translation and transposition of specific terms from one language to another…

Please note that submissions on the medieval and early modern period will be examined first.

Papers will be published. Submissions (approximately 300 words) and a short bio-bibliographical note should be sent before December 8th, 2013, to the steering committee of the Conference (, who will notify the authors of their decision by the end of January 2013.