Commons: Shared Resources and Collective Activity in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies / April 20th-21st

full name / name of organization: 
The Group for the Study of Early Cultures / University of California, Irvine

Fourth Annual Graduate Student Conference for the Group for the Study of Early Cultures
The University of California, Irvine

Friday and Saturday, April 20 – 21, 2012

Keynote Speaker: Julian Yates, University of Delaware

The commons once referred to tracts of land – forests and meadows, seas and waterways – open to collective use by members of one or more communities. The commons were shared spaces where public goods were generated through activities such as agriculture and hunting. They were also sites where social practices (for example, the rites of May) took place, marking the commons as an essential component to the shared cultural heritage of the people. However, the enclosure system sealed off these lands for exclusive use, dissolving the commons and opening the possibility for modern forms of private property. The commons also referred to a people distinguished from nobility by virtue of their birth, occupations, and cultural practices. There was a distinctly political characteristic to the commons that implied the bearing of communal burdens and the sharing of certain limited rights and privileges. The commons became an indicator of plebeian identity, shared backgrounds, beliefs, and ways of experiencing everyday life.

Today the term is widely associated with shared cultural legacies, open-source software, and public space and resources that are collectively owned and shared among members and populations. The commons may include everything from physical to intellectual property, water to ecosystems, media, languages and literatures, performances, public health and infrastructure, and the internet. This conference aims to gather models of the commons in its various modes including but not limited to land, public space, joint ownership, and collective action in medieval and Renaissance practice, with some sense of their viability as models for alternative economic, spatial, artistic, and political practice today.

The Group for the Study of Early Cultures focuses mainly on fields that investigate pre-modern societies, including but not limited to: Classics, Late Antiquity, Medieval Studies, Renaissance Studies, 18th Century Studies, East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, and Islamic Studies. We are also interested in a wide range of disciplinary approaches to Early Cultures, including literary studies, history, art history, drama, visual studies, sociology, culture studies, anthropology, political science, philosophy, and religious studies. All interested graduate students from any university and discipline are welcome to submit a proposal (title and 200-300 word abstract) to by November 1, 2011.

For more information about our organization, please visit our website:

Topics for consideration include:

● Common pastures and the rise of enclosure; imagining the commons in pastoral poetry
● Seas and waterways as commons; piracy, tourism, immigration, environmentalism
● Forests, hunting, poaching; parks, greenwoods and Robin Hoods
● Holiday as a form of temporary commons
● Theater as a public art form (its urban and spatial dynamics, "properties," and publics)
● Imitation, allusion, intertextuality: building a literary commons
● Corporate life of medieval and Renaissance cities (plays, pageants, entries)
● Constituent sovereignty, non-sovereign or unsovereign forms of self-rule and collective action
● Community and immunity: medieval and Renaissance biopolitics, and life worlds
● Public education and shared (common) curriculum
● Hospices and public health care
● Religion as commons, and religious communities
● Copyright law now and then
● Folklore and common narratives
● Open Source Renaissance: new media and early studies
● The commons and food studies
● Collective agency
● Queer commons
● Colonial and postcolonial commons
● Gender conventions as commons
● Local, national, and international commons
● Planned communities and common space
● Legal and juridical dimensions of the commons
● Race and common identity