ASECS 2015: Things that didn't happen

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American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Rather a lot of things happened in the long eighteenth century. However, there are also a great number of things that – importantly – didn't. This session is interested in how those things were used and represented in eighteenth-century culture, seeking to explore three (or more) kinds of non-occurrence: things that (only just) failed to happen; things that were said to have happened, but didn't; and speculative futures that failed (or are still failing) to come to pass. The conjuring or imagining of alternative histories and futures – the Jacobite threat, for instance – was central to the ways in which contemporaries oriented themselves in time and culture, shaping identities national, partisan, literary, religious, professional and even personal. Polemicists, literary combatants and professional historiographers often justify their positions with reference to historical disasters narrowly avoided (as with the revolution of 1688), or, more straightforwardly, by fabricating histories (the warming pan scandal; the Popish Plot; the Rowley poems). One of the benefits of such historiographical brinkmanship is its incorrigibility: things that didn't happen function as a rehearsal space for the practice of historical, political and literary orientation and argument. Counterhistorical writing often brings with it the benefits of literary narration, for such narratives are frequently applied to indeterminate or complex historical episodes in order to simplify, straightening out the subtleties of agency and causation. ('What caused the revolution of 1688?' 'A supposititious child, delivered by a papist').

Proposals are sought from scholars working across the long-eighteenth century, in all disciplines. Possible subjects include: historical failures; hoaxes; conspiracies and conspiracy theories; forgeries; historical denial; archival ghosts; chance and accident; counterhistory and counterhistorical propaganda; the history of historiography; historical causation; memory and
forgetting; prophecy and prediction; millenarian thought and practice; hallucination and delusion; authorship controversies; legislative revisionism (Acts of Oblivion, etc.); slander and libel, seditious or otherwise.

Please send proposals by email to by 15 September 2014 (presenters must be current members of ASECS by 1 November 2014).