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Dissecting Society. Periodical Literature and Social Observation (1830-1850).

CFP.jpgPhoto: The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1966, Metropolitan Museum Art.

Call for Papers

Workshop: Dissecting Society. Periodical Literature and Social Observation (1830-1850)

CIRHUS, New York University, 20th of March 2015

Between 1830 and 1850, on a rapidly expanding print market, a vast amount of short literary pieces on cultural manners, social types and societal developments appeared in the European press and beyond. These “protosociological sketches“ (M. Lauster) or “panoramic literature“ (W. Benjamin) were published in the periodical press as well as in serial collections frequently illustrated with engravings. Assembling an extensive array of urban and rural types, these literary and visual sketches, commissioned to writers, aimed at constructing a total view of a city or of a nation, and were later to appear in compilations such as Paris, ou le livre des cent-et-un, Heads of the People or Los españoles pintados por sí mismos, to name just a few. In trying to reveal outer appearances and inner logics of their period, these sketches reflect on concepts such as “culture”, “society” and “nation”. Even though there has been a considerable amount of studies about “panoramic literature“ in terms of literary criticism, its alliances with the emerging humanities and social sciences has rarely been studied. This workshop aims at stimulating an interdisciplinary and transnational approach to this literary corpus, in order to reconsider it vis-à-vis the emergence of the social sciences.

The workshop will be held on the 20th of March 2015 at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences at New York University. It will bring together researchers from any discipline related to panoramic literature (and its visual production) as early forms of sociological observation within a history of knowledge. Comprised of 15-20 minutes presentations integrated into panels, the workshop will provide an opportunity to exchange ideas, to advance work in progress and nourish new collaborations.
We encourage the submission of papers, especially of those sharing work in progress. Topics covered may include:

-    Delimiting “proto-sociological“ or “panoramic“ literature in an interdisciplinary perspective: borders, overlaps, modes of definition (e.g. interdependencies with statistical, economic or antiquarian works, with urban portrait and reportage, political journalism, or travel literature)
-    Recurrent lines of discourse of social observation (social classes and money as structuring features, the rise of “new“ values, new technologies, declining customs and professions).
-    Conditions of reception: readership and social/political impact of the sketches
-    National/regional differences and interregional/transnational circulations/ adaptations of sociological knowledge
-    Text-image relationships in relation to emerging forms of sociological and ethnographical representation.
-    Epistemology: scientific currents and the adaptation of patterns of knowledge (zoology, botany, medicine, physiology, physiognomy, biology…)
-    Evaluations of societal questions and ideologies
-    The city as context and content of social observation, institutions of knowledge, and the rise of social science

Please send your abstract by November 30, 2014 (400 words maximum) to The conference language will be English. You will be notified about your participation by December 10.
We will ask the participants to submit a readable draft of their presentation by March 1. We will then distribute these papers among the rest of the participants.