CALL FOR PAPERS: Ancient and Modern Knowledges

A two-day colloquium at the University of Sheffield
Friday 22 and Saturday 23 June 2018

Categories which seek to draw distinctions between different areas of scholarly inquiry in the history of knowledge, most obviously, perhaps, the distinction between ‘humanities’ and ‘sciences’ have, in many cases, spawned their own extensive sub-histories – the history of science and, more recently, the history of the humanities. Yet categories which instead seek to draw boundaries between bodies of knowledge based on distinctions of chronological time also need to be interrogated. The spatial turn in the history of knowledge has been particularly important, with much attention paid in recent years to exploring circuits, networks, geographies and mobilities of knowledge. Less consideration, however, has been given to distinctions of chronological distance (in particular, the use of the terms ‘ancient and modern’) and the associated claims of authority, legitimacy, originality and significance, which are implied when these terms are used.

The colloquium aims to explore two related sets of questions:

(1) Firstly, how have ancient knowledges been discussed, adapted, interrogated, included, excluded or ignored by scholars, writers and thinkers but also merchants, diplomats and other creators of knowledge consciously identifying as modern?

In referring to ‘ancient’ knowledges, we are not limiting our consideration to the knowledge of Greece and Rome alone, but are keen to hear from scholars working on the later reception of ideas, texts, images and objects originating in other ancient cultures – in China, India, Persia, Africa.

In defining ‘modern’ knowledges, we are adopting Peter Burke’s identification of 15th and 16th century Renaissance humanism as the first point at which societies began to view themselves as self-consciously modern, and we will extend our area of inquiry up to the long 18th century. In adopting this definition, we are aware that we are choosing to focus on a predominantly Western understanding of modernity. At the same time, we welcome papers exploring the concept of alternative and multiple modernities developed in other parts of the globe.

(2) The second set of questions we are interested in involve the different ways in which chronological markers (‘ancient’, ‘modern’, ‘new’, ‘old’, ‘traditional’, ‘novel’) have been used to draw distinctions and make claims about the legitimacy, authority and significance of different bodies of knowledge from the Renaissance onwards.

Papers could, for example, address the following issues:
  • the role of ancient knowledge in the intersection of (and the distinction between) the natural sciences and humanities
  • the role that individuals and informal institutions such as learned societies have played as agents in the formation of concepts and categories of knowledge.
  • how reading and re-reading classical authors and ancient historians, in particular, helped to shape concepts of history, verisimilitude, plausibility and falsehood.
  • the relationship between ancient and modern historiography
  • the tradition of other ancient authors such as Plutarch, Suetonius, Cicero and Sextus Empiricus which has been particularly influential in the formation of concepts of history.

Please send abstracts of 250 words for papers of 20 minutes and a short bio to: or by Tuesday 1st May 2018

Heather Ellis and Daniele Miano
University of Sheffield

Dr Heather Ellis
Vice-Chancellor's Fellow
School of Education
University of Sheffield