Call for Papers: The Long Quarrel: Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century

Interdisciplinary Conference

8 January 2016

On Thursday 16 and Friday 17 June 2016, the research group Early Modern Intellectual History organizes an interdisciplinary conference ‘The Long Quarrel: Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century’ in Amsterdam. Keynote speakers are Larry Norman (University of Chicago) and Iain McDaniel (University of Sussex).

That eighteenth-century thought was strongly oriented towards the ancient world is beyond dispute. Classical models played a central role in art and literature, in political thought, and in many other fields. What is less clear, however, is how eighteenth-century authors exactly perceived the relation between the ancient world and the present. The Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns was the start of a debate on the nature of this relation that continued throughout the eighteenth century. This debate was not merely academic: it was of crucial importance for the way eighteenth-century Europeans defined their cultural identity.

This conference aims to explore the debate about the relation between ancients and moderns in the long eighteenth century – the period starting with the fierce polemics of the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns and ending with the appeal to ancient values in the Atlantic Revolutions and Constant’s defense of the liberty of the moderns. Eighteenth-century authors’ definitions of modernity usually involved explicit social contrasts with the ancient world. How did the significant cultural differences that contemporaries perceived between the ancient and the modern world affect their use of classical models and parallels? And how did historical comparisons between the ancient and the modern world facilitate the rise of new perspectives on history and society in the eighteenth century? 

Preferably, contributions to this conference do not just describe the use of one or more classical examples, but address how the dynamic of ancients and moderns affected modes of conceptualization and argumentation. The geographical scope is broad: contributions may discuss developments in various European countries, and also in the Americas.   

We invite scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds to propose papers on topics such as:

  • the influence of the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns on eighteenth-century debates; 
  • the role of ideas about ancients and moderns in the rise of the new concept of society;
  • conceptualizations of the relation between ancients and moderns in fields such as political thought, aesthetics and philosophy;
  • views on the role of ancient virtues in a modern, commercial society;
  • eighteenth-century notions of historical and cultural difference;
  • the influence of ideas about ancients and moderns on the definition of cultural identities.

Of course, this list of topics is not exhaustive. Other papers within the thematic scope of the conference are very welcome. 

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers. Please email abstracts of no more than 500 words to ancientsandmoderns@gmail.com by 15 March 2016. Acceptance of proposals will be confirmed by 5 April 2016. We intend to publish the papers in an edited volume.

For further questions please contact the conveners at: ancientsandmoderns@gmail.com 

Wyger Velema (Department of History, University of Amsterdam)
Eleá de la Porte (Department of History, University of Amsterdam)
Jacques Bos (Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam)