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Splendid Isolation? Insularity in British History

May 4, 2018 - May 5, 2018
German Association for British Studies

Berlin
Germany

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“Our story centres in an island, not widely sundered from the Continent, and so tilted that its mountains lie all to the west and north, while south and east is a gently undulating landscape of wooded valleys, open downs, and slow rivers. It is very accessible to the invader, whether he comes in peace or war, as pirate or merchant, conqueror or missionary. Those who dwell there are not insensitive to any shift of power, any change of faith, or even fashion, on the mainland, but they give to every practice, every doctrine that comes to it from abroad, its own peculiar turn and imprint.”

(Winston Churchill, History of the English-Speaking Peoples)

In these few lines, Churchill refers to one of the most notable features of British history: its “islandness” - a close connection between geographical facts and attached metaphorical (i.e. cultural and political) meanings. As Churchill reminds his readers, a specific dialectic of separateness and connectivity is characteristic of an island.

The conference “Splendid Isolation? Insularity in British History” will explore the interrelationship between isolation and connection of the British Isles in an epoch-spanning and interdisciplinary approach. Focussing on politics and cultures of “islandness”, it will discuss the place and the specific meaning of the island situation from early modern times to the looming Brexit of today. The conference seeks to investigate contexts in which “islandness” was referred to, explore shifting meanings attached to this notion, and examine the actors who made use of the “island argument”, their specific interests and practices.

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