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Architectures of Power: buildings of politics and governance, 1750-2000

Call for papers

Girton College, University of Cambridge
27-28 June 2020

IMG 1031 crHistorians have long recognised the importance of architecture within the exercising of political power. Yet the interaction between power and place, between human actor and physical location, is a difficult one to quantify. This conference brings together political, social, cultural, and architectural historians to explore this relationship. Architecture could be mobilised to exhibit and to legitimise political power, but it could also have a profound influence on decision-makers at crucial moments of governance. Architecture has played a fundamental role in performances of statecraft. Accounting for this architectural agency, without resulting to crude spatial determinism, is one of the great methodological challenges that this conference will discuss. As architectural historians have established, the meaning of buildings vary from user to user. Often these reflected hierarchies operating within the building: experiences of the Foreign Office, for instance, differed from a Permanent Under-Secretary to a newly arrived clerk. It is this question of the subjective nature of architectural experience that we are particularly interested in exploring.

Taking broad definitions of political power and the state, we will not only consider the architecture of palaces, parliaments, and administration, but also of commercial, financial, legal, and religious sources of political authority. This conference is interested in the physical seats of power from the private residences of statesmen and women, to legislatures, embassies, and banking houses. Importantly, this conference considers how the architecture of political power evolved over time, reflecting changes in structures of government. In the late eighteenth-century, the majority of states were absolute monarchies or governed by elite oligarchs, but by the mid twentieth-century the rise of popular representation entailed very different types of architecture. Where once palaces like Versailles and Blenheim embodied the authority of ruling elites, parliaments and administrative offices soon reflected accountable styles of government.

We welcome papers on any geographical case study from the mid eighteenth-century until the twentieth. We are particularly interested in proposals that consider the role of gender, race, and class as well as questions of architectural science and technology. We are also interested in the role of architecture in the operation of imperial, economic, and religious political power. Please submit abstracts of 250 words to architecturesofpower@hist.cam.ac.uk by 21 October 2019.