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The Masculine Worlds of Race and Power: Objects, Practices and Emotions in Colonial and Post-Colonial Societies in the Long Nineteenth Century

Saturday 5th May 2018
Keynote Speaker: Pieter Spierenburg (Netherlands)


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This conference will bring together scholars from the fields of History, Gender Studies, English Literature and History of Art who are interested in the study of masculine identities and their implications for elite white men in nineteenth century colonial and post-colonial societies.

Although historical narratives traditionally foregrounded white men as the ‘subject’ of colonial histories, recent studies by post-colonial, gender and new imperial historians have only recently begun to investigate these figures as ‘subjects’. The gender identities of white men have chiefly been explored solely through a focus on the representation of various hegemonic masculinities, with the lived experience of these men being overlooked.

The aim of this conference is to bring together scholars interested in focussing dually on the representation, and lived experience of elite white men, to investigate the relationship between hegemonic masculine ideals and the subjective experiences of the men who had to meet their social dictates. The conference will engage with the material and emotional worlds of white men in colonial and post-colonial societies to ask:

• How were elite white men represented in various forms of literature?

• How were these ideals and social expectations translated, negotiated and enacted in everyday life?

• How did hegemonic masculine identities impact the emotional world of men?

• How did the actions of other historical actors, such as women, slaves and colonised peoples contribute to performances of white masculinity?

• How did performances of socially expedient male behaviour vary regionally and generationally?

• How were items of material culture and clothing used to express or disrupt ideal masculine identities?

Masculine Worlds will bring researchers interested in masculinities from various disciplines into a dialogue, and will establish a network which will facilitate the development of a more holistic understanding of elite white masculinity in colonial and post-colonial societies in the long nineteenth century.

Since the 1990s gender historians have been calling an approach to masculinity research that combines the study of meaning and representation with the social and psychological. Michael Roper and John Tosh argued in Manful Assertions (1991), for example, that the concept of masculinity is the product of ‘both lived experience and fantasy’, and that studies must explore both elements, in particular ‘how cultural representations became part of subjective identity’. This conference’s interdisciplinary focus and combination of social and cultural approaches to the history of elite white masculinity will seek to address that shortfall.


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