Cosmopolitanism, Aestheticism, and Decadence 1860-1920

University of Oxford, 17-18 June 2014

Plenary Speakers:
Dr Stefano Evangelista (Trinity College, Oxford)
Professor Jonathan Freedman (University of Michigan)
Dr Michèle Mendelssohn (Mansfield College, Oxford)

This conference is supported by the Kent Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (KIASH) and the Faculty of English Language and Literature of the University of Oxford.

Over the past twenty years, the term “cosmopolitanism” has been the focus of intense critical reflection and debate across the humanities. For some, it represents a potential remedy for oppressive and antagonistic models of national identity and a means of addressing the ethical, economic, and political dilemmas produced by globalisation. Others consider it a peculiarly insidious form of imperialism, and argue that it advocates an untenable ideal of a privileged, rootless observer, detached from — and disposed to romanticise or commodify — very real injustices and inequalities. Meanwhile, the “transatlantic” has emerged as a popular critical framework and field of inquiry for historians and literary scholars. But the “transatlantic” is also sometimes perceived as a problematic category insofar as it can serve to reinforce the narrow focus on Anglo-American culture that the “cosmopolitan” ideal aspires to overcome.

Aestheticism and decadence, which flourished as broad artistic tendencies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, speak directly to the issues at stake in contemporary debates about “cosmopolitanism” and “transatlanticism”. This is firstly because they evolved out of transnational dialogues between artists, writers, and critics. But it is also because aestheticism and decadence tended to celebrate an ideal of a disaffiliated artist or connoisseur whose interests ranged freely across history, language, and culture, and who maintained an ironic distance from the conventional determinants of identity. Over the last two decades, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century aestheticism and decadence have become established and extremely lively areas of research in the fields of literary studies, cultural studies, and art history. Our conference aims to bring together established as well as emerging scholars in these fields, and to explore how the attractions and problems of “cosmopolitanism” illuminate, and can be illuminated by, current scholarly debates about aestheticism and decadence.

Registration options:

Conference Registration Fee – £80.00
Includes conference events 17-18 June, lunches, coffee & cake breaks, and wine reception.

One-day Registration Fee for 17 June OR 18 June – £40.00

(Please note that the “bursary” option on the registration menu should be selected only by those who have been awarded fee-waived places.)

In addition, attendees can register for the following events:

  • Conference dinner (17 June) at at Al-Shami Lebanese Restaurant – £30.  Includes three courses, drinks, coffee or tea with dessert, and gratuity.
  • Private Gallery Tour (17 June) of Cézanne and the Modern exhibition at the Ashmolean – £15. Space is limited, so those interested should book early.

Please click here to register.

For more information visit:

Organizers: Dr. Emily Coit (Worcester College, Oxford), Dr. Sara Lyons (University of Kent) and Dr. Michael Collins (University of Kent)

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