Call for Papers – Past Futures: Thinking in Crisis (October 14–16, 2021)

Past Futures: Thinking in Crisis

October 14-16, 2021
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island
A conference sponsored by the Charles Brockden Brown Society

Crisis! As we write this CFP, in the midst of a global pandemic that has brought conditions supposedly unprecedented in this century, it is difficult to predict our future circumstances and concerns in October 2021. This prompts us to ask: How do we think in the midst of crisis? How will our thinking change once the crisis has passed? If, as Thomas Paine argued in 1776, “the mind soon grows through” the short duration of a crisis, what is gained and what is lost as we process the uncertainties of crisis? Drawing on our scholarly engagements with the long eighteenth century, alongside our varied roles as teachers, humanities scholars, and community members in the twenty-first century, we invite proposals that consider the role critical thinking and reflection play in contending with crisis.

The temporal mood of crisis is an opportunity to consider historicist and presentist approaches to our past futures. While the urgent immediacy of crisis forcefully anchors us in the present, with hindsight, crisis is often re-framed as an outcome that should have been anticipated. As we examine the conditions that lead to crisis, we look to the missed opportunities and foreclosed possibilities of the past to imagine viable futures.

The long eighteenth century provides rich historical parallels, critical comparisons, and anachronisms that can inform our current crises. Brown and his intellectual circle debated the merits of historical and fictional genres for capturing the sensation of crisis and tracing its probable causes and effects. Heightening the pressures and violent contradictions of national affiliation, crisis was often invoked to justify the oppression and dispossession of indigenous, enslaved, free Black, and immigrant people. The competing responses to the Haitian Revolution from the United States signal that crisis, as a breaking point or a turning point, is a matter of perspective and interpretation. The age of social contract produced debates about the reformative and corrupting effects of solitary confinement and voluntary retreat, and many argued over whether nations should be imagined in terms of isolated independence or global interdependencies.

The Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the Charles Brockden Brown Society invites papers on all aspects of crisis in the Atlantic World of the long eighteenth century and their resonances today.

Topics might include:

  • Social distance: expatriation, dis/affiliation, hermits, domestic and natural retreat, solitary confinement, deportation
  • Presentist and historicist approaches to crisis
  • The aesthetics of crisis: visual and narrative forms, styles, and genres that represent crisis
  • Role of reading, writing, reflection during crisis
  • Role of communities during crisis: racial, ethnic, professional, regional, political, academic
  • Dystopia and utopia
  • C18/C21 crises: constitutional crisis, climate change, settler colonialism, Atlantic slave trade, systemic racism, labor crises
  • Yellow fever, epidemics, and crises of public health
  • France, Haiti and the “contagion” of revolutionary ideals
  • Pedagogical approaches to the C18 classroom in times of crisis
  • How crisis changes our understanding of institutions, particularly institutions of learning
  • How crisis is used to define, reinforce, limit, challenge, or transform communities
  • The relationship between activism and reflection during a crisis

Though we are an author society, we solicit proposals from a broad range of texts and practices beyond those associated with Brown and his writings alone. We also encourage interdisciplinary scholarship, work emphasizing non-U.S. literatures, and presentations on teaching practices. Our conference culture aims to create a space of egalitarian consideration free from career-oriented and competitive attitudes, a place for new work to flourish. Thus we have no concurrent sessions, so that all may be heard by all. Due to time and space constraints, we may ask you to reframe your proposed talk as a brief (5-10 minute) presentation for inclusion within a roundtable format.

Mentoring for Graduate Students

Graduate students who are interested in receiving feedback on their abstracts before the submission deadline may submit their abstracts for revision suggestions by March 1, 2021. Review does not guarantee acceptance. Graduate students will also have the option to be paired with a faculty mentor during the weekend of the conference.

Public Health Contingencies

As conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue to impact travel, safety, and funding through the next year, we remain committed to organizing an event that stays true to the egalitarian principles of the CBBS. We will support remote presentations and ask that you indicate your preference for an in-person or remote presentation in your submission. These preferences will have no bearing on the status of your submission. Should conditions favor a fully remote conference, we will adopt new formats, including pre-circulated papers, workshops, and roundtables organized around common readings and teaching practices. We ask that you remain flexible about presentation format should the need arise, and we welcome submissions that include ideas for innovative hybrid presentation formats.

Travel Support

Some travel support will be available to those with limited institutional funding. Applicants requesting travel funding should indicate their interest and need in a cover letter. Graduate students should provide information about whether or not they are ABD.

250-word proposal deadline: March 15, 2021. Please send a proposal in .docx format to