CfP: Environmental and Cultural Destruction in Imperial Spaces


Second annual conference of the Research Group “Empires” (University of Freiburg)
Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Benno Weiner, Aondover Gabriel Gyegwe
30 November – 2 December 2023, Freiburg, Germany

Empires can be guarantors of unity, stability, and peace. At the same time, they are often embedded in a history of destruction of lives, habitats, and cultures. Imperial orders laid waste to many previously autonomous polities and stable ecosystems, creating destruction not only during their ‘rise’, but also through their efforts to maintain control, their demise, and often long thereafter. This conference aims to shed light on destruction in imperial spaces through the dual lens of environmental and cultural destruction. To better understand the relationship between these forms of destruction and imperiality is one of the main goals of the conference.

Empires have harmed culture and nature, bodies and minds, objects and peoples, material and non-material heritages. The conference is thus based on a broad understanding of destruction. It envelops a wide array of phenomena of damage and harm, both visible and invisible, immediate and incipient, and of fleeting and lasting impact. Destruction can be a show of force, an incidental by-product or a deliberate policy, ideologically motivated, a result of institutional routines or simply of a lack of care. Destruction has a temporal as well as a spatial dimension. Destructive events and processes can change conceptions of time, memories of the past, and imaginations of the future. The spatial dimension includes the destruction of imperial centres and peripheries as well as empires’ encroachment into ‘unknown’ lands, creating new frontiers and borderlands of destruction. Destruction does not only emanate from the imperial centre, but might also emerge from co-opted local elites or anti-imperial resistance.

Imperial subjugation of the ethnic ‘other’ often went hand in hand with the exploitation of the environmental ‘other’. As the quest for resources was often accompanied by civilising missions, imperial expansion has had both environmental and cultural dimensions. In fact, research has long shown that nature and culture are not dichotomic but rather terms that construct a supposed human difference. Moreover, studies on landscape development explain how humans and environments interact. In this vein, the conference aims to explore the specific dynamics of socio-cultural and environmental destruction, as well as to examine how these two forms of destruction align, intersect, and influence each other in imperial spaces.

The overarching questions of the conference are:
• What is the relationship between destruction and imperiality?
• How can we understand environmental and cultural destruction as distinct, yet
interrelated phenomena?

Further information on relevant topics and the application process can be found on the flyer: