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Annual Conference 2023 "The Making of Epochal Events: Narrating Turning Points in Chinese History"

Jun 15, 2023 - Jun 17, 2023

Venue: Heidelberg

“The epochal event [is] (1) an emerging category of a new kind of historical thought [that] is best conceived of as (2) a hyper-historical event that (3) brings about a ‘new reality’ and thereby (4) separates two worlds (5) in its capacity to signal the most momentous transformative changes (6) that extend beyond the limits of human experience (7) both in the world of human affairs and in the more-than-human world of the human-technology-nature entanglement.”[1]

Chinese history has been marked by radical changes in society, culture and the environment, which are often linked to specific events: famines, rebellions, inventions. This conference seeks to investigate how such epochal events determine our understanding of Chinese history and structures its narration. Potential contributions shall investigate how these events were reflected upon by specific actors and in specific media, and how they shaped institutions and social structures. A special emphasis shall be placed on how such events are recorded (in texts, images, statistics etc.) and situated in a particular vision of the Chinese past and future, arguing for their “epochal” quality.

We seek to engage with the question in how far such events are “epochal” at all, whether they necessarily mark a break with the past, thus promising the dawning of a new epoch, a “new reality” (Simon), or whether the “epochal” can also be constructed to make a claim of historical discontinuity that might be quite at odds with the experiences of the actors involved. With Bernard Stiegler we also want to ask whether there is a way to end the epochal: the “epoch of the absence of epoch,” the absence of any collective vision for the future that he attributes to the current disjuncture of our technical and social systems.[2] Contributors are invited to consider how such epochal events or certain types of periodization impacted in their own fields of specialty – if they did at all. They are also free to introduce events that are meaningful within a given discipline, community region, or time period but ignored or marginalized in other narratives – suggesting alternative epochal divides.

[1] Zoltan B.Simon, The Epochal Event: Transformations in the Entangled Human, Technological, and Natural Worlds, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, 114.

[2] Bernard Stiegler. The Age of Disruption: Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity 2019, chap. 2.


Panel themes: Narrating Changing (technological) Landscapes in the City Rethinking Periodization in/for China—from Dynastic Cycles to Marxist Materialism Coming to Terms with/for Epochal Life-Worlds—Epochal Vocabularies and Concepts Environmental Epochs—Places (e.g. Cities), Actors, Terminologies Worldmaking—Local Moments and Global Moments From Shennong to Darwin—Epochal Changes in Science and Technology   Epochal Nature—The Experience and Narration of Natural Events