Spectacles of Decline: A Symposium on the Waning British Empire


Daily from Monday, March 8th to Friday, March 12th from 12pm to 3pm CST

Chicago, IL (via Zoom)

Monday, March 8, 2021

Panels 1A and 1B

1A: Imperial Assemblages

  • “Idealising Imperial Unity at the Colonial and Imperial Conferences, 1887-1937” (Daniel McKay, PhD Candidate in History, University of Cambridge)

  • “‘The Empire Story-Land’: Mediating Empire’s Decline at the Imperial Institute” (Andrew Kalaidjian, Assistant Professor of English, California State University)

  • “Dreaming Spires: The Aestheticization of the University of Oxford Across Imperial Fluctuations” (Andrew Schumacher Bethke, PhD Candidate in History, University of Minnesota) 

With moderator Julia Rossi (PhD Student, English, University of Chicago)

1B: Idioms of Resistance

  • “Contemporary Scots Translation and Decolonisation” (Colin Bramwell, PhD Candidate, University of St Andrews)

  • “’An Oblique Frayed Island’: Bowen’s Indeterminate Coloniality” (Wendi Bootes, PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley)

  • “Making White Supremacy Legible on the Land: Excavating the Environmental Rhetorics of Empire in Nancy Cunard’s Anti-imperialist Writings” (Molly Volanth Hall, Lecturer in Literary Arts & Studies, Rhode Island School of Design)

With moderator Matthew Beeber (PhD Candidate, English, Northwestern University)

Roundtable on Knowledge Construction and Empire

The exercise of British power abroad has also been a means of producing (widely disseminating, yet often unevenly distributing) forms, degrees, and configurations of knowledge. British Empire is also an information network. This roundtable is interested in the blockages, breakdowns, and strategic redeployments of knowledge and its uses as knowledge is embedded, contested, and counteracted within specific scenes of decolonial practice. How can we understand–or, more precisely, what frameworks do these scenes give us for understanding–the spaces (of skepticism, uncertainty, paranoia, discovery, and/or emergent expertise) opened in  contests between those who are and are not authorized to produce knowledge, and the persons and places that this knowledge concerns?


  • Peter Kalliney (William J. Tuggle Chair in English, Social Theory, African American and Africana Studies, University of Kentucky)

  • James Hevia (Director of Global Studies and Faculty Member, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Chicago)

  • Nasser Mufti (Associate Head and Associate Professor of English, University of Illinois at Chicago), and

  • Tariq Jazeel (Professor of Geography, University College London)

With moderator Chris Taylor (Associate Professor of English, University of Chicago)


You can find a video recording of this event here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Panels 2A and 2B

2A: Conservatism Revisited​

  • “‘Parade’s End’: Ford Madox Ford’s Elegies for the British Empire” (Max Saunders, Professor of English, King’s College London/University of Birmingham)

  • “Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat: The Contemporaneity of Enoch Powell” (Graham MacPhee, Professor of English, West Chester University)

  • “Connoisseur Fiction and the Representation of Decline” (Margaret Deli, Lecturer in English, Yale University)

With moderator Rachel Kyne (Independent Scholar, PhD in English, University of Chicago)

2B: Postwar British Identities

  • “‘Whose Decline?’: Author and Nation at Middle Age in the Political Fiction of Jonathan Coe” (Jackson Ayres, Associate Professor of English, Texas A&M University-San Antonio)

  • “Colonial Attachment and the Formation of Black British Identity in E.R. Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love” (Anwesha Kundu, PhD Candidate, English, Washington University in St. Louis)

  • “The Aesthetics of Restraint: Culinary Nostalgia and Nationalism in The Great British Bake Off” (Corrine Collins, Assistant Professor in English, University of Southern California)

With moderator Noah Hansen (PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago)

Paper Workshop with Jed Esty

Spectacles of Decline will read and engage a work-in-progress paper by Jed Esty (Vartan Gregorian Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania). Maud Ellmann (Interim Chair, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Professor of the Development of the Novel in English, University of Chicago) will respond.

This event is co-sponsored by the 20th and 21st Century Cultures Workshop at the University of Chicago. Please note that there is pre-reading for this event.


You can find a video recording of this event here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Panels 3A and 3B

3A: Art on a Shrinking Island (Genre)

  • Quartet in Autumn (1977) and the Meaning of Barbara Pym” (Antoinette Burton, Professor of History, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign)

  • “Sordid Sunset: Hensher’s Libretto for Powder Her Face (1995) as Anti-Spectacle of Decline” (Nicholas Stevens, Visiting Assistant Professor of Musicology, Wichita State University)

  • “Late Modernism’s Epic Spectacles of Decline: Confronting the Modern Landscape in Lynette Roberts’ Gods with Stainless Ears and David Jones’ The Anathemata” (Sarah Coogan, PhD English, University of Notre Dame)

With moderator Marissa Fenley (PhD Candidate in English and Theater and Performance Studies, University of Chicago)

3B: Archives of Decline (Visual Cultures)

  • “Toothless Lions and Vicious Bears: Representations of the Second World War in Malayalam Cartoons” (Nassif Muhammed Ali, PhD History, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

  • “Towards a Book History of Black Mischief” (Naomi Milthorpe, Senior Lecturer in English, University of Tasmania)

  • “The Power of the Sheep-eater: Decolonizing Curatorial Practices” (Divya Saraf, Masters of Design in Critical Conservation, Harvard Graduate School of Design)

With moderator Kevin King (PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago)

Archival Presentation by Santanu Das

Santanu Das (Professor of Modern Literature and Culture, All Souls College, Oxford) will present an archive that he assembled specifically for Spectacles of Decline. Josephine McDonagh (Professor of English, University of Chicago) will respond.


You can find a video recording of this event here.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Panel 4A and 4B

4A: Imperial Intimacy

  • “A Colonial (Not) At Home, Abroad: Living Empire and its Ends in Stuart Hall’s Familiar Stranger” (Franklin Nelson, BA in Modern Languages, University of Oxford)

  • “The Quotidian Colonial Horror of the Punkah” (Jessica Somers, PhD Student in English, University of Southern California)

  • “Soil as Medium: S.T. Warner’s Historical Fictions” (Aleksandr Prigozhin, Assistant Professor of British Modernism, University of Denver)

With moderator Sarah McDaniel (PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago)

4B: Imperial Residues

  • “Rudyard Kipling as Wreck Buoy” (Meg Dobbins, Assistant Professor of English, Eastern Michigan University)

  • “Slum Clearance and the Disappearing City in Roy Fisher’s City” (Ameeth Vijay, Assistant Professor of Literature, UC San Diego)

  • “Imperial Residues: Jamaica Kincaid, Marilynne Robinson, and Environmental Memory” (Anna Hill, PhD Candidate in English Literature, Yale University)

With moderator Allison Turner (Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University)

Roundtable on Pathology and Empire


  • Claire Seiler (Associate Professor of English, Dickinson College)

  • Suman Seth (Marie Underhill Noll Professor of the History of Science, Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University)

  • Elizabeth Outka (Professor of English, University of Richmond), and

  • Anjuli F. Raza Kolb (Associate Professor of English, University of Toronto)

With moderator Zachary Samalin (Assistant Professor of English, University of Chicago)

This event is cosponsored by the 18th and 19th Century Cultures Workshop at the University of Chicago.


You can find a video recording of this event here.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Panels 5A and 5B

5A: Structures of Nostalgia

  • “Philip Larkin’s Longings” (Magdalena Kay, Professor of English, University of Victoria)

  • “‘Golden Hour’: Nostalgic Reflections on the Demise of the Muslim Urban Space in Twilight in Delhi and Sunlight on a Broken Column” (Zehra Kazmi, PhD Candidate, School of English, University of St Andrews) 

  • “The Country House and the Country Cottage: Anti/imperial Nostalgia 1804/2024” (Kristin Bluemel, Professor of English and Wayne D. McMurray Endowed Chair in the Humanities, Monmouth University)

With moderator Charlotte Saul (PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago)

5B: Beyond Empire (Anti/Post Imperial Formulations)

  • “’The Land Was Dying’: The Caribbean Anticolonial Critique of Elma Napier and Sylvia Wynter” (Alex Fabrizio, Assistant Professor of Modern and Postmodern British Literature, Nicholls State University)

  • “Curating at the Eclipse of the Empire: The Orientation of Public Museums in Late Colonial Hong Kong” (Reynold K. W. Tsang, DPhil Student in History, University of Oxford)

  • “Envisioning Colonial Internationalism in Ayube M. Edun’s London’s Heart-Probe and Britain’s Destiny” (Faria A. Nasruddin, MA Student at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University)

With moderator Rebeca Velasquez (PhD Candidate, English, University of Chicago)

Reading by Hazel Carby

Hazel Carby (Charles C & Dorathea S Dilley Professor of African American Studies and American Studies Emerita, Yale University) will read from Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands. The reading will be followed by a Q&A with Sarah Jessica Johnson (Assistant Professor of English, University of Chicago) and Kaneesha Parsard (Assistant Professor, English, University of Chicago).

This event is cosponsored by the University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture (CSRPC) and the Seminary Co-op Bookstore.


You can find a video recording of this event here.

Film Screening

Symposium Slack Channel

Twitter Hashtag: #spectaclesofdecline

Event Info


March 8 – 12, 2021


Chicago, IL (via Zoom)


12pm – 3pm CST

Send a message to the symposium organizers.

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