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2024 Conference Announcement

(Un)Sustainabilities in History:

Mastering Uncertainty, Defeating Precarity

13 – 15 November 2024, Bremen, Germany

Throughout their history, humans have been striving to control their future. Conditions which have restricted this endeavour have been many and diverse, rooted in nature as well as in culture. They range from the environment – climate, soil, flora, fauna – whose volatility has been, ironically but steadily, only aggravated by persistent human intervention at least since the Neolithic, to human-made factors of contingency - political instability, war, market collapse - to name but a few. How, if at all, this world can be made safe and predictable for the generations to come at a time of the confluence of climate change, energy crisis, financial instability, mass migration, war and more, is a question of special urgency in the 2020s – but one that was asked and answered many times before.


To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the European Review of History, we invite papers that address future-thinking as well as practices designed to ensure sustainability across millennia, continents, and historical sub-disciplines, to be presented at the journal’s three-day conference in Bremen, Germany from 13-15 November 2024. The conference will revolve around the following four research strands which aim to tackle the crises of sustainability in relation to the environment, humanitarianism, science, and politics:

1. Environmental History

We welcome environmental history contributions that address (un)sustainability both as a concept and as a set of practices. The environmental sustainability movement has gained momentum over the last fifty years. However, the concept itself dates to early modern times. We are therefore eager for papers which reflect this chronology. Moreover, the concept of sustainability is linked to the extractive and (neo)colonialist practices of the global North, as are the historiographies. Any contribution that can expand the geographies of (un)sustainability is warmly welcomed. We are particularly interested in papers which explore the topic in relation to:

  1. The uses of the term ‘sustainability’ and their consequences, its shifting meanings, roots, and antecedents in history.

  2. The (dis)advantages of using (un)sustainability as a heuristic concept when writing environmental histories.

  3. how sustainable pasts might become utopias of the present.

  4. (un)sustainability through the lens of economic policy; concepts of justice and equity, especially in terms of access to natural resources; and social issues, especially those of class, gender, and race.

2. Humanitarian Response

The complex and global nature of the climate crisis means that its impact will resonate throughout the aid and development ecosystem. Climate change is a threat multiplier, generating further crises among vulnerable populations, particularly those experiencing violent conflict. Faced with these challenges the United Nations, NGOs, and state governments have struggled to adapt. Yet human populations have been faced with severe disasters, famines, and armed conflicts in the past as well as present. Though the ‘modern’ apparatus for humanitarian action appeared in the 19th century, charitable impulses to alleviate suffering are as old as human nature. Will these be sufficient to navigate the crises of the 21st century? With this in mind, we are interested in papers exploring humanitarian practices and ideologies, especially those which explore the (un)sustainable nature of humanitarian relief. Papers may seek to address this topic through the following questions, though other approaches are welcome:

  1. How have the paternalistic and/or racist hierarchies of authority and control which often underpin ideologies of humanitarianism, impacted responses to past challenges?

  2. Is humanitarianism an intrinsically Eurocentric worldview, or are there competing practices of humanitarian response to crises which reflect more sustainable traditions?

  3. How can histories of charity and humanitarianism incorporate the environmental impact of aid and relief?

  4. What can historical precedents of the forced mass migration of millions of people, caused by environmental crises or otherwise, tell us about the international management of displaced persons and/or the migratory routes sustained for generations?

3. Science in Crisis

Never has science been on display and under such meticulous scrutiny as during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis exposed and put to the test the tense and often volatile relationship between science, politics, and public opinion. But science is no newcomer to dealing with crises and scientists have long had to work hard to establish their authority and expertise to wider non-scientific publics. Moreover, we do not need to look far to see a multitude of crises for science today - unregulated space exploration and its imminent colonisation, the ever-growing pervasiveness of AI and environmental pollution, and sophistication of weapons of mass destruction. Our conference takes up the theme of science in times of crisis and uncertainty, from antiquity to today, particularly thinking about the sustainability of science in such trying times. We welcome papers on the broader topic of science in crisis, but are also eager for contributions to explore:

  1. How science has contended with its own sustainability, especially when many of its most famous discoveries and contributions have had a detrimental impact on the environment, public health etc.

  2. The sustainability of science in the context in which science’s own “truth regimes,” “moral economies” and ethical frameworks are being contested.

  3. How scientists have negotiated and renegotiated their authority considering the growing politicisation of their research and debates around scientifism. What role has class, gender and race played in the performativity of scientific authority?

  4. How has the (re)definition of race, sex, gender, subjectivity, and health informed the epistemological and methodological frameworks within which scientists pose their questions, collect data, and produce scientific truths and concepts we live by.

4. Sustainability and Political Legitimacy

Sustainability, whether this specific term is used, is crucial to the legitimacy of contemporary governments considering the threats posed by environmental and demographic change. Such problems include the drying up of fresh water supplies and rising sea levels which impacts borders. While some political regimes are faced with tackling population growth, others worry about population decline. There is a longer history of sustainability and political legitimacy. Ever since states and civil governments have existed, they have staked their legitimacy to a considerable extent on their capacity to ensure the enduring safety of those under their authority. From the suitable management of available natural resources to the strong-handed regimentation of deviance and dissidence and beyond, they have instituted policies to that end. Our conference looks to explore these processes, asking how the politics of legitimacy relates to the issue of sustainability throughout history. Proposals may wish to tackle the following topics:


  1. What were the “threats” to stability and collective safety that governments have strived and/or claimed to avert in attempting to earn or consolidate the allegiance of their subjects/citizens through the ages?

  2. How have political systems and ideologies differed in identifying the threats, the stakes and the solutions?

  3. What role have the public played in putting “threats” on the political agenda, how have the public responded to government rhetoric and solutions to said threats?

  4. What lessons might these historical episodes offer for contemporary political regimes?




We welcome proposals from scholars at all stages of their academic careers. We will accept individual papers (20 minutes) as well as panel proposals (3-4 papers with one chair). In order to foster intellectual exchange, we particularly encourage panels that include a mix of presenters across fields, institutions and career stages.


This will be a hybrid conference, however, to avoid technological issues panels will be delivered either in-person or online. Please note whether your panel will be online or in-person on the proposal. Similarly individual papers will only be delivered online if we can create a full online panel. As such, speakers should be open to both in-person and online delivery and state a preference on the submission.


For individual papers please send an abstract of 200 words and short bio (200 words) noting institution and career stage to by 14 June 2024.


For panel proposals please send one document with a short panel blurb (100-200 words) as well as the individual abstracts (200 words) and speaker bios (institution and career stage) to by 14 June 2024.


Responses will be sent out at the end of July 2024.


Early Career Essay Prize (2024)

PhD students and Early Career Researchers (two years since their viva) are invited to take part in our 2024 Essay Prize. Entrants should submit an article (10,000 word maximum) on a topic related to the above four research strands. The winner will be announced at the conference and have their article published in the European Review of History. All other entrants will receive peer review reports on their articles and where possible will be invited to submit a revised version to the journal for publication. Please send all submissions to by 5pm 30 August 2024 (BST).


 Funding for Travel and Accommodation

The European Review of History will be able to cover the travel and accommodation costs of a small number of scholars without institutional support. Please indicate on your submission if you would like to be considered for a grant. We will do our best to facilitate online delivery if demand exceeds supply. Please note to ensure this conference is as environmentally friendly as possible we will prioritise funding rail and bus travel over car or flights where possible. We encourage all delegates travelling from within Europe and less than 1.5 hours flight from Bremen to travel via train or bus where possible.

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