‘Splendid Isolation’? Insularity in British History

‘Splendid Isolation’? Insularity in British History

Christiane Eisenberg, Centre for British Studies, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin; Wencke Meteling, Universität Marburg; Andrea Wiegeshoff, Universität Marburg; Hannes Ziegler, German Historical Institute, London
Vom - Bis
04.05.2018 - 05.05.2018
Meteling, Wencke

The conference will explore the interrelationship between isolation and connection of the British Isles in an epoch-spanning and interdisciplinary approach. Focussing on politics and cultures of “islandness”, it will discuss the place and the specific meaning of the island situation from early modern times to the looming Brexit of today. The conference seeks to investigate contexts in which “islandness” was referred to, explore shifting meanings attached to this notion, and examine the actors who made use of the “island argument”, their specific interests and practices. This includes, first of all and on a general level, tensions between connectivity and isolation in the British context. Moreover, we would like to chart the powerful but often consciously misleading claim of unity attached to the island idea. Either strategically employed or unconsciously adopted, the island notion is prone to obscuring both the internal tensions of the British Isles and the actual dominance of England with regard to questions of national identity as well as external tensions regarding geopolitical expansion and colonisation in the context of the British Empire. A critical reading of the island idea in these contexts and in relation to specific projects, policies and practices might provide new insights into the processes of nation-building and Empire.

The conference will be held 4-5 May 2018 at the Centre for British Studies (Großbritannienzentrum) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is organised in conjunction with the German Association for British Studies and the German Historical Institute, London and is supported by the Fritz-Thyssen-Foundation.

Conference attendance is free. Please register via e-mail until 25 April 2018: meteling@uni-marburg.de

On the eve of the conference, the Max Weber Foundation and the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin will convene a podium discussion (in German) on “Abschied vom Kontinent? Der Brexit aus aktueller und historischer Perspektive”:

Thursday, 3 May 2018, 19:00-21:30
Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Leibniz-Saal, Eingang: Markgrafenstr. 38, 10117 Berlin

For further information and registration for the podium discussion see:


Friday 4 May 2018

14:00–15:00 Welcome & Opening Remarks

Christiane Eisenberg, Centre for British Studies
Bernhard Dietz, President of the German Association for British Studies

Wencke Meteling, Universität Marburg
Andrea Wiegeshoff, Universität Marburg
Hannes Ziegler, GHI London

15:00–17:00 Session I: Cultural Imaginations of the ‘Island Nation’ and Competing Conceptions of National Belonging

Ross Aldridge, Gdansk University
‘The Chalk of Britannia’: The place of Dover and the Channel Tunnel in Britain’s island identity

Patrick Bahners, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
‘Emphatically islanders’: The insularity of Whig historiography

Almuth Ebke, Universität Mannheim
An ‘island nation’? Changing conceptions of Britain, ca. 1981

17:00–17:30 Tea Break

17:30–19:00 Keynote Lecture

Julia Angster, Universität Mannheim
A Global Island: Great Britain and the World in the 19th Century

19:00–20:00 Wine Reception

20:30 Conference Dinner

Saturday 5 May 2018

9:00–11:00 Session II: The ‘Island Nearby’: Conflicting British and Irish Insularities

James Stafford, Universität Bielefeld
‘The mart in Europe for the trade of America’: Ireland and the British world in the 1780s

Pamela Linden, Imperial War Museums, London
The fragmentation of British Jewish identity post-1921

Stuart C. Aveyard, University of Chichester
Britishness and perceptions of the Northern Ireland conflict

11:00-11:15 Coffee Break

11:15-13:15 Session III: Islandness vs. Interconnectedness in British Politics

Benjamin Bland, Royal Holloway, University of London
‘The Island Race’: Islandness, the nationalist imagination, and far right political identities in post-war Britain

Simon J. Moody, King’s College London
An airbridge to Armageddon: The British Isles and extended deterrence in the Cold War

Charlotte Lydia Riley, University of Southampton
‘This is work for the future of mankind’: Insularity, imperialism and internationalism at the end of empire

13:15-14:15 Lunch

14:15-14:45 Final Discussion & Closing Remarks


Wencke Meteling

Seminar für Neuere Geschichte, Wilhelm-Röpke-Str. 6c, 35032 Marburg