Call for Papers: Gloom Goes Global: Towards a Transcultural History of Melancholy Since 1850

Edvard Munch, Melancholy (1891). From:
Edvard Munch, Melancholy (1891). From:

CFP: Gloom Goes Global – Towards a Transcultural History of Melancholy since 1850

Location: University of Heidelberg, Karl Jaspers Centre
Date: 2–4 October 2014
Organisers: Frank Grüner and Maike Rotzoll,
Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, University of Heidelberg

This interdisciplinary conference focuses on the study of melancholy as a historical-anthropological phenomenon and scientific medical concept from a transcultural perspective. It will discuss influential narratives and perceptions of gloom as articulated in various national and cultural contexts – in Europe, Russia and Asia – since the middle of the 19th century, and will examine their mutual penetration and transformation. The central question concerns the extent to which the paradigm shift from a perception of melancholy shaped by natural philosophy, lite! rature and art to a psychopathological condition conceptualised using scientific terminology can be described as a global phenomenon.

The production of certain concepts and ontologies of melancholy in a specific historical context is to be understood as a dynamic cross-border process in which “traditional”, more or less established, forms of knowledge and science – among them medical systems – are affected, challenged or closely intertwined by “wandering ideas” in the sense of a “circulation of knowledge” or “culture on the move”.

The key concern of this conference is to discuss competing concepts of melancholy and their mutual penetration and transformation against the backdrop of cultural flows, in particular flows of knowledge and science between Europe, Russia and Asia. In concrete terms, this conference seeks books or texts and ideas (medical and scientific as well as philosophical or social) produced in one cultural context and transmitted or transferred to another, translated from one to the other language, or adapted, changed, transformed, etc. Further, the conference addresses the people and institutions as well as agents and brokers involved in or affected by these kinds of transcultural flows and cross-border activities.

Last but not least, this conference focuses on global flows of cosmopolitan psychiatry and the circulation of concepts of mental illnesses such as melancholy or depression and the ontologies that they produced in different historical and cultural contexts.

Topics of the conference papers can focus on the following aspects in particular:

• prevalent concepts of melancholy in Europe, Russia and/or Asia in the time from around 1850 to the present in literature, the arts, philosophy, sciences and medicine

• epistemological and ontological transfers in the field of science and medicine between different cultures which shaped the understanding,

•redefinitions and experience of melancholy and gloom in various historical contexts of Europe, Russia and Asia

• exchange processes and transcultural entanglements in the field of melancholy

• cultural brokers, itineraries and the institutions or places of knowledge involved in these transnational processes of knowledge transfer and circulation of melancholy concepts

• the circulation and application of certain practices concerning health and knowledge which played a role in regard to the (medical or social) treatment of melancholy and depression

Formal requirements:

Applicants should submit the title of a paper, an abstract of max. 300 words and a short CV to Frank Grüner ( or Maike Rotzoll ( by 15 April 2014.

Successful applicants will be requested to submit a full paper (5,000 words max.) by 10 September 2014. The papers wil! l serve as a basis for discussion during the conference. Selected papers are expected to be published.

The presentations at the conference in Heidelberg last a maximum of 20 minutes.
Accommodation costs and travel expenses will (at least partially) be covered by the organisers.


Dr. Frank Grüner
Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe”
University of Heidelberg
Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies
Building 4400, Room 016
Voßstr. 2
D-69115 Heidelberg
Phone: ++49-(0)6221-544302

Dr. med. Maike Rotzoll
Institute for the History and Ethics of Medicine
University of Heidelberg
INF 327
D-69120 Heidelberg

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