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February 20, 2017 12:00 AM

Workshop Recap | Defining Violence: Texts and Methodologies

What does “violence” mean, and does violence have meaning? Is the definition of violence entirely contingent upon its context, or can we identify certain constants in the understanding of violence across space and time? How might past ideas about violence be relevant to our modern world? On January 20, 2017, the Caltech-Huntington Humanities Collaborations held its first workshop, “Defining Violence: Texts and Methodologies,” aimed at addressing these foundational questions.

Part of the CHHC’s current research module, “Violence and Order Past and Present,” this interdisciplinary workshop featured six distinguished guest speakers whose work engages in some way with the concept of violence: Zrinka Stahuljak (UCLA, Comparative Literature), Dietrich Schotte (Philipps-Universität Marburg, Philosophy), Elizabeth Allen (UC Irvine, English), Jonathan Conant (Brown University, History), Piotr Gorecki (UC Riverside, History), and John Christian Laursen (UC Riverside, Political Science). Drawing from primary texts ranging from late antiquity through the early modern era, speakers reflected on the meaning of violence in their own work. Recurring topics over the course of the day included the relationship between language and violence; the puzzling problem of ludic violence; whether violence is constituted by the use of force, or is the meaning attached to the use of force; economies of violence; and the representational problems that attend violence, from the moral utility of counting casualties to the large currents of violence that can lie behind minute historical details, such as place-names.

The workshop included remarks by Warren Brown, professor of history at Caltech and co-organizer of the current CHHC research module, followed by a roundtable discussion. During the roundtable, speakers and attendees reflected on the role that scholars of the premodern world might play in modern discussions of violence, including in the classroom, and in specific conversations that we share with the Middle Ages, such as the concept of sanctuary spaces.

To view the full schedule from the workshop, please visit the webpage. The organizers extend their profound thanks to the speakers and attendees at this workshop for making it such a productive and stimulating event. A second CHHC workshop, titled “Violence + Art: Reflections on the Premodern,” is scheduled for April 28, 2017. More information is available here.