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About the Series

"The Disorder of Things: Predisciplinarity and the Divisions of Knowledge 1660-1850" is an international research network led by the University of California, Riverside and Birkbeck, University of London. Over two years the network will meet with scholars from a wide range of disciplines to discuss pre-disciplinary forms of knowledge through cultural practices, sites, texts, and objects, from 1660-1850. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches have provided creative impetus for rethinking our fields in recent years. While twenty-first century discussions of disciplinarity are often presentist in their relative neglect of historical shifts, narratives of the emergence of disciplines tend to establish teleologies of increasing professionalization, which appear to lead inexorably to our present configurations. Drawing on these well established academic critiques of the rise of disciplinarity and of current disciplinary crises, we will shift the ground of debate to a longer time frame and a wider scope in order to generate new insights into what may seem like teleological dead ends or inevitabilities today.

We have organiz ed a series of conferences, symposia and study-days that consider predisciplinary discourses, objects and practices, moving historically from 1660 to 1850 and situated in a number of different intellectual domains and geographic regions. Unique in our approach is a commitment to both historical and spatial perspectives. We inaugurated the series with an international conference in June 2009 (Romantic Disorder) combining plenary talks with workshops and an open call for papers so as to engage with established and emerging research in the field.

In October 2009, Birkbeck will host a study-day that will bring established scholars (with a plenary by Simon During) and museum practitioners together with graduate students to discuss the impact of Michel Foucault’s foundational archaeology of the disciplines in The Order of Things and a case study on the objects from the Cook voyages and their migrations through different institutional sites and narratives.

Our third event will be hosted by the University of California, Riverside, and will explore the fluid alternatives to modern disciplinarity found in "the oceanic turn" in current scholarship. As part of this conference , titled The Oceanic Turn in the Long Eighteenth Century: Beyond Disciplinary Territories, we will foreground the circumpolar Arctic, uniquely situated around a  transcontinental body of water, and the role this region plays in generating and resisting disciplinary knowledge.

In Spring 2010 we will invite scholars and curators to discuss Enlightenment objects, practices, and collections in a conference co-organized with the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Lewis Walpole Library, and the Yale Center for British Art on the occasion of the exhibitions Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill (V&A, LWL, and YCBA), and Mrs Delany's Circle and the Art of Natural History (YCBA, John Soane’s Museum).

Our fifth event, Order’s other histories: re-visiting South America (British Museum, Autumn 2010), expands our spatial approach to predisciplinarity by focusing on multiple ways in which nature and culture have been ordered and "othered" in scientific, colonial, and aesthetic discourses.

Our final conference, "Inscriptions: The Material Contours of Knowledge" (U of California, Riverside, 2011), explores the material dimensions of inscribed knowledge, looking beyond printed books to also consider inscribed bodies, stones, maps, visual materials and physical structures.