Call for Papers: Heroes Conference

Call for Papers


3-4 October 2015, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), London

Conference Theme

The figure of the hero is a matter of great cultural debate at the present time, in British contexts and beyond. Recent conflicts; natural disasters; ambitious expeditions; Olympic and Paralympic events – all have forged potential hero figures, renewing centuries-old discussions about just who, or what, a hero might be. This two-day conference will draw together academics from a wide variety of disciplines, alongside archivists, curators and librarians, plus colleagues from the commercial and charity sectors. It will foster conversations about hero figures past and present, considering their emergence or creation, their relationship with their fans or ‘worshippers’ in their own communities and/or further afield and, if relevant, the shifting fortunes of their reputations. We ask whether heroes emerge through deeds, character or morality, or whether they are created. We ponder the value of heroes to particular communities in the forging of their group identity. We trace the shaping and maintenance of heroic reputations in texts, art practice, oral culture and curatorship. Across the scope of the conference we seek to ask: who were, or are our heroes, and how/why could or should future heroes be selected or permitted to emerge?

Our conference will include the launch of the exhibition ‘Heroes of Exploration,’ which draws attention to heroic records in the collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), with a particular focus on heroism in mountain and Polar environments.

Possible Topics

The organising committee are interested in proposals from across the academic disciplines, the museums, galleries and archives sector, and those engaging with hero figures in their commercial or charity work. Within the academy, we anticipate interest from anthropology, art history, film and television studies, historical geography, history, politics, literature, and sociology. Topics which may be covered in the conference include, but are not limited to:

  • Theories of heroism, from ancient times to the present day
  • Historical heroes
  • Using heroes politically
  • Hero figures and brand identities
  • Heroes and charitable giving/engagement
  • Community identity and hero selection
  • Heroism and childhood
  • The changing reputation of specific heroes, or groups thereof
  • Heroism and imperialism
  • The perils of choosing a hero
  • Debunking hero figures; the heroic fall
  • Issues of gender in the notion of heroism
  • Heroism in the archives
  • The challenges of curating a heroic reputation
  • Curating/archiving heroic ‘things’ – tools, belongings or ‘relics’ of past heroes
  • Portraiture or sculpture and the construction of heroic reputation
  • Literary heroes
  • Heroes on film
  • Preserving heroes digitally
  • War heroism – soldiers, nurses and beyond
  • Race, gender and military heroism in Britain
  • Military heroes, veteran organisations and civilian relations
  • Civilian heroes; the ‘humble’ hero; heroism and class
  • Heroes of sport and/or exploration
  • Heroic bodies
  • Physical and mental struggle in the heroic life
  • Heroism and the history of emotion – how/why to heroes move us?

Note: We use ‘hero’ as ‘actor’ is used presently, i.e. in a gender-neutral way.


Submitting Paper and Panel Proposals

To propose a paper: Please send an abstract (max. 400 words), and a biographical note (max. 200 words)

To propose a panel: Please send abstracts and biographical notes (word limits as above) for each speaker, along with their contact details and institutional affiliation, plus a rationale for the panel as a whole (max. 600 words)

These should be sent to Dr. Abbie Garrington (Durham University): no later than Monday 20 July 2015. Abbie is also happy to answer any informal enquiries regarding papers, panels, and conference arrangements.


The Team

This conference forms part of The Hero Project, an AHRC-funded, year-long research initiative which looks at the historical contingency of the hero figure, and its role in the formation of community and national identity.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Abbie Garrington (MA PhD FRGS), English Studies, Durham University

Co-Investigator: Dr. Natasha Danilova (BA MA PhD), Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen

Co-Investigator: Dr. Berny Sèbe (Maîtrise DPhil FRHistS FRGS FHEA), Department of Modern Languages, University of Birmingham

Collaborator: Ms. Imogen Gibbon, Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Collaborator: Dr. Catherine Souch, Head of Research and Higher Education, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Keep up with and comment upon the conference on Twitter: #heroesconf15