Call for papers : International symposium « Imagination and History : current issues » 22nd, 23rd and 24th of November 2012

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International symposium « Imagination and History : current issues »

22nd, 23rd and 24th of November 2012



« The historian acknowledges his kinship with the artist »

Dilthey, The Formation of the Historical World in the Human Sciences


« The way in which we imagine is often more instructive than what we imagine »

Gaston Bachelard, Psychoanalysis of Fire


The junior laboratory Imag'His, the LARHRA (Laboratoire de recherche historique Rhône-Alpes, UMR 5190) and the GRAC (Groupe Renaissance et Age Classique, UMR 5037), supported by the CERCC (Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Comparées sur la Création, EA 1633) are organizing an international symposium at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon on November 22nd, 23rd and 24th 2012. The event, an important step in the evolution of two partnered research seminars conducted at the ENS de Lyon and the Université Lyon 2, aims to go beyond the mere question of the relationship between literature and history, adopting as its guideline the idea of imagination, extended to the concept of creative faculty.

The porous line between history and literature is currently under academic spotlight in France, as may be seen in the recent issues of Débat (“History caught up by Fiction”, May- August 2011) and Critique (“Historians and Novelists. Lives lived, lives dreamed”, April 2011), as well as the critical feature “The Making and Remaking of History” published in Acta Fabula (June-July 2011), which testifies to the numerous publications dealing with the topic in 2010. The bulk of the debate however remains focused on the representation of history in novels, and on the use of narratives in the field of historical studies. The latest issue of Débat, for instance, introduces the debate as so: “Fiction seizes facts; the study of facts questions its relation to fiction, when it is not tempted to explore its mechanisms”.

Submitting the question of imagination leads one to question what appears to lie at the core of the current debate, whilst remaining unsaid nevertheless: where does creative imagination stand in relation to “the historian's trade”? How is an academic evolution in the writing of history taking place nowadays? What forms are adopted by artistic imagination, and its capacity to speak the truth about History? One need simply recall the animated debate which sparked off in the media when in 2010 Yannick Haenel's Jan Karski got published. The author, vividly accused by Claude Lanzmann of having falsified History, put forward the inalienable freedom of the artist to use his imagination. Nobody, on the other hand, bothered to accuse Pierre Michon of misappropriating historical truth, as he made out that an imaginary painting and invented quotations by Michelet were real in Les Onze. Must one then go by the saying of Pierre Nora, and consider novelistic writing as one in which “everything goes, and everything is asked”, as soon as it displays its fictionality?

Must one reckon rather that Michon's way of dealing with things goes unnoticed since he is not aiming at the same area of collective memory? Does that mean that memory loses its bearings as soon as History is seized by imagination? It seems that this question, like many others, has its place both within the field of historical studies and within literary studies. Many a novelist, strikingly yet problematically, attempts to break through disciplinary boundaries.

A major preoccupation shall be to steer clear of restricting ourselves to these analytical fields, instead extending our reflection to visual arts and the media, two areas in which the usual way of perceiving history has been the most obviously turned around. Our focus shall therefore shift towards the cinema – which re-writes history (Inglorious Basterds) or imagines its End (Children of Men) – but also towards television, which blends together fiction games and archive images in a flowering contemporary production of television history films and docufictions. Therefore the opening up of the past to a wide public is brought about as “entertainment history”, which some think is “henceforth the main source of supposedly historical knowledge for most of the population”. Pictures, by their power to suggest and their capacity to convey immediate identification, submit the question of “the intermingling of what is true, what is false and what is fictional, the framework to our presence in the world”, as Carlo Ginzburg says, as well as the paramount question of ethical issues, which we shall strive to integrate into a broader perspective concerning the weaving of historical imagination. The role of publishers and producers shall also be taken into account, insofar as they reflect upon and preside over the works' reception conditions.


We therefore suggest a series of non-exhaustive guidelines :

  • the historian's imagination: artistic vs. scientific imagination

  • different forms of historical fiction (historical novels, children's novels, uchronia, apocalyptic fiction)

  • narrative devices in the writing of history

  • the historian and the temptation to go literary

  • history on big and small screen (historical films, docufictions, tv series)

  • the power of fiction in the construction of specific knowledge of the past

  • the making of imagination: myths and historical fables

  • historical popularization and publishing issues

  • distortion of history, and the responsibility of the historian and the novelist in the representation of the past

  • the construction and the impact of imagery


Proposals for papers (300 words maximum) are expected on the 15th of December at the very latest. They are to be sent in Word format, along with a brief bibliography, to

Papers may be in French or in English.


Organizing committee : Matthieu Devigne (Paris IV), Monica Martinat (Lyon 2), Pascale Mounier (Lyon 2), Marie Panter (ENS de Lyon)


Academic committee : Michèle Clément (Lyon 2), Eric Dayre (ENS de Lyon), Matthieu Devigne (Paris IV), Bernard Hours (Lyon 3), Monica Martinat (Lyon 2), Pascale Mounier (Lyon 2), Marie Panter (ENS de Lyon)


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