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International Gothic Association conference, Mexico

In July I had the privilege of attending the International Gothic Association’s biennial conference at Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in Cholula, Mexico, a place complete with its own be-tunneled Aztec pyramid and live volcano Popocatépetl which liked to greet us in the mornings with puffs of steam. I have been a member of this Association for ten years and this was my fifth conference. It’s always a pleasure to see old friends and familiar faces as well as getting to know the many fascinating new people I inevitably meet at events like this.

Mexico was a particularly exciting place to hold the IGA conference and many people at home asked me why I was going to such a sunny country for a Gothic gathering. Fortunately, it’s not an essential requirement to wear black, and personally I wasn’t aware of anyone actually crumbling to dust in the sunshine.

Gothic piñatas

Gothic piñatas

Bringing the IGA conference to Mexico was a long-standing ambition of organiser Dr Enrique Ajuria Ibarra, and continued the Association’s recent efforts (2015 was in Vancouver) to tug the conference out of its European nest and help to make it truly international. The conference theme was ‘Traditions and Departures’, signalling the ways that European Gothic traditions do travel, but do not always colonise: they often meet other cultural traditions coming the other way, or may themselves become profoundly transformed. As IGA president Dr Catherine Spooner reminded us at the opening ceremony, the Gothic likes to challenge boundaries and we are a scholarly community more interested in building bridges than walls.

To give a flavour of how distinctive the Gothic in Mexico can be, conference day two ended with a screening of new short film, Los misterios de las monjas vampiras (The mysteries of the vampire nuns) directed by Antonio Álvarez Morán, who attended dressed as a vampire. Shot locally, the film begins with Aztec sacrifice, ends in wrestling, and in between is a panoply of Mexican Gothic excess, and is killingly funny (see the trailer on YouTube). In the Q&A afterwards, the lead actress was asked if she’d found anything challenging about playing her role, and won all our hearts when she replied that she had not, because ‘inside every woman is a little bit of nun and a little bit of vampire.’

It wasn’t all like that, though, and the conference programme proves that we did also get down to some serious analytical work on everything from werewolves to whales, linen to Lolita, and Scotland to steampunk.

Professor Isabella van Elferen delivers her keynote presentation

Professor Isabella van Elferen delivers her keynote presentation

It is exceedingly difficult to make a conference presentation look exciting. While looking at this photograph of Professor Isabella van Elferen’s keynote on Gothic music, you will need to imagine that she is, in fact, playing this track VERY LOUDLY throughout the auditorium and asking us to pinpoint what, exactly, makes it Gothic. Can you?

For more, including pictures, see #IGAMexico2017 on Twitter.

Emily Alder

Researching German-British Relations

I am currently enjoying six months of research leave, with an additional affiliation at the University of Edinburgh as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH). At IASH, I am primarily conducting research on Stobsiade, a German-language magazine produced by German prisoners of war at Stobs camp near Hawick in the Scottish Borders, during the First World War. This research also serves as a bridge between my long-standing interest in the history and representation of imprisonment and a new project on German-British relations and emerging ideas of “Europe” from the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) to the First World War.

On 28th July 2017, I gave a paper on representations of the Franco-Prussian War in British periodicals at “Borders and Border Crossings”: 49th Annual Conference of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals at the University of Freiburg, Germany.

Having grown up in Germany’s smallest federal state, the Saarland, on the border between France and Germany – a region with a unique status, variously under the control of French and German administrations – I am particularly invested in thinking about the history of intra-European relations and the idea of a united “Europe” in response to a series of brutal wars.

My Freiburg paper focused on how some British commentators reacted to the official government policy of British neutrality in the Franco-Prussian War; for instance, the Christian Socialist John Malcolm Ludlow complained about his government’s “selfish cruelty” (“Europe and the War,” Contemporary Review 15 [November 1870], 653) and emphasized the country’s responsibilities in and for Europe, asking: “How could England be weakened by the support of Europe? Is the fable of the bundle of sticks [with the moral: there is strength in union] really a mystery of a nature so recondite as to be utterly beyond the comprehension of an English Foreign Minister, of an English Cabinet?” (“The Reconstitution of England,” Contemporary Review 16 [March 1871], 502). The country’s policy was also derided in Henry William Pullen’s popular didactic pamphlet The Fight at Dame Europa’s School (1871), illustrated by Thomas Nast.

As Britain finds itself at another crossroads in its relationship to the rest of continental Europe, with public opinion deeply divided regarding the nature of this relationship, there is perhaps no better moment to revisit the country’s history of self-perception concerning its role in Europe.

–Anne Schwan

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