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Chicago 2014

Words, Concepts, Metaphors: New Advances in Historical Semantics

A colloquium at the University of Chicago, May 16-17, 2014



The colloquium is inspired by the recent work on historical semantics, an evolving field at the intersection of cultural history, history of language, and political philosophy. Methodologically, historical semantics continues Koselleck’s “conceptual history” (Begriffsgeschichte) as well as Vinogradov’s “history of words” (istoriia slov), thus combining a social-historical perspective with an interest in patterns of word usage and stylistic register. In addition to debating the different directions in which historical semantics can be taken, at the colloquium we will place literature at the center of our inquiry: in what ways does literature contribute to the propagation or contestation of culturally prevalent concepts? Does the longue durée accorded by national or trans-national literary traditions permit continuities of conceptual usage that would otherwise be unimaginable? How does literature participate in the workings of cultural import and the concomitant translation of concepts from one (dominant) culture to another? In what ways can the tropological capacities of poetic discourse be said to reveal or occlude the metaphorization of concepts, as posited by Hans Blumenberg? How does the history of concepts relate to/align with the history of literary forms? These are some of the questions that we expect to consider at the colloquium.

The colloquium brings together University of Chicago faculty, graduate students, and outside scholars. It is co-sponsored by the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Norman Wait Harris Fund, CEERES, Poetry and Poetics workshop, the Departments of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Graduate Student Council.

Co-organized by: Robert Bird, Monica Felix, Boris Maslov

The conference is open to the public, and attendance is free. If you require assistance to attend please contact the organizers at





CONFERENCE PROGRAM [All events will be held in Rosenwald 405]

May 16

9:20-10:00 Breakfast

9:55-10:00 Welcoming Remarks: Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature, Director of Graduate Studies)

10:00-11:20 Session I: Chair: Monica Felix (Comparative Literature)

Clifford Ando (Classics, U. of Chicago), “Talk about belonging in Roman antiquity”

Marina Bobrik, (Independent scholar) “Ambiguities of sainthood: A linguistic perspective on the ‘holy fool’”

11:20-11:40 Coffee break

11:40-1:00 Session II Chair: Boris Maslov (Comparative Literature)

Yury Kagarlitskiy (Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow), “Towards a historical semantics of courage”

Michèle Lowrie (Classics, U. of Chicago), “From fratricide to suicide: tropes of civil war”

1:00-2:30 Lunch

2:30-3:50 Session III Chair: Jillian Porter (Russian, U. of Oklahoma)

Victoria Somoff (Russian, Dartmouth), “The Minor (nedorosl’) and ‘The Minor’ (Nedorosl’): On the metasemantics of titling”

Boris Maslov (Comparative Literature, U. of Chicago), “Begriffsgeschichte and Literary History”

3:50-4:10 Coffee break

4:10-5:40 Session IV Chair: Scott Mehl (Asian Languages and Literatures, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst)

Davide Stimilli (German, U. of Colorado), “Philology of the Hapax”

Robert Bird, (Slavic, Cinema and Media Studies, U. of Chicago) “The Dynamic of Image (obraz)

6:00-6:40 General discussion Moderator: Luba Golburt (Slavic, UC Berkeley)

7:00 Dinner


May 17

9:20-10:00 Breakfast

10:00 –11:20 Session I: Chair: Yaroslav Gorbachov (Slavic)

William Nickell (Slavic, U. of Chicago), “Otdykh: Rest and the Russian Mind/Body Division”

Monica Felix (Comparative Literature, U. of Chicago), “Historical Semantics of Augentäuschung in German and Russian Romanticism”

11:20-11:40 Coffee break

11:40-1:00 Session II Chair: Olga Solovieva (Social Thought)

Ilya Kliger (Russian, NYU), “Tragedy as Social Imaginary”

Leon Wash (Classics, U. of Chicago), “ΦΡΕΝΩΝ ΚΑΡΠΟΣ: Vegetal Metaphors and the Mind in Greek Poetry”

1:00-2:30 Lunch

2:30-3:50 Session III Chair: Robert Bird (Slavic, Cinema and Media Studies)

Joel Calahan (Comparative Literature, U. of Chicago), “Historical Vernacular and Absolute Metaphor in Leopardi’s Canti

Jillian Porter (Russian, U. of Oklahoma), “Pushkin’s Passions”

3:50-4:10 Coffee break

4:10-5:40 Session IV Chair: Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature, East Asian, Social Thought)

Scott Mehl (Asian Languages and Literatures, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst), “What can historical semantics tell us about literary form?: ‘free verse’ in Japanese and Arabic”

Luba Golburt (Slavic, UC Berkeley), “Patronage: A Keyword”

6:00-6:40 General discussion Moderator: Ilya Kliger (Russian, NYU)

7:00 Dinner


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