Symposium ‘Reading the Present through the Past’ & Call for Delegates (RMa)

Reading the Present through the Past
Forms and Trajectories of Neo-Historical Fiction

Date: 4 March 2016
Venue: University of Amsterdam. Bungehuis (BH), Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam
Open to: RMa students and PhD Candidates who are a member of a Dutch Graduate Research School (onderzoekschool), and others that are interested
Credits: 1 ECTS (for RMa students, by attending the symposium, readings assigned materials and completing a short assignment). For more information please contact
Fee: (non-members:) €25. OSL RMa are students eligible for a fee waiver.
Registration: Send an email with your name, institutional affiliation (if available) and if you agree to having your e-mail address listed in the programme to, with a cc to (open until 28 February)

Ever since the turn of the twenty-first century, literary and cultural returns to earlier periods have become increasingly frequent and visible. Novels on past eras dominate the shortlists of literary prizes and the number of historical films and TV series has exploded. The popularity of Hilary Mantel’s books about Henry VIII’s court, the success of TV series like Sherlock and The Americans and of graphic novel series like Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are cases in point. Many of these works, however, seem to relate to the past in ways that are different from earlier historical novels and films. According to Elodie Rousselot, editor of the recent collection Exoticizing the Past in Neo-Historical Fiction (2014), literary contributions to this trend belong to a new subgenre of contemporary historical fiction, the ‘neo-historical novel’. Even though it is set in the past, ‘neo-historical’ fiction aims to discuss and mediate the concerns and occupations of our current age. In establishing overt connections to the present day, these works display an awareness of their own constructedness and open ways for a critical reflection on exoticizing approaches to the past.

For this symposium, we will think about and discuss the continuities and specificities of contemporary (neo)historical fiction and explore it as a literary and cultural phenomenon.

Keynote speakers
Dr Elodie Rousselot (University of Portsmouth)
Prof. Elisabeth Wesseling (Maastricht University)

Dutch Research Master students can receive 1 ECTS by attending the symposium and completing a short assignment.


9:00 – 9:25

University of Amsterdam location Bungehuis, Spuistraat 210

9:30 – 10:40
Opening & keynote 1 (room BH 401) Dr Elodie Rousselot (University of Portsmouth), ‘Neo-Historical Fiction: Forms and Manifestations’
Chair: Daný van Dam (Cardiff University)

10:40 – 11:00
Coffee break

11:00 – 12:30
Session 1

Panel 1A: Factual Fictions: Literary Approaches to Historical Narrative (room BH 337)
Chair: Rebekah Donovan (Manchester Metropolitan University)

  • Beatrix van Dam (University of Münster), ‘Snapshots of the Past: Reading the Present through the Past in Contemporary Factual Narratives’
  • Michael Green (Northumbria University), ‘Ghosting Through: Appropriation and Resistance in the Contemporary Historiographical Novel’
  • Catrinel Popa (University of Bucharest), ‘Re-Reading the Past in East-European Historiographic Metafictions’

Panel 1B: Popularising the Neo-Historical (room BH 401)
Chair: Akira Suwa (Cardiff University)

  • Sandra Becker (University of Groningen), ‘“The Pain from an Old Wound”: Mad Men, Masters of Sex, and the Dual Appeal of Nostalgia and Struggle’
  • Megen de Bruin-Molé (Cardiff University), ‘Historical Monsters and Contemporary Privilege in the Team Mashup’
  • Ruby de Vos (University of Amsterdam), ‘“I haven’t taken anything seriously since 1918”: Parody and Camp as a Counter-Strategy in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’

12:30 – 13:15

13:15 – 14:15
Keynote 2 (room BH 004) Prof. Elisabeth Wesseling (Maastricht University), ‘The Victorian Past as a Foreign Country? Unraveling Exoticism in Robert Edric’s The Book of the Heathen (2000)’
Chair: Claire O’Callaghan (Brunel University)

14:20 – 15:50
Session 2

Panel 2A: Non-Normative Identities in Neo-Historical Fiction (room BH 004)
Chair: Barbara Franchi (Kent University)

  • Akira Suwa (Cardiff University), ‘Playing with Genres: Women, Class, and Domesticity in Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests’
  • Claire O’Callaghan (Brunel University), ‘A Uniform of One’s Own: Rethinking Military Masculinities in Sandi Toksvig’s Valentine Grey (2012)’
  • Daný van Dam (Cardiff University), ‘(Neo-)Victorian Homosexuality for Dutch Teens in Floortje Zwigtman’s Green Carnation Trilogy’

Panel 2B: Nature and (Digital) Culture in Neo-Historical Fiction (room BH 302)
Chair: Myrte Wouterse (Leiden University)

  • Ingibjörg Ágústsdóttir (University of Iceland), ‘“What Gifts We Are Given”: The Disruptive and Anti-Environmental Workings of Historical Violence as Presented in Susan Fletcher’s Witch Light’
  • Rebekah Donovan (Manchester Metropolitan University), ‘The Neo-Victorian Novel in the Digital Age: The Case of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries’
  • Dominique Brigham (University of Amsterdam), ‘Would you Kindly?: Exploring Jack as the Abject in Bioshock’

15:50 – 16:10
Coffee break

16:10 – 17:40
Session 3

Panel 3A: Women Writing (in) Neo-Historical Fiction (room BH 004)
Chair: Megen de Bruin (Cardiff University)

  • Catherine Han (Cardiff University), ‘Re-reading Feminist Hystories through the Brontës: Nineteenth-Century Literature, Second-Wave Feminism and Contemporary Women’s Writing’
  • Barbara Franchi (University of Kent), ‘No Future: Queer Motherhood and Dangerous Writing in A.S. Byatt’s Neo-Victorian Fiction’
  • Lucy Arnold (University of Leeds), ‘If the Dead Need Translators: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Haunting in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall’

Panel 3B: Neo-Historical Fiction and the Politics of Memory (room BH 401)
Chair: Elisabeth Wesseling (Maastricht University)

  • Rik Spanjers (University of Amsterdam), ‘The Dialectics of Engagement: Remembering and Politicizing the Past in Red Skull Incarnate and Magneto Testament’
  • Kelly Yin Nga Tse (University of Oxford), ‘(Re)writing Colonial Memory: Transnational History in Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain’
  • Arnoud Arps (University of Amsterdam), ‘Mending the Present with the Blood of Eagles: Merdeka’s Neo-Historical Re-imagining of Indonesia’s Pluralism’

17:40 – 18:00
Discussion & closing

19:00 C
onference dinner (register separately)

Further information will also made available on our facebook page.


This event is supported by:

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