21 - 22 September 2023

Afterlives of Empire in the Public Imagination

International Conference

Steering Committee: 

Riccardo Capoferro and Valerio Cordiner

Dipartimento di Studi Europei, Americani e Interculturali 

Sapienza Università di Roma

Scientific Committee

Richard Ambrosini, Franco Baldasso, Katherine Baxter, Andrea Del Lungo, Irene Ranzato, Caterina Romeo, Umberto Rossi

Organizing Committee

Riccardo Capoferro, Valerio Cordiner, Alessandra Crotti, Paolo D'Indinosante, Tiziano De Marino, Federica Perazzini

The resurgence of nationalist ideologies in Europe and the US has reignited interest in the histories and legacies of modern Empires. As of late, this has been strongly visible in the UK. The role of imperial nostalgia in the debates that paved the way for Brexit has drawn the attention of historians and cultural critics to how the memories and myths of Empire informed Europe-free imaginaries. Recent historical works have fruitfully investigated the legacies and memory of Empire in the UK and the unaddressed legacies of colonial rule, such as, in Caroline Elkins’s phrase, its “legac[ies] of violence”.

Taking its cue from the renewed interest in imperial history, this conference will center on the memory of new imperialism (1870-1914) and its immediate aftermath, focusing on key moments from the postwar years to the present moment. It will start from the premise that “Empire” was a cultural, institutional, and political entity that wove together colonialism, propaganda, predatory capitalism, militarism, missionary nationalism, biological racism, martial masculinity, and a heavily ideologized production of knowledge. On this assumption, the conference will investigate uses and reinventions of imperialist figures, myths, and ideas, focusing on fiction, memoirs, poetry, graphic narratives, popular history, TV series, films, and video games, as well as on the cross-fertilization of post-imperial discourses.

Récemment le retour en force d’idéologies nationalistes en Europe et aux États-Unis a ranimé l’intérêt pour l’histoire et l’héritage des Empires. Au Royaume Uni la nostalgie impériale a ainsi contribué largement aux débats ayant ouvert la voie au Brexit. Cette tendance a attiré l’attention des historiens et des critiques culturels sur le rôle que la mémoire et le mythe des Empires ont joué dans la construction de l’idée d’une anglosphère sans Europe. À cet égard, des études récentes ont exploré le souvenir de l’Empire au Royaume Uni, ainsi que l’héritage irrésolu de la domination coloniale - un “legs de violence,” comme Caroline Elkins l’a déjà défini.

Ce colloque voudrait donc solliciter une réflexion autour des souvenirs de l’âge du nouvel impérialisme (1870-1914) et ses suites, tout en saisissant les traces de l’héritage des empires coloniaux européens. Conçus en termes d’entité culturelle, institutionnelle et politique, les empires combinent colonialisme, propagande, capitalisme prédateur, militarisme, nationalisme missionnaire, racisme biologique, virilité martiale et une production culturelle fortement idéologisée. À ce titre, le colloque vise également à s’interroger sur l’emploi et les réinventions multiples de figures, mythes et idées impérialistes dans la fiction, les mémoires, la poésie, les récits graphiques, l’histoire populaire, les séries télévisées, les films, les jeux vidéo. On aimerait de même mettre en valeur le dialogue et l’apport réciproque entre les différents discours post-impériaux européens. 


The ideas behind Afterlives of Empire are nourished by Rome, its history, its forms, and its memories. The cityscape of Rome makes historical change visible and tangible. It encourages a daily conversation with the past. Rome exists not only to be lived and enjoyed, but also to be interpreted. Its buildings, monuments, ruins, and epigraphs are far more than aesthetic objects or age-old treasures; they are the signs of bygone cultures. And as such they need to be questioned with a view to building, and improving, our own.

These signs are both visible and invisible. Not far from the Marco Polo building, in Via Tiburtina, there is the railway station from which, after 16 October 1943, the trains left for Nazi-Fascist concentration camps. The FAO building near Circo Massimo was originally meant to host the Ministry of Italian Africa. Many street names recall the highly disruptive colonial campaigns of the Kingdom of Italy and the Fascist Empire.

The cityscape of Rome offers us invaluable opportunities to understand where we have come from and where we might go. But these opportunities can materialize only if our vision is sharp enough to see them. This awareness led us to plan this conference and to find ways to share our research with a wider audience. Rome’s memories should help us imagine a future for ourselves, for the city, for the European and for the global community, one in which the responsibilities of the present are also shaped by the memory of the past.