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From the Analogue to the Digital: A New History of Concepts

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Date: 8 August
Time: 6:30pm
Speaker: Professor Peter de Bolla (King’s College, The University of Cambridge)
Venue: Arts Lecture Room 5 (G.61, Ground Floor, Arts Building, UWA)

This talk proposes a new methodology for tracking the history of concepts.  Based on data extracted from Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the paper sets out a historical account of the formation of the concept  ‘human rights’.  It is a striking feature of the period that the term ‘human rights’ was hardly ever used.  Most accounts of the so-called ‘invention’ of human rights (commonly believed to have occurred in the eighteenth century) get around this problem by suggesting that another term – usually the rights of man – did service for what we today call ‘human rights’. This data driven account of conceptual formation allows us to see in far greater detail how that story has its limitations and proposes a new way of using digital archives in our understanding of the formation of conceptual forms.

Peter de Bolla is Professor of Cultural History and Aesthetics at the University of Cambridge where he took both his BA and doctorate.  He taught for five years in the English Department at the University of Geneva before returning to Cambridge in 1986.  He is the author of six monographs including The Discourse of the Sublime: Readings in History, Aesthetics and the Subject (Basil Blackwell, 1989), The Education of the Eye: Painting, Landscape, and Architecture in Eighteenth-Century England (Stanford University Press, 2003), Art Matters (Harvard University Press, 2001) and the forthcoming The Architecture of Concepts: the Historical Formation of Human Rights (Fordham University Press, 2013), and has co-edited two collections of essays Land, Nation and Culture, 1740-1780 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Aesthetics and the Work of Art (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).  He is an occasional contributor to radio and the London Review of Books.