Dynamics of Civilisation

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Impression of a jade seal designed by Professor Wang Mingming for CREDOC, containing the Chinese characters Xue (interpretation) and Wenming (civilisation).

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Centre for Research into the Dynamics of Civilisation (CREDOC)
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Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 5576



The Clash of Civilisations and Ignorance


Date: Friday 27 May 2016
Location: Cruciform B404 Lecture Theatre 2, followed by a wine reception in the Cruciform Seminar Room 1
Click here for further information

Baltic-Nordic Regionalism


Date: 10 June 2016
Location: Common Ground Space, Wilkins Building, South Wing
Click here for further information

Civilisation in Time and Space


Date: 1 and 2 July 2016
Location: Common Ground Space, Wilkins Building, South Wing
Click here for further information

Food, Drink and Civilization: International Conference


Date: 21-22 September 2016
Location: TBA
Click here for further information

Could Modern Civilization Collapse?

A multidisciplinary approach from Archaeology, Climatology and History on Climate Change and the possible Collapse of Civilization


Date: December 2016
Location: TBD
Click here for further information


The Clash of Civilisations and of Ignorance


Date and time: Friday 27 May 2016 from 6-8 p.m. 

Location: Cruciform B404 Lecture Theatre 2

followed by a drinks reception in the Cruciform Seminar Room 1 from 8-8.45 p.m.

This panel is an ambitious and timely attempt to reformulate a challenge to the popular thesis that we have entered an era of clashing civilisations, in which the globe’s primary source of conflict is between cultural and religious identities. The ‘Clash’ of our title refers to the thesis that was first formulated by Samuel Huntington some twenty years ago and has reemerged very recently as a favoured catchphrase of popular political debate. ‘Ignorance’ invokes Edward Said’s rejoinder that such a thesis is dangerously oblivious to different humanisms that have not been the exclusive property of Western liberalism. The renewed use of ‘the clash of civilisations’ is built upon a fantasy of return to nineteenth-century certainties about the value of Western universalism and to a belief in the civilising effects of a Western imperium. But, as our keynote speaker Pankaj Mishra will suggest, 'The thin sound of cracking is heard from many more parts of the world as exhausted authority surrenders to nihilism'.

No registration required. All welcome!

Baltic-Nordic Regionalism

CREDOC supported event to be held on 10 June 2016


On June 10, 2016, an international research seminar titled Baltic-Nordic Regionalism: A History of Regional Cooperation and Reconfiguration will take place at Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL.

During the 20th century, the regional concept of Norden – signifying the Scandinavian countries including Finland, but traditionally excluding the Baltic countries – acquired a meaning beyond the merely geographical, as a political and historical entity in and by itself. As such, it has also become to denote specific ways of organizing society and certain forms of lifestyle which have recently been appropriated by both Baltic and Nordic governments as a possible supranational brand for promoting a new Baltic-Nordic ‘regionness’ as well as emphasising global competitiveness of the Baltic Sea Region in view of growing geopolitical tensions and economic recession.

However, it is rarely self-evident what it means to be ‘Nordic’. The region’s borders to the Baltic or the Arctic have been fluid and remain under negotiation even today. Similarly, the identity discourse about ‘Nordicness’ is still characterised by uncertainty over whether Norden is as an open and – in this sense – civilizational idea, or a culturally and geographically limited one.

The aim of our network is to investigate previously understudied or ignored competing geographical and regional ideas, identities, and projects which have in various ways challenged or presented alternatives to the presently ‘natural’ Nordic identity. The seminar is meant to showcase research in progress and to facilitate further network-building around this and other related topics.

The presenters will include Dr Carl Marklund (Södertörn University) speaking on ‘The Baltic-Nordic Region as a Testing Ground for Competing Identities, Interests and Strategies’ and Dr Pärtel Piirimäe (University of Tartu) on changes in the meaning of ‘Baltic’ at the transformative moments in history. More specific case studies will be presented by Dr Marta Grzechnik (University of Gdańsk/University of Greifswald), who will comment on Poland’s complicated relationship with Baltic-Nordic regionalism in the 20th century, Dr Ainur Elmgren (University of Helsinki), looking into the rise and fall of the notion of ‘Baltoscandia’ in the 1930’s Finnish radical Tulenkantajat group, and Dr Kaarel Piirimäe (Estonian War Museum/University of Tartu) on regionalist ideas at the beginning of Estonian diplomacy in 1988-1991.

Everyone interested is welcome to attend the seminar for free by registering at Eventbrite. We also have space in the schedule for a few more interested scholars from UCL (including PhD students) with similar research interests. They are hereby invited to propose their own 20-minute papers at the email address below by 20 May, 2016.

The venue of the seminar is in the Common Ground of the Institute of Advanced Studies in the South Wing (on the south side of UCL’s main quad). The seminar is organised by the departments of Scandinavian Studies and European and Social Studies at UCL. It is supported by grants from Institute of Advanced Studies (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/institute-of-advanced-studies), and CREDOC – Centre for Research into Dynamics of Civilization (www.ucl.ac.uk/research_frontiers/civilisation), UCL.

For more information, please contact Dr Mart Kuldkepp.

Friday, 10 June 2016 from 09:30 to 17:00 (BST) - Add to Calendar
University College London - Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT - View Map

Civilisation in Time & Space


Date: 1 and 2 July 2016

Location: IAS Common Ground Space, University College London

Organisers: Tim Williams

A workshop exploring the development of the city in the early Islamic world and the extent to which it was shaped by the development of Islamic society will be held at UCL on 1 & 2 July.

Using the perspective of the longue durée, the workshop will explore the impact of religious and secular administration, and cultural traditions, on urban planning. Themes will focus on concepts of urban space, of how people sought to control, shape, share and use space, as arenas of distinct and overlapping experiences.

This debate is framed over the latter half of the first millennium and early second millennium CE: a period that encompasses Late Antiquity, the rapidly expanding Islamic world, and its subsequent fractious division into multiple polities, all set within the context of interactions with empire systems beyond its boundaries. In doing so, the workshop seeks to re-establish a civilisational scale for the analysis of Islamic urbanism.

Register here.

View the call for papers here.

Food, Drink and Civilization

International Conference to be held at UCL on 21-22 September 2016


We are pleased to invite proposals for papers at an international and cross-disciplinary conference on food and drink to be held on 21-22 September 2016.

Eating and drinking are frequently described as 'habits' or forms of etiquette indicating a sense of what it means to be civilised or uncivilised. The preparation and serving of food and drink figure prominently in Norbert Elias's understanding of civilisation as a process. Archaeologists have focused on the origins of food production and domestication. Anthropologists since Frazer's Golden Bough have focused on cooking, cuisine, feasting and sacrifice as a key to cultural comparison. Scholars in different disciplines have explored notions of commensality, position, inclusion and exclusion as markers of status and individual and collective (self-)identity. The conference will adopt a cross-cultural, inclusive and multi-disciplinary perspective, drawing in scholars from sociology, anthropology, history, theatre, philosophy, literature and art, in order to enhance our understanding of the ways in which human engagement with food and drink, in terms of production and consumption, use and abuse, aesthetics and ethics, rhetoric and politics, shape their sense of self and other, and order and define their world. In exploring points of convergence and divergence across different times and cultures it will raise questions about what we mean by civilisation and whether there can ever be a single core model. Themes for papers which we envisage are:

Food and religion: divine and human food; diets; taboos and abstentions; purity and impurity; feasts (human, divine and shared) and feast days.

Food and drink in social contexts: commensality; friendship and bonding; models of sharing; organisation of space; public and private; segregation. 

The politics of food and drink: patronage; control, reward and dependency; hierarchies; canvassing; civic duty and largesse; foodstuffs, colonisation and conquest.

The economics of food: food and trade; concepts of display; luxury; delicacies; costs and value.

The pragmatics and technology of food and drink: preparation; training; expertise; standing and reward.

The erotics/aesthetics of food and drink; food/drink as aphrodisiac; as art, visual and culinary.

The ethics of food: food and drink as markers of value(s), individual or collective; cultural difference; excess and moderation; order and control; social change; disorder, decline and fragmentation.

Law, crime and abuse: legal and other restrictions, cannibalism, poison.

Food and drink in/as myth: as charter, as warning, as symbol.

Confirmed speakers

Dr Andrew Dalby, historian and Trustee of the Oxford Food Symposium

Dr Paul Buell, Adjunct Professor, Center for Eastasian Studies, Western Washington University; Research Scholar, Horst-Görz-Institut, Charité Berlin

Dr Esther Eidinow, University of Nottingham

Prof Marylin Nicoud, Université d'Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse

Prof Francoise Sabban, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, Paris

Professor Roel Sterckx, University of Cambridge

Christopher Tuplin, University of Liverpool

Dr Susan Weingarten, Visiting Scholar, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies

Professor Sami Zubaida, University of London Birkbeck


Kaori O’Connor

Chris Carey

Image: From the tomb of Nebamun, courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

Could Modern Civilization Collapse?

A multidisciplinary approach from Archaeology, Climatology and History on Climate Change and the possible Collapse of Civilization


Date: December 2016 (dates to be decided)

Location: TBD

Organiser: Miguel Fuentes

The dynamic of the collapse of civilizations has been widely treated by historical and social sciences during the XIX and XX century in several fields like Archaeology, History and Art. It has also been a common theme in popular culture and mass media for decades. Some of the most common discussions in this subject have been, for example, the fall of the Roman Empire, the destruction of American civilizations, the crisis of ancient Rapanui society, etc.

Furthermore, the perspective of collapse has been a regular part of intellectual and artistic discussions in Western civilization: for instance, in the case of the outbreak of the First World War and the statement made by the Polish thinker Rosa Luxemburg: "Socialism or Barbarism". Another example is the social, cultural and artistic “paranoia” that surrounded the nuclear arms race between USA and the USSR during the second half of the last century. In some ways, it can be said that the notion of collapse has been an important part of the intellectual and artistic inquiry and self-representation of Western society until today, playing also a crucial role in shaping some of the most important aspects of the contemporary world like science, art, literature and mass media.

This conference will try to figure out how the notion of climate change has increasingly replaced previous "discourses of collapse", for example the danger of nuclear war during the Cold War. This will be achieved by carrying out an evaluation of the "discursive structures" of this concept from several perspectives: Archaeology, Climatology and History. One of the main goals will be to assess the ways in which the concepts of climate change and collapse have been culturally and historically mixed in recent times, seeking to discuss some of the main features and tensions of the particular notions of civilization that underlie this process.

The first part of this conference will consist of a discussion on the concept of climate change and collapse from a scientific and archaeological perspective, aiming to answer the question: Could modern civilization collapse? The main goal will be to evaluate the magnitude and rhythm of current climate change and the scale and main characteristics and tendencies of it in comparison with previous events of climatic transformations that occurred in the geological past, this last taking also into consideration the possible impacts of these processes on human civilization today.

We will also discuss several scenarios of climate change during this century and its possible impacts on human society and civilization, attempting to establish some linkages between the current climatic situation and some cases of climate change in the archaeological past. Potentialities and limits of social and technological resilience of human societies will be discussed. Relevant cultural questions will be considered such as: what could be the importance of ecological factors on the development of human society during the current century? How can we compare the role of climate change on societies in the archaeological past with current situation? How can we measure the possible impacts of climate change in the future?

Taking into consideration the possibility of collapse of modern civilization from an archaeological and climatic perspective, our conference will seek to challenge the traditional decimononic notion of civilization that characterize the Western world, with its supposed properties of socio-political and techno-economic superiority and stability.

This last will be done by discussing, from a historical and cultural perspective, the possible connection between the current situation and different past scenarios where social crisis led sometimes not only to the destruction of previous social systems, but also to an important reconfiguration of societies and artistic expressions: for example, in the case of the collapse of the Roman Empire and its consequent reconfiguration into the European Middle Ages Societies. The objective here is to understand how climate change and the current ecological crisis could lead in the present to important transformations of the current social system and culture.

Finally, this conference will count with presentations of some social and political leaders and activists on public issues related to climate change, with the aim to engage scientific discussion with a more public debate.


Miguel Fuentes Muñoz

PhD Student. Institute of Archaeology

Dr. Francisco Diego Fras

Senior Teaching Fellow Astrophysics Group (UCL)

Grupo de Seguimiento de la Crisis Climatica Mundial


This 3-4 days Conference will be carried on December 2016. It will consider a digital publication (conference proceedings). Speakers of the conference will include world leading climatologists, biologists, archaeologists and historians.


UCL Centre for Research on the Dynamics of Civilization

CREDOC logo small

Institute of Archaeology (UCL)


Previous conferences and audio-visual materials produced by Miguel Fuentes:

1-Peter Wadhams Interview: Could Modern Civilization Collapse? (Nov 2015)

Institute of Archaeology - UCL

2- Peter Wadhams Interview: Could Modern Civilization Collapse? (Nov 2015)

Institute of Archaeology - UCL

For more information about this conference contact Miguel Fuentes

Grupo de Seguimiento de la Crisis Climática Mundial


[1] Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of the University of Cambridge.

Page last modified on 23 may 16 09:24