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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Food, Drink and Civilization: International Conference


Date: 21-23 September 2016
Location: Archaeology G6 Lecture Theatre
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


Food, Drink and Civilization

International Conference to be held at UCL on 21-23 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. 

Location: Archaeology G6 Lecture Theatre

View the programme.

Click here to book.

Contact: Tzu-I Liao

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

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

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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 18 jul 16 09:09