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)
104 Gordon House
29 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 7522



Workshop: Antiquity’ and the dynamics of civilization

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Friday 27th March 2015

Time: 1-6pm

More information can be found here.

Events Archive

The shape of ancient civilisation

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Ian Morris (Professor of Classics, Stanford University)

Thursday 26th March 2015

Time: 6pm to 7.45pm

Location: Institute of Archaeology Lecture Theatre; 

followed by a reception from 7.45-8.30pm in the Anthropology Common Room G11

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Since modern scholarship began in the eighteenth century, it has focused not on 'ancient civilisation' but 'ancient civilisations'. Researchers divided the world up into Classics, Egyptology, Assyriology, Indology, Sinology and a host of other regional specialities. Focusing on the details of particular languages and cultural traditions, they emphasized the uniqueness of ancient civilisations rather than global patterns. In this lecture, Ian Morris argues that we are now in a position to tell a coherent story about ancient civilisation at the global level, tracing a ten-thousand-year tale of rising scale, development, peace, and prosperity--to be weighed against a parallel tale of rising inequality. Global antiquity culminated in a massive series of crises that rocked the Old World and then the New. Until we can make sense of ancient civilisation at a global scale, we cannot hope to make sense of the human story as a whole.


Kevin Macdonald (UCL African Archaeology)

Corinna Riva (UCL Mediterranean Archaeology)

All are welcome. The event is free and no registration is required.

Civilisation and its Critiques: An Art-Historical Perspective

Civilisation montage final

Friday 13th March 2015

Time: 4pm to 6.30pm

Location: Chandler G10

2 Wakefield Street, London WC1N 1PF

In 1969, Kenneth Clark’s BBC series Civilisation: A Personal View presented a very traditional British notion of civilisation to a wide and international public. It was sovereign, patrician and western, and it was framed around great works of art. From that point on, Clark’s series became a touchstone for critiques of this limited conception of both civilisation and art, from John Berger’s counter-series Ways of Seeing to other accounts that took up perspectives of class, gender and colonialism.

The BBC’s announcement of plans for a new series offers an opportunity to reconsider this crucial moment and look afresh at the unstable and geographically diverse way these critiques were negotiated within the discipline of Art History. Similar critiques were developed in other countries, but against the background of very different institutional, generational, historical and discursive conditions. Speakers will give short papers on developments in the UK, France and Germany.


Hannah Feldman (Northwestern University, Art History)

Adrian Rifkin (Goldsmiths, Dept of Art)

Frederic Schwartz (UCL, History of Art)

All are welcome. The event is free and no registration is required.

Civilisation and its critiques: Perspectives from Archaeology


Monday 8th December 2014

Time: 4pm

Location: UCL Institute of Archaeology, room 612

31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY

More information here.

Mike Rowlands, Andrew Bevan, Dorian Fuller & David Wengrow will give the final seminar in the Term I Institute of Archaeology Research Seminar series highlighting current research at the Institute on 8 December.


Gordon Childe's definition of civilisation based on a list of cultural traits (urbanism, trade, literacy, early states, monumental art etc.) has been the most influential archaeological contribution to the debate. What is present archaeological thinking on its utility? Perhaps now used more for the focus on particular aspects rather than 'civilisation' per se - the implications are critical. 

A CREDOC meeting will be organised at the research seminar to debate current archaeological thinking on the utility of the concept of civlisation from different perspectives (eg scale, stage, transformation, transmission etc.).

The UCL Centre for Research on the Dynamics of Civilisation (CREDOC) seeks to understand the social phenomenon of 'civilisation' and to challenge the role it is being made to play in the modern world.


Horizons of History: Framing Religion and Politics in India and Beyond


A workshop with Wendy Doniger on the politics of the longue durée and other temporal frames.

Friday 14th November 2014

Time: 2-5pm

Location: Department of Anthropology Common Room, 14 Taviton Street, London WC1H 0BW

followed by a reception from 5-6pm


University College London, Gower St, London WC1H 0PY

Wendy Doniger’s lecture on 13th November will examine different ‘civilization[al]’ possibilities that have co-existed in India since the 6th century BCE. The lecture proposes an encounter between this longue durée and the short durée of a new Hinduism that imagines itself to be ageless. The accepted response up until now has been to describe these encounters as the difference between history and historicity or historical consciousness.

We are used to thinking about the politics of spatial framings and historiographical metaphors (short-term and long-term histories; ‘micro’ versus ‘oceanic’), but what about temporal horizons? We are all aware of the dangers of ‘foundational’ approaches. Yet how might we reconcile them with arguments (such as that of Dipesh Chakrabarty) about ‘geological’ time in relation to narratives of human intervention in climate change and the predicament of species survival?

Such wide horizons also raise the question of what is sometimes called the ‘ontological turn’: how can ‘local’ histories be reconciled with the wider frame of longer term histories? What are the modalities through which the political claims of short and longue dureés can be best evaluated?

The workshop will pursue these issues through the interventions of an invited group of panellists including:

C.A. Bayly (Cambridge)
Jo Cook (UCL)
Faisal Devji (Oxford)
Kevin Fogg


Dave Rampton (LSE)
Nira Wickramasinghe


CREDOC Lecture on India: Wendy Doniger 

Hinduism: Civilisations in Contest and Conflict


Thursday 13th November 2014

Time: 6.30-8pm

Location: Gordon Street (25) E28 Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre

Register here.

followed by a reception from 8-9pm, Location: Gordon House 106

University College London, Gower St, London WC1H 0PY

Since the 6th century BCE, Hinduism has held in creative suspension two movements so different as to merit the title of separate civilisations: one is the dominant strain of ritual, of celebration of life, of family, of children, of sexuality, of food and poetry and sculpture and the worship of many gods; and the other is the strain of philosophy, of renunciation, of the drive to become released from the cycle of rebirth, through denial of the senses, of family life, of children. These two paths lived peacefully side by side, as available options for most Hindus, until the philosophical strain developed into a new form of Hinduism under colonization in the nineteenth century; and now, in a new, Fundamentalist avatar, it has introduced an unprecedented form of repression that threatens freedom of speech in India today.

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Wendy Doniger

Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, Divinity School, University of Chicago. Author of over thirty books, The Hindus:  An Alternative History (2009) and On Hinduism (2013).

On the recent censorship of her publications in India, see an article by John Williams in the New York Times, 16 February 2014 - click here to see: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/books/author-resigned-to-ill-fate-of-book.html?_r=2

and Doniger’s own comment piece in The New York Review of Books, 8 May 2014, click here to see: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/may/08/india-censorship-batra-brigade/?insrc=whc

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CREDOC Seminar 1: Civilisation in Political Thought

Cole Destruction

Thursday 23th October 2014

Time: 5.30-7pm

Location: UCL Institute of Archaeology, room 612

31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY 

7-8pm Reception in Archaeology Senior Common Room.

The concept of civilisation looms large in current debates about the constitution of Europe, the authority of religious traditions, and national as well as supra-national identity. For a long time, it has informed definitions of enlightenment and backwardness, progress and decline, the West and its many Others.

The Centre for Research on the Dynamics of Civilisation (CREDOC) seeks to place a fresh critical focus on the concept of civilisation through a series of seminars running across the academic year. The first seminar re-examines the place of the concept in the history of modern political thought. A group of specialists will discuss its significance in the works of Rousseau and Nietzsche and consider how ‘civilisation’ has been appropriated and challenged beyond the West.


Christopher Brooke (Politics and International Studies [POLIS], Cambridge)

Martin A. Ruehl (German Thought, Cambridge)

Faisal Devji (Modern South Asian History, Oxford)


Alexander Wragge-Morley (UCL, History)

Maria Wyke (UCL, Dept. of Greek & Latin)

All are welcome. Registration is not required. Open to the public.

A CREDOC Provocation

Civilisation and Language

Alif Arabic Letter 1 Alfa Slovenska Bistrica 1 Alef 1 Early 5 2

Tuesday 17th June 2014

5.30-7pm, Archaeology 612, 31-34 Gordon Square

followed by a reception, 7-8pm in the Archaeology Common Room (609)

University College London, Gower St, London WC1H 0PY

Literacy and writing (when linked to urbanism, economic specialisation and bureaucracy) have  long been considered hallmarks of civilisation. We propose in this ‘provocation’ to unravel the basis of that assumption. We will ask instead: How are claims to superiority made by giving authority to one language over others?  How do speakers of languages come to regard their own and others as superior or inferior? How is superiority claimed through writing, language classifications, and ethnic or racial categories based on language exclusions? Language expansion and spread are the most often cited signifiers of the dynamics of civilisation. Contemporary notions of dysfunctional language acquisition and use are, on the other hand, imbued with ideas of civilisational deficiency. The CREDOC provocation will also explore alternative images of the relationship between communication and civilisation.

All are welcome. Registration is not required. Open to the public.


Stephen Colvin, Dept of Greek and Latin, UCL
Lily Kahn, Dept of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, UCL
Bencie Woll, Dept of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, UCL
Philip Jaggar, Dept of Languages and Cultures of Africa, SOAS

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Lecture: ‘Big History’

Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker

Monday 28th April

5pm J Z Young Lecture Theatre, G29 Anatomy

University College London, Gower St, London WC1H 0PY

Geoffrey Parker (Ohio State University), Author of ‘How not to write a global history of the 17th century’ Jonathan Holmes (UCL, Geography)

This lecture is run by the Centre for Early Modern Exchanges with the support of CREDOC

A CREDOC Provocation

Civilisation: Feasting and Drinking

kylix drinking cup small geisha drinking from sake kettle smallest sake flask small

Tuesday 11th March 2014

6.30-8pm, Archaeology 612, 31-34 Gordon Square

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

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. Classicists have explored the centrality of the symposium to ancient Greek culture and self-identity. The seminar will consider how a cross-civilisational perspective might enhance our understanding of human habits of food production and consumption and the politics of drinking and feasting.  

All are welcome. Registration is not required. Open to the public.

Michael Rowlands, Material Culture Studies, UCL

Chris Carey, Greek and Latin, UCL
Dorian Fuller, Archaeobotany, IOA
Kaori O'Connor, Anthropology, UCL
Sami Zubaida, Politics, Birkbeck


To learn from the ancestors or to borrow from the foreigners? China’s self-identity as a modern civilisation 

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

Thursday 13th February 2014

6.30-8pm, Institute of Archaeology Lecture Theatre; 

followed by a reception, 8-9pm, in the Department of Anthropology, Common Room,

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

The official launch lecture for the new Centre for Research on the Dynamics of Civilisation. 

Within current Chinese intellectual and political debates about the future of ‘civilisation(s)’, the claim is made that China is a civilisation of five thousand years continuous duration. Concepts of the ‘nation’ and the ‘state’, once adapted from Western social and political thought, are being questioned and replaced by a Chinese idea of modern civilisation. Our guest speaker and his respondent will debate this Chinese interest in the future of ‘civilisation(s)’.

All are welcome.


David Price (Vice-Provost for Research)

Wang Mingming (Peking University);
Stephan Feuchtwang (LSE)

Mike Rowlands (Dept. of Anthropology)

Wang Mingming, Professor of Anthropology at Peking University, is author of many important anthropological and historical works, including such recent ones as The West as the Other (2007), Empire and Local Worlds (2009), Biography and Anthropology (2010), and Transcending the New Warring States (2012). He founded the journal Chinese Review of Anthropology in 2006. He has been Secretary-General of the Chinese Anthropological Association and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Maritime History. 

Stephan Feuchtwang, Emeritus Professor of Athropology at the London School of Economics, has a long and distinguished history of research into popular religion and politics in mainland China and Taiwan. His publications include The Anthropology of Religion,Charisma and Ghosts: Chinese Lessons for Adequate Theory (2010) and After the Event: The Transmission of Grievous Loss in Germany, China and Taiwan (2011). Recently he has been engaged in a project on the comparison of civilisations and empires.

The problem of progress: Life, humanity, civilisation

The Course of Empire Destruction Thomas Cole Brain Steel Ceramic Foam

Tuesday 28th January 2014

5.30-7pm, 1.02 Lecture Theatre, Malet Place Engineering

University College London, Gower St, London WC1H 0PY

Investigation of civilisation as a concept and as a social phenomenon is still caught up in the problem of progress. Can we escape the damaging legacy of earlier centuries that set the primitive against the civilised and one civilisation above another in a hierarchy of moral, cultural, religious or racial superiority? Investigations into the origins of life and the emergence of humanity also confront the problem of progress. Developmental metaphors have often been used to describe major evolutionary transitions such as those from molecules to chromosomes, or from sound to language. How better can we measure chemical, biological and cultural complexity?

This roundtable Provocation brings together for the first time UCL’s three Research Frontier groupings (Origins of Life, Human Evolution and Dynamics of Civilisation). It seeks to address provocatively some fundamental questions about life, humanity and civilisation, to provoke exchange across UCL, and to confront the problem of ‘progress’. After preliminary reflection from the speakers, the discussion will be opened up to the audience.

This event is the first Provocation to be organised by CREDOC, in partnership with the Research Frontiers groupings Human Evolution and Origins of Life


David Price (Vice-Provost for Research)

Nick Lane (Dept. of Genetics, Evolution and Environment); Mike Rowlands (Dept. of Anthropology); James Steele (Institute of Archaeology)

Maria Wyke (Dept. of Greek & Latin)

Dynamics of Civilisation along the Qara Dagh Range

Perspectives on the archaeology, history and palaeoenvironment of Iraqi Kurdistan

Qara Dagh

Monday 16th December 2013

2-7pm G6 Lecture Theatre, UCL Institute of Archaeology

31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY

At a crossroads between the flood plain of southern Mesopotamia, the Assyrian heartland to the north and Western Iran, the province of Sulaymaniyah (Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq) constitutes one of the most fertile agricultural regions of the Middle East. Archaeological research in this important region was limited for much of the later twentieth century, owing to modern political circumstances.

This conference brings together a new generation of researchers, whose fieldwork is beginning to fill out this significant gap in the archaeological, historical, and environmental record. Presentations will span the emergence of village life in the Neolithic period through to the imperial landscapes of the Iron Age, and the meeting will highlight a range of projects based at UCL, alongside those of other leading European universities, including new excavations, surveys, and reconstructions of past environments.

All welcome. No need to register.

For maps and directions see www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/contact

For further enquiries contact David Kertai

Organised by Mark Altaweel, David Kertai, Karen Radner and David Wengrow as part of UCL's Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction, with additional funding provided by the London Centre for the Ancient Near East and a Rubicon Grant of The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Dorian Q Fuller (UCL)
Jarmo revisited: subsistence and the emergence of village farming in the eastern Fertile Crescent
Simone Mühl (LMU Munich)
The Shahrizor Survey Project: exploring Wadi Shamlu in 2012 and 2013
Olivier Nieuwenhuyse (Leiden)
Later prehistory in the Shahrizor: a view from Begum
Aline Tenu (Maison Archéologie & Ethnologie René-Ginouvès, Paris)
Kunara, a small town in the Upper Tanjaro Valley
David Wengrow (UCL)
Gurga Ciya and Tepe Marani: new investigations into the later prehistory of the Shahrizor Plain
Mark Altaweel (UCL)
The search for hidden landscapes in the Shahrizor

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