Call for Papers

Best-Laid Plans:

A colloquium about schemers and their schemes


8 April 2016
Institute of Historical Research, Senate House
London, UK


When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign:
that all the dunces  are in a confederacy against him. 
— Jonathan Swift


Every November 5th the United Kingdom celebrates “Guy Fawkes Night” with bonfires and fireworks to commemorate the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, a failed conspiracy to assassinate the King of England. The annals of history are full of ambitious plans, schemes, and propositions that never took place, and through their non-occurrence changed the course of history. While we cannot make each one of these a public holiday, we can gather and consider the intricate plots that individuals, groups, and even governments designed to achieve some lofty purpose. We can discuss the worldview of these historical figures and the breadth of their imaginations. We might speculate on the mismatch between individual perception, experience, and agency and the ability to affect substantial social or political change. In addition to hearing compelling stories often left out of the historical narrative, we aim to explore the world of lost alternatives. Eschewing counterfactual history, we are looking for papers that might instead highlight the contingency of historical events.

We welcome papers inspired by outlandish projects uncovered in the archives, but also discussions of concepts such as knowledge production, circulation of ideas, and cultural transfer. How might we think about our adventurers as representatives of particular social, political, or economic forces? Where do they fit (or why don’t they fit) into current historical narratives? What were the obstacles to success, and if particular schemes failed, on what were these “failures” contingent? Have similar schemes resurfaced in different moments in history? Can we connect these schemes and plots rather than seeing them as historically-isolated incidents?

Come all believers, and dreamers, and schemers! We invite submissions of historical scholarship from all geographic areas and time periods. Papers will be chosen on the basis of originality of research, suitability to the conference theme, and complementarity with other proposals.

To apply: Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words for a 20-minute paper and a CV to Julia Leikin, Jennifer Keating, and Roel Konijnendijk at Please include your name, affiliation and current position, and title of your paper. Deadline for abstracts is February 5, 2016.

We may be able to offer small bursaries to subsidize inter-city or international travel. Priority will be given to applications from outside the United Kingdom, and all applicants are urged to seek other sources of funding. If you would like to be considered for a bursary, please include a separate paragraph demonstrating your need and why alternative options for funding are not available.