interfaceing 2021

Pandemics & Plagues, Languages & Literatures 

The current Covid-19 pandemic is only the latest instance of an infectious disease spreading through a large region and affecting a substantial amount of people, manifesting that diseases are often global events transgressing boundaries of cultures and societies. Whether one would focus on the Antonine Plague, or the Plague of Justinian, or the Black Death, or the “Spanish” Flu or any of the many other instances, the devastation caused by the disease coupled with the inability of contemporary medical science to deal with it, forced human societies to find ways to cope with their sense of powerlessness and to redefine their perception of the human condition. Not surprisingly, language has been the major tool in this task as it has been re-shaped and extended to express new concepts and situations. In its form as a resource for the creation of meaning it did so through the coinage of new words, while in its form as discourse it has created new metaphors and frames for the comprehension of the danger faced by humanity. However, the innovations and strategies adopted have been far from uniform: not only each era and each place make different choices, but even within the same time and location we often find competing views and interpretations of the problems posed by pandemics and plagues, as well as of the linguistic strategies that should be employed.

interface, as a multi-disciplinary and multi-lingual journal, feels particularly suitable to convene a conference that will have these different attitudes to pandemics juxtaposed, examined and interpreted in the light of each other. So we call scholars working in fields such as anthropology, geography, history, education, literature, art, politics, sociology, religion, and cultural studies to submit proposals for either panels or individual papers.

Topics for consideration might include (but are not limited to):

  • The ways pandemics and plagues have been interpreted or “constructed”
  • The ways in which societies have reacted to and coped with the threat posed by pandemics and plagues
  • The instruments of medical and social control that were applied to deal with the crisis, and whether they pre-existed or were first invented during a particular crisis
  • The role of medical and political ideologies in interpreting a crisis, and formulating solutions to it
  • The ways the standpoint of sufferers have been presented and articulated in various times and places; as well as the perception of authorities and elites to the standpoint of sufferers
  • The role of education in dealing with health crises
  • The ways educational institutions dealt with the particular crises that faced them in the time of pandemics and plagues
  • The role that past views of past pandemics and plagues play in more recent crises
  • The views towards places where a pandemic has been faced in particularly successful or unsuccessful ways, and the interpretations of these successes or failures

Proposals for panels (instructions here) or individual papers of 25 minutes or less (instructions here) should be submitted at by March 15, 2021.

The papers should be presented in any of the following languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian.

The conference will take place on October 1-3, 2021 at National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. It is organized as a physical face-to-face conference; however, care has been taken to transform it to an e-conference, if travel restrictions persist to summer 2021.

Papers presented in the conference can be submitted for publication in the Special Topic issue of interface to be published in June 2022 (subject to double-blind peer review).

Plenary Speakers

  • David Butt (Macquarie University) 

“Our Silent ‘Topoi’ of Suffering: plague; poverty; and war as textual motivations”

  • Patrick Finglass (Bristol University)

"Ancient Greek pandemics as a test of leadership: Homer’s Achilles, Sophocles’ Oedipus, and Thucydides’ Pericles"

  • Dámaso López García (Complutense University of Madrid)

Literature in the Times of Cholera: Love and Death in Costaguana”

  • Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen (Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

“Processing the experience of pandemics and plagues in discourse in different contexts”

  • Carlos Rojas (Duke University)

“Power, Energy, Capital: A Meta-Epidemiological Analysis of Disease”

interface would like to thank Trier University (Centre for Advanced Studies "Poetry in Transition”), Kobe University (Department of European Literature), University of Bristol (Department of Classics), and Seoul National University (Institute of Classical Studies) for their kind support and co-operation in organizing this conference.