Call for Papers:

When Cities Fall – Cultural Reflections of Loss and Lament

We are inviting submissions of abstracts to take part in the “When Cities Fall – Cultural Reflections of Loss and Lament” conference in Bern, Switzerland from 27th–29th May 2023.
“When Cities Fall – Cultural Reflections of Loss and Lament” is organised as part of the EU-funded MSCA-project CITYFALL, based at the Institute for Classical Philology at the University of Bern. At the moment we are very much hoping to have the event in person, but we will have contingency plans for an online/hybrid setup should the need arise.

The fall of a city is not just an incisive event with often catastrophic, long-term, and wide-ranging consequences, but also a moment that captivates the imagination, elicits intense cultural reflections, and is used to draw a dividing line in historical narratives. The global attention given to the defence, conquest, and fall of cities in recent and ongoing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine demonstrates its continuing impact. Yet this is not a modern phenomenon. Since Antiquity the fall of cities has been used to mark historical thresholds, which in some instances originated sprawling mythological, historiographical, and literary traditions (such as those centred on the falls of Troy, Jerusalem or Rome). In pre-modern thinking the framing of the fall of cities in various media plays a crucial role: the stories of their (repeated) falls underpin discourses essential for the negotiation of collective trauma, the attenuation of experiences of loss and disorientation, and the generation of political authority and cultural identity.


The “When Cities Fall” conference seeks to bring together researchers from all backgrounds working on all aspects of city-fall-narratives in general and city laments in particular. There is no restriction in time or space to the sources that are welcome in this context: possibilities range from Sumerian chronicles, to classical epic and drama, to medieval poems, or modern media coverage. Moreover, we would be delighted about proposals working not just with texts but also with visual media such as manuscript illuminations or film.

Proposed papers could examine:

  • The distinct traditions or individual sources focussed on (city) lament and/or fall-of-city-narratives.
  • The historiographical uses of the fall of a city as an event, a threshold, or a period marker.
  • City-fall-narratives as exempla and reference points.
  • The migration of city-fall-narratives between different cultural or linguistic spheres.
  • The parallels and differences between pre-modern sources and modern media coverage on the fall of cities.
  • The anthropological roots, techniques, and purposes of the lamentation of cities.
  • The relationship between city-fall-narratives, lament, and renewal or rebirth.
  • The theological/spiritual/moral/ethical problems connected to the loss and destruction of cities and their medial framing and negotiation.
  • Strategies to aestheticise death, loss, and destruction.
  • The fall of cities as experiences of collective trauma and its cultural reflections.
  • The narrative rationalisation of city falls as coping mechanisms.

Conference papers may be presented in English or in German. We are planning the publication of the conference papers in a peer-reviewed open-access volume.
There will be keynote lectures by Tamar Boyadjian (Michigan State University) and Ulrich Berges (University of Bonn).
Those interested in participating are invited to send an abstract of no more than 300 words to christoph.pretzer@kps.unibe.ch until May 31 2022.

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