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A One-Day Colloquium organised by Raphaële Mouren (Warburg Institute) and John O’Brien (Durham University)

In early modern French political, historical and literary traditions, questions of freedom and servitude remain perennial topics of debate. They are central to notions of government and the individual, for example. Recent new work has looked afresh at a range of fundamental issues relating to tyranny, submission, and liberty, affecting the history of ideas, political theory, and vernacular literature: see e.g. Laurent Gerbier, Lectures politiques de La Boétie, 2013; John O’Brien and Marc Schachter, La première circulation de la ‘Servitude volontaire’ en France et au-delà, 2019; Emma Claussen, Politics and ‘Politiques’ in Sixteenth-Century France, CUP forthcoming. The time seems ripe to assess our current understanding and to that end the proposed day conference will focus on the following research topics:

  • Personal freedom and institutional belonging
  • Models for freedom (parrhesia and free speech; the domestic as a paradigm for good government)
  • Obedience vs servility
  • The vocabularies of freedom and enslavement
Six key researchers currently working in this field of study will represent a spectrum of current critical perspectives from France and the UK on early modern history, political theory, philosophy and literature - Laurent Gerbier (Tours), Olivier Guerrier (Toulouse), Wes Williams (Oxford), Emma Claussen (Cambridge), Sophie Nicholls (Oxford), and John O’Brien (Durham).


10.00Doors open. Registration and coffee
10.25 Raphaële Mouren and John O’Brien: Welcome
10.30 John O’Brien (Durham): ‘Mais de quel roi parlez-vous, et de quel prince?
Sovereign Power, Freedom and La Boétie’s Servitude volontaire in the 1580s’
11.20Laurent Gerbier (Tours): ‘Subjectivation et assujettissement: Deux manières de produire un sujet chez La Boétie’: given in French
12.10 Olivier Guerrier (Toulouse): ‘Verba ligant homines, taurorum cornua funes’: given in French

1.00pm  Lunch break

2.00 Emma Claussen (Cambridge): ‘Est-ce vivre? The Politics of Living in La Boétie and Montaigne’
2.50 Wes Williams (Oxford): ‘Quel monstre de vice [...] que la langue refuse de nommer?
Monsters and the Politics of Naming in the Discours de la servitude volontaire (and beyond)’
3.40 Tea
4.00 Sophie Nicholls (Oxford): ‘Order and Liberty in the Wars of Religion’
4.50 John O’Brien: Summary and Conclusions

5.00 Close and Wine Reception

6.00pmInstitute closes.

Supported by the Cassal Trust, University of London.