CFP: The Will of the People Back

Call for Papers

Conference: ‘The Will of the People’. Constructions and representations of the popular voice from c.1500 to the present day
6-7 June 2018 at Bath Spa University
Funded by the Department of History, University of York and Bath Spa University


Dr Laura Stewart, University of York:
author of Rethinking the Scottish Revolution: Covenanted Scotland, 1637-51 (Oxford UP, 2017).

Dr David Coast, Bath Spa University:
author of News and Rumour in Jacobean England: Information, Court Politics and Diplomacy, 1618-25 (Manchester UP, 2014).


The 2016 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union delivered a narrow majority in favour of ‘leave’. Many politicians now describe the referendum result as ‘the will of the people’. Recourse to referenda has raised questions about the authority vested in the voice of ‘the people’. Who do we mean by ‘the people’ in a polity that is politically and socially fragmented? Are referenda being used to bypass a representative system of democracy in which the views of politicians are often presented as being out of touch with those of the electorate? Ongoing developments in British politics are reinforcing the sense that the political system no longer meaningfully represents the will of the people.

This conference seeks to explore the ways in which the ‘voice of the people’ has been constructed, used, and represented in modern democracies and pre-modern political systems. How have discourses about ‘the people’ changed over time and according to different political cultures? Do certain themes, tropes, and ideas recur? Who speaks, or claims to speak, for ‘the people’? How do governing regimes seek to construct and use popular acclamation and, if so, what forms does it take? Who determines when, and under what circumstances, ‘the people’ can challenge the political system? What forms can that challenge legitimately take?

Keynote speakers: Prof. Andy Wood, University of Durham; Prof. Elaine Chalus, University of Liverpool; Dr Daniel Hucker, University of Nottingham.
Public roundtable discussion with Dr John Rees, activist, broadcaster, and writer.

The conference organizers invite proposals for individual papers of 20 minutes. Possible themes might include:
• theories of popular sovereignty
• visual, literary, satirical, and dramatic representations of the people in politics
• political reform movements and collective action
• the voice of the people in complaint literature and petitioning
• the people and representative institutions
• historical legacies and memory of popular political action
• gender and race in representations of the people in politics
• the pressure of public opinion on high politics and foreign policy
Papers from younger scholars are particularly welcome.

Please send a title, 500-word abstract, and short CV (2pp. maximum) by Friday 27th October 2017 to:

For more information: