Conference Report – ‘Cultures of Exclusion in the Early Modern World, 1600-1800: Enemies and Strangers’ Back

‘Cultures of Exclusion in the Early Modern World, 1600-1800: Enemies and Strangers’ was held at the University of Warwick, 18-19 May 2017, and was supported by BSECS.

The early modern period was an age of social and political change, which profoundly affected men’s and women’s sociable interactions. This two-day interdisciplinary conference set out to explore the different ways in which social relationships were theorised and constructed. Using the idea of ‘cultures of exclusion’ as its starting point, the aim of the conference was to investigate how sociability was understood and negotiated in the period 1600-1800, and why certain groups and individuals were excluded from particular social interactions and spaces.

On 18-19 May 55 researchers from Britain, Europe, North America and Australia gathered at the University of Warwick to discuss these issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective. The event, which was organised by Naomi Pullin (History) and Kathryn Woods (History), brought together historians, literary scholars, intellectual historians, medical historians and linguistic scholars to illuminate the complex interplay between social inclusion and exclusion during this period.

The first day of the conference began with two parallel sessions, which explored an array of themes in relation to exclusionary cultures: from isolation and othering within the family, to how early modern male and female authors used ‘languages’ of exclusion in fiction or when documenting their own experiences. This was followed by an early career networking event and the keynote lecture. Our keynote speaker, Professor Garthine Walker (Cardiff University), introduced us to the changing spectre of rape trials in the eighteenth century.

The second day of the conference consisted of three parallel sessions. Here papers explored vagabonds and rogues in literary and historical documents; the boundaries between religious tolerance and intolerance; witchcraft and spiritual healing; appearance and the regulation of female bodies; and a session on the ways in which states and churches ‘policed’ social order.

Through fruitful discussion, ‘Cultures of Exclusion’ was able to shed new light on key aspects of early modern sociability and ‘polite’ culture, foregrounding the different ways in which gender, domestic and social circumstances, nationality, appearance and political and religious affiliation created competing hierarchies of inclusion and exclusion. Over the two days we heard a whole range of ways in which underlying changes in society, culture, the law and family created new types of exclusionary behaviour. But perhaps what struck us most from the discussions were the continuities: we saw that many of the groups excluded in the early modern period continue to face challenges and stigma in modern society. This confirmed to us that in creating spaces of inclusion, societies almost always create a parallel culture of marginalisation and isolation.

The conference was a great success and we received positive feedback from the delegates both during and after the event. It was also well-attended by members of Warwick University (especially from the History Department), many of whom generously offered to chair sessions. Live tweeting was also provided by some delegates during the day, and a permeant tweet archive is available at:

We would like to acknowledge the generous support of the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. In conjunction with a grant from Royal Historical Society, this financial support enabled us to offer registration fee waiver and travel grants ranging from £50 to £150 to 10 PhD and ECR speakers, who were able to make a case for their need for additional financial support.
The success of the event has encouraged us to consider further collaboration with some of the delegates in the future. For full programme details and further information please visit the conference website: The event was also sponsored by Warwick’s Humanities Research Centre, the Warwick History Department, and the European History Research Centre, and we would especially like to acknowledge the assistance of Sue Rae and Sheilagh Holmes.

Report by Naomi Pullin ( and Kathryn Woods (, Department of History, University of Warwick.