Call: Authenticity – Theme issue of Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice

Call for Publications

Theme: Authenticity
Publication: Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice
Date: Theme Issue 21:2 (2017)
Deadline: 1.1.2016

Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice seeks paper proposals for a theme issue devoted to the topic of ‘Authenticity’.

‘Why’, the New Statesman asked in March 2013, ‘are we so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity?’ Phenomena as diverse as snobbish hipster lionising of artisan coffee and organic food, the craze for vintage clothing and scandals over James Frey’s fake misery memoir or Beyoncé’s lip-synching at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013 all seem to testify to pervasive contemporary anxieties over reality, sincerity and truth. Of course, fretting over authenticity has a venerable lineage in western culture, from Plato through to the existentialists, and creative artists have long interrogated and toyed with our hunger for the real (so, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719 was not truly ‘written by himself’). Yet a search for ‘authenticity’ through Google Book’s Ngram Viewer reveals a sharp increase in frequency of use of the term since the early 1990s. In an age of unprecedented cultural globalisation and insecurity about identity, in which digital technologies have rendered ‘everything liquid and endlessly revisable’, our fetishizing desire to distinguish the trustworthy from the fake has palpably intensified.*

These concerns are reflected in scholarship across the humanities and social sciences. In historical theory, the linguistic turn in effect accused historical practitioners of an act of imposture, for obfuscating the categorical difference between their writing and the reality it purported to represent. Reactions against these charges frequently embody a yearning to recuperate that reality, whether through the advocacy of affective, somatic and materialist turns or in the search for the enduring ‘presence’ of the past. Relatedly, Marnie Hughes-Warrington recently brought into focus various forms of forgery, deception, prescription, appropriation and outright denial in her exploration of the genre of Revisionist Histories (2013). In memory studies, the issue is central, and engaged in diverse ways. On the one hand, technological change has engendered new forms of representation and modes of immersive display which produce ‘prosthetic’ memories, deeply-felt emotional and affective connections to pasts which were not directly experienced. On the other hand, and stimulated especially by the imminent passing of the generations that lived through the Second World War and the Holocaust, there is a proliferation of concepts such as ‘post-memory’, ‘secondary witnessing’ and ‘vicarious trauma’, seeking to grasp how a traumatic heritage might be transmitted beyond the span of living memory. Meanwhile, practices of ‘second-order’ or ‘mimetic’ remembrance flourish, whether in the ‘virtual Jewish’ renaissance in post-Holocaust, post-Cold War, Eastern Europe, historical re-enactment or video games. Simultaneously, across varied domains of cultural, scientific and literary theory, speculation rages about the ethical, political and aesthetic implications of the ‘posthuman’ future, as traditional notions of human selfhood – of consciousness, intelligence and mortality – are challenged by cyborgisation and looming environmental catastrophe. Such examples could be endlessly multiplied.

Rethinking History has previously published work touching on some of the problems entailed here, including themed issues on ‘reenactment’ (11:3 2007), ‘uncertain knowledge’ (18:1 2014) and ‘historical justice’ (forthcoming 2014). We now want to curate a focused yet wide-ranging and multi-disciplinary interrogation of the notion of ‘authenticity’. What precursors and antecedents can we discern for these contemporary anxieties? How is ‘authenticity’ being redefined and challenged today by technological changes and intellectual shifts? What is at stake in social, cultural and political terms in these transactions, and in our desire to retain a secure grip on the real? How should we reflexively diagnose our contemporary obsession with the possibilities and perils of ‘authenticity’?

We welcome proposals for submissions speaking to these questions without restriction as to disciplinary perspective or substantive content (predominantly ‘theoretical’ or ‘empirical’ contributions will be equally welcome). Submissions in any of the genres and formats which the journal publishes will be considered, from conventional research articles through pieces of creative writing to miniatures. For further details on the types of articles that have appeared in the journal see:

Proposals should be sent to the guest editor, Patrick Finney (, who will be happy to discuss ideas informally in the first instance. The provisional deadline for submission of final drafts is 1 January 2016. All submissions will be subject to the journal’s normal rigorous peer review process, as well as the approval of the guest editor. Accepted pieces will be published online as soon as they have been through peer review and copy editing; the collection as a whole will appear as a theme issue in volume 21, number 2, of Rethinking History in 2017.


Patrick Finney
Department of International Politics
Aberystwyth University
Aberystwyth, SY23 3FE
United Kingdom


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