Audio: What was Europe? A New Salon

'What was Europe? A New Salon' is a series of four conversations that marked the 2016 opening of the V&A's new permanent galleries devoted to art and design in Europe 1600 – 1815.

Leading academics and 'rising stars' in research were invited to discuss variations on the overarching theme of the series, the question: “What was Europe?”

The conversations took place within a specially commissioned space at the heart of the Europe 1600 – 1815 galleries called The Globe, designed to evoke the Enlightenment Salon. The Salons enabled scholars working across a wide range of disciplines and institutions – from universities, art galleries and museums – to come together, share their perspectives, and generate debate.

Each Salon was hosted by Lisa Skogh, Research Fellow, V&A; Bill Sherman, Head of Research, V&A; and Simon Schaffer, Professor of the History of Science, University of Cambridge.

Salon I: Where was Europe?

This Salon focuses on views of the geographical, economic and social map of Europe (1600 – 1815) juxtaposed against contemporary discussions. Without restricting ourselves to limiting concepts such as centres and peripheries, the conversation explores the diversity and influences on European culture. The Salon discusses geographical and cultural areas including those that are less well represented in the V&A’s new galleries.

Salon I is introduced by the three following scholars:

  • Dr Surekha Davies, Assistant Professor, Department of History & Non-Western Cultures, Western Connecticut State University
  • Dr Helen Pfeifer, Lecturer in Early Ottoman History, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
  • Dr William Kynan-Wilson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Aalborg University and Associate Scholar at the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies, University of Cambridge

Salon II: Europa and Britannia

This Salon discusses inter-European influences (1600 – 1815) including the still-vexed relationship between continental Europe and the British Isles. This topic is especially visible in national museums, such as the V&A, which divides its 'British' and 'European' collections into separate displays. This Salon aims to discuss direct influences of 'continental Europe' on British culture, and vice versa, and whether this has also contributed to contemporary presumptions of partition or closeness.

Salon II is introduced by the three following scholars:

  • Dr Spike Sweeting, Tutor on the V&A/RCA History of Design Course
  • Dr Danielle Thom, Assistant Curator at the V&A, and BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker
  • Dr Hannah Williams, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Queen Mary University of London at the School of History

Salon III: Europe through non-European Eyes

Intercultural exchanges in the early modern period are most often seen from a Western European perspective, such as the influx of global influences which were crucial to Western European developments. In contrast this Salon seeks to explore how the period saw a global rise of interest in arts, materials and ideas from Western Europe to the world. The Salon aims to invite discussions on non-Eurocentric worldviews on European culture from the New World to the Far East.

Salon III is introduced by the three following scholars:

  • Prof Daniela Bleichmar, Associate Professor of Art History and History at the University of Southern California
  • Dr Anna Grasskamp, Post-doctoral fellow at Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context at Heidelberg University
  • Dr José Ramón Marcaida, Research Associate at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge

Salon IV: Ephemeral Europe

The final Salon in the series focuses on theatrical spectacles – events staged to display power, knowledge about the world, nature and its possibilities. Similarly, engineering, hydraulics and the control of nature were in early modern Europe expressed in elaborate fireworks, waterworks and architecture. The collecting of flora and fauna formed part of a broader attempt to acquire and categorise knowledge, which naturally changed over the time. This Salon discusses these and other aspects of early modern ephemerality, and will juxtapose the historical concept of knowledge with that of our own time.

Salon IV is introduced by the three following scholars:

  • Dr Tina Asmussen, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
  • Dr Michael Bycroft, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Warwick
  • Dr Elaine Tierney, Lecturer in Early Modern History, University of Manchester
Background image: The Globe, by Marco Antonio Castillo Valdes and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez of Los Carpinteros. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London