Publication Date

October 1, 2017

Loyalty and disloyalty are forms of human attachment often associated with the history of politics. Yet loyalties function on multiple levels. Individually, or in groups, humans commit themselves to communities, loved ones, principles, a leader, a nation, a religion, an ideology, or an identity. Loyalties stabilize human society, undergird political and social hierarchies, promote courage and cowardice, disguise ethical lapses, and generate revolutions. The determination to maintain old loyalties or devise new ones can become a foundation for building nations, waging war, transforming and imagining new forms of human community, or defending institutions that maintain traditional ways of life.

Loyalties require communication, ritual, and imagery. They can be hegemonic or the outcome of powerful shifts in popular consciousness. Loyalties can also be disseminated through the propagation of ideas, or take the form of nostalgia, distracting from contemporary problems or complexities. Whether social, cultural, religious, economic, or political, loyalties can conceive a path to a utopian future, identifying those who are an impediment to that future as disloyal or as permanently loyal to an outsider group. Divided loyalties might also pose a problem: At what point, for example, can loyalty to party, faith, or community overwhelm loyalty to the nation?

We are interested in proposals that compare questions of conflicting or changing loyalties across time, space, and human experience—whether religious, ethnic, gendered, national, or otherwise—and how they have shaped trajectories of change. After a revolution, opponents of the new regime are often faced with a choice between swearing allegiance—thus betraying the values and leaders to whom they had promised loyalty—and imprisonment, exile, or execution. In contrast to such formal public dilemmas, loyalties that regulate private life can involve forms of expectation and obedience that are often unspoken, generationally specific, or resisted as archaic.

Loyalties can encompass a wide range of human attachments that might be based on politics, family, ethnicity, race, religion, class, clan, culture, partisanship, economics, nation, region, ties to the military, marriage, sex, and gender. Proposed panels might address the relationship among loyalties, and between loyalty and disloyalty. Disloyalty might take many forms: for example, revolution, treason, promise breaking, rejection of faith or national language, outmigration, or sexual infidelity. Furthermore, the determination to live outside of, or break from, family, religion, race, country, and community, while often raising questions of law, also inevitably positions these acts as simultaneously loyal and disloyal. Loyalty to self or principle might trigger fulfillment, and at the same time, accusations of disloyalty may result in shame, ostracism, or even death. Disloyalty to one’s own principles might be a necessary compromise to acting on loyalty to something larger than the self: beloved others, country, or co-religionists.

We look forward to a rich and varied set of proposals that will explore these issues. Proposals will be neither advantaged nor disadvantaged, however, by their relationship to the theme. The Program Committee will evaluate all proposals based on their individual strengths.

Mary Beth Norton (Cornell Univ.) is president-elect of the AHA; she will preside over the 133rd annual meeting. Claire Bond Potter (The New School) is the chair of the 2019 Program Committee, and Brian W. Ogilvie (Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst) is the co-chair.


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