Conference highlights

June 28, 2002

While Eric Hobsbawm's plenary lecture is sure to mark the high point for many attending the conference - the 83-year-old radical is talking about his life in history (his autobiography is out in September) - the theme of rewriting the past manages to encompass a wide array of disparate historians as well as the 50th anniversary of Past and Present , widely regarded as one of the most important historical journals in English. Papers include:

• Craig Clunas, professor of the history of art at Sussex University and a former curator, on "the ways in which museums can act as places a culture puts things it wishes to forget about, and not just the things it wants to preserve". He says: "I think the museum has been used to 'forget' its own origins, which are in fantasy and obsession as much as in the enlightened order and rationality it claims to embody."

• Houchang Chehabi, professor of history at Boston University, on zurkhaneh , the traditional gymnasia of the Iranian world. They were first mentioned in the 17th century, had their heyday in the 19th century, but were rediscovered in the 1930s as respositories of the "ancient" Iranian values of chivalry and patriotism. In 1953, a leading practitioner became one of the leaders in the coup d'état that brought the shah to power and ushered in state support for the zurkhaneh . After the 1979 revolution, with nationalism anathema to the Islamic regime and the zurkhaneh associated with the former regime, the tradition had to be reinvented and they were seen as embodying the values of the Muslim community.

• Cathy McClive, from Warwick University, on health and menstruation in early modern France. Her paper looks at how medical practitioners attempted to fix norms and "measure" menstrual time to ensure patients' health. It also focuses on how difficulties in calculating norms brought to the fore issues about the cultural relativity of different methods of measuring time. One royal midwife tried to address the problem by advocating close observation of individual women's menstrual habits so that any irregularities could be picked up and remedies used to restore normal cycles.

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