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Professor Derek Sayer FRHistS, FRSC


Derek Sayer


Tel: +44 1524 592349

Research overview

I was originally trained in sociology (PhD Durham 1975), and wrote a number of books on classical social theory (e.g. Marx’s Method, 1978; The Violence of Abstraction, 1986; Capitalism and Modernity, 1990) and state formation (The Great Arch, with Philip Corrigan, 1985).  Latterly I have used modern Czech history, and especially the modern history of the city of Prague, as a laboratory in which to explore the many-sidedness of "the modern condition," focusing in particular on cultural history, including architecture, music, and the visual arts (The Coasts of Bohemia, 1998; Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century, 2013). 

PhD supervision

Professor Sayer is on sabbatical leave until 31 March 2016, when he will be retiring from the university. He therefore will not be taking and new PhD students.

Current Teaching

HIST351, How the Camera Changed the World

HIST414, Advanced Cultural History (Art and Politics between the World Wars)

HIST 526, Historical Methods for the Arts and Social Sciences

Research Interests

In 2014 I published a large book with Princeton University Press entitled Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History. This is the second in a proposed trilogy of books on modernity viewed from Prague (the first being The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, Princeton 1998).  I am now researching a third volume, dealing with the period from 1938 to the present, provisionally entitled Postcards from Absurdistan: the End of History?  The research for this project has been supported by the Canada Research Chairs program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

My wider research interests include social and cultural theory, especially classical social theory (Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel) and French poststructuralism; the history and sociology of "modernity"; visual culture, especially modern art, architecture, and photography; surrealist thought; and issues of historical "memory".

Additional Information

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (1990)

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1994)

Professor Emeritus (Canada Research Chair), University of Alberta

Research Grants

2009-11. Royal Society/British Academy.   Newton International Fellowship (Dariusz Gafijczuk).  £99,000 for project The Ruins of Mitteleuropa.   UK academic sponsor.

2008-9. Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).   Research Leave (two terms).  £33,000 to work on Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century.

2001-5. Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI).  $125,000 to establish Visual Culture Research Laboratory at University of Alberta.

2000-3. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Interdisciplinary Studies Committee.  $24,000 for project The Arts of Modernity.  

1996-9.  SSHRC, History Committee.  $35,000 for project Prague and Modernity.

1991-94. SSHRC, Sociology Committee.  $47,000 for project Prague 1848-1990.

1986-8. British Academy.  £10,000 for project Bastardy in English History

Career Details

2000-5.  Canada Research Chair in Social Theory and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta

1988-2000.  Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta 

1986-8.  Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta

1979-86.  Lecturer in Sociology, University of Glasgow

1978-9.  Lecturer in Sociology, Glasgow College of Technology

1975-8.  SSRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Durham.

Visiting positions: University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (summer semesters, 1981-3); Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (1986); Czech Academy of Sciences (1991-3); Institute for Historical Studies, University of Texas at Austin (2013-14).

External Roles

Managing editor (with Dr Yoke-Sum Wong), Journal of Historical Sociology, Wiley-Blackwell, quarterly since 1988 (http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0952-1909)

Web Links

Camera Historica (public portal for HIST 351 How the Camera Changed the World) 

CoastsofBohemia (personal blog) 



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