Hard Right, Soft Power: fascist regimes and the battle for hearts and minds

A new global “soft power” ranking recently reported that the democratic states of North America and Western Europe were the most successful at achieving their diplomatic objectives “through attraction and persuasion”.

Countries such as the US, the UK, Germany and Canada, the report claimed, are able to promote their influence through language, education, culture and the media, rather than having to rely on traditional forms of military or diplomatic “hard power”.

The notion of soft power has also returned to prominence in Britain since the Brexit vote, with competing claims that leaving Europe will either damage Britain’s reputation abroad or increase the importance of soft power to British diplomacy.

Although the term “soft power” was popularised by the political scientist Joseph Nye in the 1980s, the practice of states attempting to exert influence through their values and culture goes back much further. Despite what the current soft power list would suggest, it has never been solely the preserve of liberal or democratic states. The Soviet Union, for example, went to great efforts to promote its image to intellectuals and elites abroad through organisations such as VOKS (All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries).

Perhaps more surprisingly, right-wing authoritarian and fascist states also used soft power strategies to spread their power and influence abroad during the first half of the 20th century. Alongside their aggressive and expansionist foreign policies, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and other authoritarian states used the arts, science, and culture to further their diplomatic goals.

‘New Europe’

Prior to World War II, these efforts were primarily focused on strengthening ties between the fascist powers. The 1930s, for example, witnessed intensive cultural exchanges between fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Although these efforts were shaped by the ideology of their respective regimes, they also built on pre-fascist traditions of cultural diplomacy. In the aftermath of World War I, Weimar Germany had become adept at promoting its influence through cultural exchanges in order to counter its diplomatic isolation. After 1933, the Nazi regime was able to shape Weimar-era cultural organisations and relationships to its own purpose.


Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker.
Bundesarchiv Bild, CC BY

This authoritarian cultural diplomacy reached its peak during World War II, when Nazi Germany attempted to apply a veneer of legitimacy to its military conquests by promoting the idea of a “New Europe” or “New European Order”. Although Hitler was personally sceptical about such efforts, Joseph Goebbels and others within the Nazi regime saw the “New Europe” as a way to gain support. Nazi propaganda promoted the idea of “European civilization” united against the threat of “Asiatic bolshevism” posed by the Soviet Union and its allies.


As seen in Poland: a BNazi anti-Bolshvik poster.

Given the lack of genuine political cooperation within Nazi-occupied Europe, these efforts relied heavily on cultural exchange. The period from the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 until the latter stages of 1943 witnessed an explosion of “European” and “international” events organised under Nazi auspices. They brought together right-wing elites from across the continent – from women’s groups, social policy experts and scientists to singers, dancers and fashion designers.

All of these initiatives, however, faced a common set of problems. Chief among them was the challenge of formulating a model of international cultural collaboration which was distinct from the kind of pre-war liberal internationalism which the fascist states had so violently rejected. The Nazi-dominated European Writers’ Union, for example, attempted to promote a vision of “völkisch” European literature rooted in national, agrarian cultures which it contrasted to the modernist cosmopolitanism of its Parisian-led liberal predecessors. But as a result, complained one Italian participant, the union’s events became “a little world of the literary village, of country poets and provincial writers, a fair for the benefit of obscure men, or a festival of the ‘unknown writer’”.

Deutschland über alles

Despite the language of European cooperation and solidarity which surrounded these organisations, they were ultimately based on Nazi military supremacy. The Nazis’ hierarchical view of European races and cultures prompted resentment even among their closest foreign allies.


Jesse Owens after disproving Nazi race theory at the Berlin Olympics, 1936.
Bundesarchiv, Bild, CC BY-SA

These tensions, combined with the practical constraints on wartime travel and the rapid deterioration of Axis military fortunes from 1943 onwards, meant that most of these new organisations were both ineffective and short-lived. But for a brief period they succeeded in bringing together a surprisingly wide range of individuals committed to the idea of a new, authoritarian era of European unity.

Echoes of the cultural “New Europe” lived on after 1945. The Franco regime, for example, relied on cultural diplomacy to overcome the international isolation it faced. The Women’s section of the Spanish fascist party, the Falange, organised “choir and dance” groups which toured the world during the 1940s and 1950s, travelling from Wales to West Africa to promote an unthreatening image of Franco’s Spain through regional folk dances and songs.

But the far-right’s golden age of authoritarian soft power ended with the defeat of the Axis powers. The appeal of fascist culture was fundamentally undermined by post-war revelations about Nazi genocide, death camps and war crimes. At the other end of the political spectrum, continued Soviet efforts to attract support from abroad were hampered by the invasion of Hungary in 1956 and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968.

This does not mean that authoritarian soft power has been consigned to history. Both Russia and China made the top 30 of the most recent global ranking, with Russia in particular leading the way in promoting its agenda abroad through both mainstream and social media.

The new wave of populist movements sweeping Europe and the United States often also put the promotion of national cultures at the core of their programmes. France’s Front National, for example, advocates the increased promotion of the French language abroad on the grounds that “language and power go hand-in-hand”. We may well see the emergence of authoritarian soft power re-imagined in the 21st century.

The Conversation

David Brydan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Birkbeck, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Conference Report – Crossing Borders: The Spanish Civil War and Transnational Mobilisation

Conference Report – Crossing Borders: The Spanish Civil War and Transnational Mobilisation, Birkbeck, 30 June-1 July 2016

civil-war-imageEarlier this summer, Birkbeck played host to a two-day conference on the international history of the Spanish Civil War. Crossing Borders: The Spanish Civil War and Transnational Mobilisation was funded by The Reluctant Internationalists research group, Birkbeck, Queen Mary, the University of Kent and the Royal Historical Society, and was organised in collaboration with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE. Bringing together over thirty scholars from the UK, Europe, the US and further afield, it set out to explore the origins and experiences of transnational mobilisation during the conflict and the immediate post-war period.

The first day began with a panel on the wide range of transnational actors involved in the war, from the Republican politicians who helped to establish the Popular Front movement whilst in exile in Paris in 1934 and 1935, to the international peace activists whose campaigns against aerial warfare encompassed both the Spanish and Chinese civil wars. Complicating the traditional focus on transnational mobilisation in favour of the Republican cause, the panel also discussed the involvement of fascist-dominated veterans’ networks in debates about international intervention, and the international left-wing mobilisation in favour of POUM activists imprisoned by the Republican regime.

The remainder of the day focused on the humanitarian and medical dimensions of transnational mobilisation during the Civil War. A number of papers focused on the thousands of Spanish refugees who were evacuated from Republican zones during the conflict, or who fled to France in 1939. Wartime evacuations were organised both by the Republican government and its allies, and by international humanitarian groups, but were hampered by the political tensions surrounding the conflict. The huge numbers of refugees stranded in France at the end of the war were housed in overcrowded and insanitary camps, with care provided by exiled Spanish medical professionals and by humanitarian organisations. For the international humanitarian community, the Spanish Civil War represented both an intense political, financial and logistical challenge, and a crucial step in the development of new models of humanitarian activity. The conflict itself left thousands of people exiled, bereaved or permanently disabled, with its legacies living on both inside and outside Spain through such individuals well beyond 1939.

The second day shifted focus towards the military dimension of transnational mobilisation. The first panel on propaganda highlighted the ways in which the thousands of Moroccan troops who fought with rebel forces were portrayed and instrumentalised in propaganda on both the Republican and rebel sides. It also demonstrated how the Spanish Civil War came to play a central role in the anti-Bolshevik cultural activities of Nazi Germany. This was followed by two panels which focused on the experiences of the transnational military volunteers who took part in the conflict. The first focussed on the International Brigades, providing a new perspective on this oft-studied topic by highlighting the relations between volunteers of different nationalities within individual battalions, and on the experiences of international volunteers after their return home. It also featured a fascinating presentation on SIDBRINT, a new digital archive on the International Brigades hosted by the University of Barcelona which provides an invaluable resource for scholars interested in the transnational history of the Spanish Civil War. The second panel took a global perspective on transnational military mobilisation, examining the experiences of Arab and Jewish volunteers who fought with Republican forces, and the experience and memory of a Basque town which played host to both German and Italian troops during the conflict.

The final panel of the conference focused in on the transnational lives and experiences of individuals involved in the Spanish Civil War.  Artists such as the Hungarian photographer Kati Horna drew on their experiences of the war to explore the importance of internal and external borders for those who had lived through it. The lives of other individuals and groups continued to be affected by the Spanish Civil War long after formal hostilities had ended, including the Spanish and Catalan women imprisoned by the Nazis at Ravensbrück during the Second World War, and the Czech and Slovak communist volunteers whose post-war political and emotional lives were shaped by their experiences in Spain.

The theme of transnational lives also lay at the heart of the conference’s keynote delivered by Helen Graham (Royal Holloway). A well-attended public lecture hosted by the Institute of Historical Research and introduced by Paul Preston (LSE), this fascinating lecture used the lives of five individuals to explore the significance of the Spanish Republic cause to the continental wars of social change which took place between 1936 and 1948. A podcast of the lecture is available online, and you can find abstracts for all of the conference papers and information about individual speakers here.

We’re looking for a Public Engagement & Events Coordinator

The Reluctant Internationalists research group is looking for a Public Engagement and Events Coordinator to work with us on our busy programme of conferences, workshops and public engagement activities. This is a great opportunity for someone with administrative or project management experience who wishes to build up their portfolio of public engagement projects for future grant applications.

The post is part-time at 28 hours a week for 12 months. The application deadline is 11 August 2016. Interviews will be held in the week starting 22 August.

You can find more details about the post here.

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Internationalists in the Age of Nationalism

In this post, Bertrand Taithe considers some of the causes and consequences of Britain’s forthcoming withdrawal from the European Union.

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The place in which I have lived for over 22 years, as an academic immigrant, has voted against membership of the EU on Thursday 23rd June 2016. The same village is now festooned with Union Jack flags as part of its festive 1940s memories weekend – the event is a celebration of the spirit of the war during which the good folks dress in second-hand uniforms of varying accuracy, invite fake Tommies and GIs and even the occasional Russian or Wehrmacht re-enactors to parade in the street and make camp on the school grounds. One cannot avoid the conclusion that this celebration has taken a very different tone when, a week before, Jo Cox, the MP from the neighbouring constituency has been stabbed and shot to cries of ‘Britain first’.

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This is not to attribute to an exercise in nostalgia for a united society facing a common enemy any deep sinister motives. Rather, it is to point out that 1940s weekends and other flag-waving events are not only nostalgic reminders of nationalisms gone by. They are also popular engagements with the rituals of patriotism, at a time when patriotism is once again used for political aims.

By 1940 the great European ideal of internationalism was deeply buried. The left was split by the alliance of Communists and National Socialists, the main institution of internationalism was seen as a great irrelevance and a failure. A parallel comes to mind in 2016, though to compare the EU with the League of Nations is perhaps a little far-fetched. Yet both have interesting common features: the League was a Wilsonian idea but it really built on 50 years of preliminary international conferences, technical networks and ideals which brought together the same kind of experts who later fed into the European project. It combined liberal economic ideas with liberal notions of social justice and global aspirations of development and protection – making humanitarian aid a cause at the heart of international relations through new common institutions. Arguably, it only tentatively raised the issues of citizenship, minorities and participative democracy when so many of the key powers were empires. There were tensions in the edifice and states embraced ideals in its debating chambers they privately rejected.

Much the same could be said of the EU. Like the League of Nations, the EU combines a charisma vacuum, a failed engagement with the citizens it claims to represent and yet profound technical expertise and a desire to protect citizens. The legacy of the League was a technocratic one. The technical committees of the League survived throughout the war and were later the bedrock of UN collective expertise. The International Labour Organisation and the WHO are obviously the main examples of this continuity while the work the league undertook on behalf of refugees acquired new meaning in the turmoil of the 1940s. The EU has delivered over and over again on technical issues, on education and rights, on ecological and health norms, on workers’ rights, but its overall political project, much like the loftier dimensions of the League of Nations, is in danger of failing utterly.

Part of this failure of course is that international bodies such as the EU or the League of Nations remain empty drums on which states play their own tunes while pretending to be listening. Access to citizens is not part of their remit – the EU parliament is as toothless as the petitions to the League were. Its remit is technical, not democratic. Ventriloquism is the only way Leagues or EU can speak. They are no more than echo chambers – resounding and deafening when cacophony is the only sound given to them.

The debates of the League were not edifying when Ethiopia faced the Italian onslaught and generated a mass displacement of refugees, when faced by the nativist and racist ideology of Fascists across Europe in Spain, Italy, Germany and increasingly across the democracies of the continent. The drum ceased to beat altogether when it became obvious that no-one was listening any more. The EU is not yet faced with these issues or on that scale and perhaps the comparison becomes less relevant. Yet with the UK, one of its five largest countries, withdrawing over a range of issues which range from accountability vacuum to the rejection of the non-British and the fear of the other, the discourse is changing and we are witnessing the revival of old nativist tropes and somewhat more muted racist ones.

This is not a complete surprise. The EU has been in weak responsive mode for a decade and its democratic agenda has stalled even as its technical expertise became part of the problems member states face. As an international body it became the site of conflicts between states rather than the expression of internationalism. Ironically, the EU became also the target of the most committed internationalists, with MSF denouncing its deal with Turkey or its treatment of refugees and migrants – MSF has decided to reject all funding originating from the EU and its constitutive states to make the point that the EU as a whole is failing as a humanitarian or internationalist organisation. Torn between calls to close the border and appeals to expand or guarantee humanitarian rights of refuge, the EU makes no sense to the humanitarians who used to take ‘its’ money.

Of course the EU has no money of its own and it does not raise its taxes, it is not either a humanitarian or internationalist structure per se. As merely a supranational pooling of sovereignty and expertise it does not have much of a will of its own, and its ‘programme’ is poor in political terms. Crises reveal the EU’s weak political nature, and they are an ‘occasion for cheering’ much like the one enjoyed by detractors of the League of Nations in 1936. To reject the EU is to challenge how little it can do, rather than denounce its role. The pooling of some elements of national sovereignty has not diminished the existence of sovereign voices. The EU only has the foreign policy governments allow it to have. MSF is targeting the drum rather than the drummers: citizens and states besieged by demagogues.

Governments themselves are looking at their public opinion and at the resurgence of nationalism with fear – evaluating how far the debate has shifted towards a rejection of internationalism and globalisation. Opening up societies to refugees now appears a difficult humanitarian line to pursue. The fact that the country most reluctant to accept its share of the people needing protection (and yet one of the largest donors of international development aid) has now turned away from internationalism, partially on those grounds, should be something humanitarians and internationalists need to ponder. Weak international bodies and structures are not the single cause of a weakening of internationalism – attacking them and weakening further their frail legitimacy is to indulge the enemies of internationalism. To rejoice in the end of an internationalist illusion, as some did in 1936 or as some do today, is to disguise as realism profound cynicism on the prospects of humanity. The terms of the debate on the League of Nations or on the EU were and are not about pragmatic evaluations of what works or what should work: they are about what constitutes our common humanity and how we should define citizenship. Despite their best efforts, technical experts did not articulate a social compact which could resist the allure and romance of nationalism with its binaries of love and hate, inclusion and rejection. So-called European citizenship fails to live up to the most basic requirements of the concept. In current debates (July 2016) this citizenship of the European Union offers no long-term guarantee of residency or political participation in Britain post Brexit. The vote out of the EU effectively disenfranchised some of the union’s citizens (this would also apply to the British residents in the EU) and the EU has shown no explicit concern with the fate of citizens in this debate. Furthermore, EU citizenship and internationalism is precisely what renewed nationalism defines itself against.

I have never dressed up as a free-French in my village fete. Were I to choose a costume for the village parade, I think I might go for the grey business-like suit of a League of Nation expert, anonymously working through the war in grim and earnest despair but in the hope of an internationalist future. On second thoughts, I think I might give it a miss.

Bertrand Taithe is Professor in Cultural History and Director of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester.

Aid to Armenia: Workshop Report by Jo Laycock and Francesca Piana

Aid to Armenia-3

The workshop “Aid to Armenia. Armenia and Armenians in International History” took place on the 3rd of June at Birkbeck College, University of London. The workshop was timely: the day before, on the 2nd of June, the German Parliament had employed the word genocide to describe the violence, massacres, death marches, rapes, forced conversions, abductions, and collective expropriations that the Ottoman Armenian population experienced during WWI and the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire. To this day, despite recognition of the Armenian genocide by multiple actors over the last few months and years, the Turkish government embraces a position of persistent denial.

The aim of “Aid to Armenia” was threefold. First, it enlarged the narrow perspective of Armenian history/studies that, over time, have privileged questions of violence, survival and denial over other overlapping historical processes. Second, the workshop framed the history of Armenia and Armenians within current discussions and preoccupations in international and global history. The themes of total war, peace, humanitarian aid, reconstruction, and sovereignty shaped presentations and discussions. Lastly, particular attention was devoted to engaging with the landmark historiographical contributions, which appeared mostly in 2015, in coincidence with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. To this end, a group of scholars – at different stages of their career, from PhD students to more established scholars – gathered at Birkbeck College. The majority of the participants were historians, but the participation of political scientists, anthropologists, and legal scholars enriched the discussions and demonstrated the potential for ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration.

The first panel focused on crises, “questions”, and interventions during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. Stéphanie Prévost (Paris Diderot) adopted a comparative framework to study the British and American responses to the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896. She did so by looking at non-state actors working on the margins of inter-state diplomacy. James Perkins (British Library) discussed the British liberal interests in the Macedonian question, focusing in particular on the British diplomatic and moral responsibility towards the implementation of reforms. Triggered by the comments of Rebecca Gill (University of Huddersfield), both presentations elaborated on the role of geographies that the territories populated by Armenians and Macedonia occupied in the imagination of Western policy-makers, philanthropists, and missionaries. This heterogeneous group of activists belonged to and participated in networks where all sort of interests – from private to public, from political and economic to social – intersected. The papers also prompted discussion of the ways that racial and orientalist languages of imperialism deployed by these groups in their engagement with the Armenians in the 19th century shifted to rooms, corridors, and buildings of liberal internationalism in Geneva after the formation of the League of Nations in 1920.

The second panel explored questions of refugees and resettlement from comparative perspectives. Inger Marie Okkenhaug (Volda University College) looked at the actors providing relief to post-genocide Armenian refugees and at their connections with the local communities. She addressed the history of Scandinavian missionary organizations and the work of their missionaries and relief workers in Armenia and Syria. Maria Rizou (King’s College) introduced the role played by the National Bank of Greece and the Greek state in granting loans to Greek refugees between 1918 and 1924. She stressed that national money was lent to Greek refugees from Bulgaria and Romania, whereas external financial resources were granted to a great number of refugees coming from Asia Minor, before and during the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. The discussions that followed developed around the different connections and obligations that the state had towards refugees in the interwar period – as Peter Gatrell (Manchester University) pointed out. The interactions between the state and refugees developed (and still do) along specific lines, such as public health, nutrition, mental health, and general plans for the relief and reconstruction of societies. More broadly, this panel pointed for the need for greater attention to the economic dimensions of the history of humanitarian aid.

The third panel analyzed issues of gender, relief, and reconstruction in the interwar period. Becky Jinks (Royal Holloway UCL) presented the case study of an American humanitarian organization, the Smith College Relief Unit, in providing relief to Armenians from 1919 to 1921. She focused, on one hand, on the reasons why and the ways in which relief was provided, and, on the other hand, on the processes of self-reflection that relief workers underwent while busy at the ground level or writing ex-post about their experiences. Again, this raised important questions regarding the relationship between individual and organizational motivations, practices and narratives. Anna Aleksanyan (Clark University) presented the work carried out by the Neutral House, based in Istanbul, to rescue surviving Armenian women and children and the tensions arising from the so-called Armenization of the children. She particularly stressed the historical role played by the genocide in creating new social identities in the interwar period. Philippa Hetherington (UCL SSEES) provided food for thought during the discussion, which centered and articulated the category of gender. Gender might be used as a framing function and a way of identification; as a lens through which men can be studied as historical actors alongside women; and as a prism to analyze the connection between women and children in the Armenian case. More generally, this panel suggested that Armenians were not only recipients of humanitarian aid but also played an active role in shaping and re-appropriating it.

The workshop was closed by a round table connecting the past, present, and future of both Armenia and Armenians. The contributions highlighted the ways in which histories of crisis and relief continue to resonate. On the one hand history plays an important role in shaping perceptions of current crises. On the other, popular understandings of crisis and relief has be reshaped and re-appropriated in current contexts of conflict and displacement arising from the Nagorno Karabagh and Syrian conflicts. Armine Ishkanian (LSE) stressed the importance of understanding the politics of NGO interventions and civil society activism in Armenia during the post-Soviet transition. Dawn Chatty (University of Oxford) reflected on the recent arrivals of Syrian Armenian refugees in the Republic of Armenia. She demonstrated the importance of regional histories of displacement for understanding not only the causes of the crisis but also the ways in which refugees perceive their experiences and seek to shape their futures and the responses of states to their claims.

Although the focus was on the post-Soviet period, discussions pointed to the important of paying attention to the Soviet period and the responses of Soviet actors to various incidences of crisis in the region. Katja Doose (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen), for example, explained how Soviet Armenian citizens’ perception of the USSR as a donor of international aid was disrupted by the acceptance of international aid in the aftermath of the Armenian earthquake of 1988. From her end, Anahit Shirinyan (Chatham House) historicized the 4 days war in April 2016 between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh by looking back to the first years of Armenian independence in the 1990s. More broadly, the roundtable demonstrated the fruitfulness of comparative and inter-disciplinary perspectives and the importance of historicizing taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of “complex emergencies” and the principles and practices of humanitarian interventions.

After the End of Disease: Conference Report

 

Held at the Royal Society of Medicine over two days, After the End of Disease brought together historians of medicine and global public health, anthropologists and sociologists with policy makers to think past the conventional narrative curve of epidemics and disease in general. The overall aim of the event was to initiate a fruitful discussion on how various academic analyses and perceptions of what happens after the end of disease can inform current global health policies of eradication and epidemic management, and in turn, how the experiences of practitioners in global public health may provide insight and further the understanding of the historical trajectories and ethnographic, and sociological studies of ending diseases.

The conference opened with a public event at the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room: a screening of the director’s cut of In the Shadow of Ebola, a film by Gregg Mitman (U f Wisconsin) and Sarita Siegel (Alchemy Films). The film was followed by a roundtable discussion with the participation of the filmmakers Patricia Kingori (Oxford), Jessica Reinisch (Birkbeck) and Karen Wells (Birkbeck).

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The following two days gave way to discussions on epidemic preparedness, failure, experiences and theoretical concepts of temporalities, and problematic beginnings as well as endings. The first panel opened the discussion by placing in the focus and questioning what we understand under the terms after, end and disease and why thinking critically about these definitions and concepts matter. Jessica Reinisch (Birkbeck) addressed the complexity and fluidity of the postwar era, Catherine Kudlick (U San Francisco) argued for a disability history perspective when considering the end of epidemics, while Julie Livingston (NYU) turned to comorbidity to interrogate disease categories. Zooming in on particular problems and diseases, subsequent panels addressed global health issues from WHO reports to Cold War politics of freezing smallpox specimens. Anthropologist Frederic Keck (CNRS) unpacked storage and stockpiling in global flu management as techniques of perpetual beginnings and endings of epidemics. Sociologist Andrew Lakoff (U Southern California) analysed the post-choc report of the WHO on the Ebola crisis and argued that it is as much of a tool for retrospective allocation of blame, as a tool of preparedness for unknown future outbreaks in mapping potential organizational responses. Several papers dealt with polio epidemics: historian Naomi Rogers (Yale) addressed disability activism that rested on the ending and forgetting of polio epidemics in the United States, while Stephen Bance (U College Dublin) presented the Irish perspective on polio rehabilitation and the blurred endings of the disease, Juan Rodriguez-Sanchez (U Salamanca) argued that post-polio syndrome is at once a disease that never ended and the beginning of a new one, and Nadav Davidovich and Anat Rosenthal (Ben Gurion U) interrogated definitions of an outbreak through the case of a recent Israeli vaccination campaign. Many of these papers pointed to populations that are left out of, or are neglected in narratives of the end of disease. Robert Aronowitz (U of Pennsylvania) turned to another aspect of exclusion in epidemic and disease endings and demonstrated structural global disparities in infectious diseases, cancer and public health problems like tobacco use that arise from diseases disappearing in one part of the world – but shifting to another. Tuberculosis, a (mostly) curable disease that has mostly vanished from the global North and remains a major global public health problem in the South was the focus of another set of papers. Anthropologist Bharat Venkat (Princeton) analysed scenarios of a post-antibiotic era in tuberculosis treatment in India, while historian Sarah Blacker (MPIWG) turned to the ethnic politics of tuberculosis control in Canada. Janina Kehr (U of Zurich) took the case of a French woman’s astonishment and bodily experience of being diagnosed with TB to embark on a philosophical approach in applying Agamben’s concept of messianic time to understanding the temporalities of disease. The consequences of the disappearance of certain diseases from the global epidemic landscape led several Katherine Vongsathorn (U of Warwick) recounted changing attitudes and access to care in leprosy in Uganda, health policy expert and medical anthropologist Jennifer Palmer (LSHTM/U of Edinburgh) discussed the global development and local uses of rapid test diagnosis in sleeping sickness, while Jeremy Greene (Johns Hopkins) and Dora Vargha (Birkbeck) introduced the concept of ‘newly neglected disease’ through an analysis of faltering access to diphtheria antitoxin and the decay of global pharmaceutical infrastructure. Others focused on representations of diseases and their endings. Joanna Radin (Yale) showed how certain elements of the Cold War have been perpetuated in the frozen smallpox vials in Russian and American freezers, and placed fears associated with the return of the epidemic within science fiction, while Lukas Engelmann (Cambridge) analysed visual representations of AIDS and its “unseeing”. Many papers addressed the epidemic narrative in a broader sense and discussed beginnings of disease together with their endings. The complexity of distinguishing beginnings and endings of epidemic cycles was the focus of the paper presented by Christos Lynteris (Cambridge), Robert Peckham (Hong Kong U) showed convergences of beginnings and endings through SARS in SAR (“Special Administrative Region”, the official status of Hong Kong).

The panels, conversations and debates showed the manifold ways in which rethinking the epidemic narrative can contribute both to academic scholarship and to global health. Combining approaches from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, history and visual culture, the discussions marked the beginning of a meaningful, interdisciplinary collaboration that will surely continue in the future.

 

 

 

The Cold War in the Classroom

The Reluctant Internationalists research group team is delighted to have been awarded a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement grant to help improve how history is being taught at British schools.

Together with the Historical Association we are launching a Teacher Fellowship Programme for 2017 on “The Cold War in the Classroom”. The programme is open to Secondary history teachers with a minimum of three to four years’ teaching experience. The deadline for applications is 7 November 2016 – see our advert below for more details.

HA history ad

More internationalism articles in Contemporary European History

To accompany our special issue on ‘Agents of Internationalism‘ (access to which is still free until 8th June), Contemporary European History has now released a virtual special issue on the same theme. This collection celebrates 25 years of CEH by bringing you ten articles on the theme of internationalism and transnationalism from the CEH archive, free to download until 30th June.

The ‘agents of internationalism’ in this collection include international bankers and economists, municipal reformers, members of the Soviet Russian intelligentsia, animal health experts, agricultural lobbyists, transport ministers and infrastructure planners, jurists and legal scholars and nuclear protesters. They were active in a variety of networks and organisations and devised or fantasised about a variety of trans- or international projects, with varying results. Together with our ‘Agents of Internationalism’ special issue, this collection should prompt us to think about the variety of internationalisms at play and in direct contact and competition with each other during Europe’s twentieth century. The history of twentieth century Europe, as these articles show, was a history shaped by overlapping and competing international collaborations and radical re-imaginations of the world map.

Call for Papers: Languages of Internationalism

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Languages of Internationalism

Conference to take place at Birkbeck College, University of London

25-26 May 2017

 Deadline for submission of abstracts: 1 September 2016

 

Scholars have in recent years re-energized the study of how peoples, cultures, and economies came, over time, to be linked and entangled across all manner of borders. Transnationalism and internationalism continue to be the watchwords of much humanities and social sciences scholarship. Yet insufficient attention has been paid to the crucial politics of language in historical scenarios of internationalism as a lived or imagined human enterprise. Organised by the Reluctant Internationalists research group at Birkbeck College London in collaboration with Dr. Brigid O’Keeffe from Brooklyn College, CUNY, this conference will bring together historians, anthropologists, literary scholars, linguists, and scholars in related fields, to debate the languages of internationalism.

The goal of the conference is to shed light on the centrality of language to people’s past pursuit and experience of internationalism. Historians must better understand the linguistic realities that their subjects confronted in their various global networks and endeavors. For any agents of internationalism, language presented a wide variety of challenges and opportunities. It imposed obstacles and provided avenues to mutual understanding and collaboration among diverse peoples. The relative successes and failures of past internationalist projects in large measure owed to participants’ ability to effectively communicate across not just linguistic, but also political, cultural, economic, and professional boundaries. This fundamental and literal question of (mis)communication has dramatically shaped the lives of peoples variously confronting the global realities or pretensions of their milieus.

Conference participants will consider the frustrations and triumphs of human beings, in a wide variety of historical contexts, as they deployed language in their efforts to communicate across borders. In this way, the conference seeks better historical appreciation and understanding of language as a linchpin of transnational and international histories.

Submissions of individual papers on the following themes and topics are especially encouraged:

  • Languages of Internationalism: When and why have languages helped or hindered internationalist projects? Roles played by lingua francas; bi-lingualism and multi-lingualism in border areas, cities, schools, refugee or POW camps; sign languages and deaf histories in global perspective; artificial languages as international auxiliary languages
  • Language in Global Diplomacy and Cross-Cultural Exchange: Language politics by and within international organizations, including the League of Nations, United Nations, and others; (mis-)communication and international diplomacy; roles of interpreters and interpreting; connections between language and diplomatic failure; the role of language in educational, scholarly or artistic exchange programs
  • (Mis-)Communicating Expertise in Science, Medicine, and Scholarship more generally: languages of technocracy; experts’ views on and uses of language and strategies of communication; international scholarly communities and the transmission of knowledge; differences between different fields of expertise; experts’ changing conceptions of ‘the public’ and how it can be reached
  • Language Politics During and After Empire: Communication and questions of (linguistic) authority in colonial contexts; language and interpersonal relationships within and across empires; language and colonial diplomacy; language and postcolonial critique
  • Linguistic Rights and Endangered Languages: Linguistic Rights; standardization and imposition of official or national languages; endangered languages and globalization
  • Mass Media, Language, and Idea Transmission on the Global Stage: Communication and linking technologies such as the post, telegraph, radio, tv, and internet; language and global marketing; international publishing and translation projects

Please send paper titles, abstracts (300 – 400 words), and a brief academic biography (200 words) by 1 September 2016 to Brigid O’Keeffe (Brooklyn College, CUNY), bokeeffe@brooklyn.cuny.edu

There will be no conference fee. There will be limited funding available to contribute to the accommodation in London of junior scholars and those from institutions without research funds.