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The first volume of our newsletter has just come out, featuring reports from our visiting scholars, information on our upcoming workshops and call for applications, latest talks and publications and much more! Keep a lookout for a new volume every term.

You can view the full newsletter here: Reluctant Internationalists Newsletter Vol 1

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CfP: Homecomings

Homecomings: Experiences and narratives of anti-fascist resistance veterans and the construction of post-war Europe

April 24-25, 2015

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck College

In the aftermath of WW2, the narrative of widespread anti-fascist resistance became the true foundational myth of both Eastern and Western Europe, and the memory of the resistance came to constitute the core element in national identities and post-war legitimation of European states. However, the experiences of actual resistance soldiers at the end and in the immediate aftermath of the war were complex and multi-layered, and quite often far from celebratory and victorious. This conference will tell a much-neglected transnational European story of experiences of WW2 resistance, and address the mismatch between resistance soldiers’ expectations and their post-war socio-political realities. While historians of European resistance have primarily addressed the theme in isolated national contexts, this conference will explore the striking commonalities in veterans’ experiences across the divided European continent: why was it that resistance soldiers and veterans in so many different political settings, and both East and West of the Iron Curtain, reported a similar feeling of neglect, misunderstanding and betrayal? How can we explain the similarities in the way in which different European countries dealt with their resisters and veterans, and appropriated the narratives and memories of the resistance? The conference will thus cross the traditional boundaries of European historiography, and draw comparisons between the Soviet Union, East and Central Europe, and Western Europe. By including the Soviet Union in a broader European historical narrative, the conference will explore to what extent veterans’ experiences as well as associations cut across Cold War faultlines. Among other themes, the conference will advance our understanding of the history of soldiers’ trauma – physical and psychological – in the context of post-war social and cultural history and memory. It will examine the issue of veterans’ reactions to states’ attempts at appropriating or sanitizing the memory of the resistance, and veterans’ ability to influence national politics; internationalism of veterans’ organizations; veterans’ conceptualizations of justice, retribution and reconciliation; as well as everyday experiences of resistance soldiers in post-war societies and (both harmonious and fraught) relationships between different veterans’ associations.

Panellists are sought to present papers addressing one or more of the following questions: Why did post-war political and military authorities develop such an uneasy relationship with resistance soldiers’ groups, and why were these celebrated victors and anti-fascists often considered a threat to social order and stability? How did the relationship of veterans’ groups to the state evolve over time, and how was it affected by major political and social events of the Cold War? What were the relationships between different veterans’ groups and associations? What was the social, cultural and political position of veterans in post-war Eastern and Western Europe, and did they hold any significant national or international leverage? To what extent was the memory of WW2 shaped by the veterans’ memory/input? What were the early narratives of the resistance, generated from below, and how did they relate to the subsequent construction of memories of WW2? How did resistance soldiers imagine their role in post-war societies? Finally, how did WW2 resistance soldiers engage with the ideological struggles of the incipient Cold War, and how did the Cold War affect the veterans’ status?

Please send resumes, paper titles and abstracts (up to 400 words) to by December 7, 2014.


Contact information:

Dr Ana Antic, conference convener

Post-doctoral Researcher

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology

Birkbeck, University of London

26-28 Russell Square

On Socialist Globalization – Guest Post By Elidor Mehilli


Industrial equipment arrives in Albania from the Soviet Union, 1951.

On Socialist Globalization
By Elidor Mehilli

The “Reluctant Internationalists” project is about the history of international collaboration—experts, policy-makers, doctors, planners, and diplomats—and the intended and unintended consequences of these exchanges in the twentieth century. Reflecting this theme, the project itself is international in conception: fellows come from across the Atlantic, as do occasional visiting scholars. This is a major strength.

One other important contribution of the project, to my mind, is the emphasis on Europe’s place in the story of internationalism. Histories of internationalist movements and the global Cold War have often intentionally looked beyond the European continent to highlight the role of non-European actors. Such efforts can be valuable. But they ignore the fact that there have been historically neglected and abused peripheries within Europe. This is a good opportunity to assess these internal divisions within a supposedly integrating continent and “periphery-periphery” relations in the world more broadly.

A highlight of the project, this past summer, was the conference “Agents of Internationalism,” which brought together scholars working on population transfers, relief workers, child-welfare programs, and transnational approaches to disease—among other topics.

During my residency in London (June—July 2014), I worked on a book on socialist globalization—the state-directed but also informal circulation of practices and planners—through the angle of Albania under Yugoslav, Soviet, Eastern bloc, and Chinese patronage. After the Second World War, tiny Albania came to embody the ethos of socialist internationalism, as Soviet advisers, East German engineers, and Czechoslovak technicians descended on the country to lift it up from poverty and deliver on the promise of a workers’ state (which governed an overwhelmingly rural populace). But by the early 1960s socialist internationalism seemed broken. China and the Soviet Union quarreled, Albania and North Korea sought to go their own way, and Third World countries desperately tried to negotiate space for themselves. My book, then, is a study of local and global socialist commonalities that take shape despite political allegiances.

During my residency, I was fortunate to present a chapter of my manuscript to the project participants and receive a good deal of valuable feedback. Informal chats were as productive. London, needless to say, offers fantastic resources. My only disappointment was the fact that England, my lifelong favorite national soccer team, was kicked out early from the World Cup in Brazil. To share the pain in the pub was, at least, of some consolation.

Elidor Mehilli was the 2014 Visiting Research Fellow of the Reluctant Internationalists project. Applications are currently being accepted for the 2015 Visiting Research Fellowship. Please see the Call for Applications.

Elidor Mehilli – Albania, experts and socialist internationalism

In June 2014 we welcomed Elidor Mehilli to Birkbeck as the Reluctant Internationalists’ first Visiting Research Fellow. Elidor’s work focuses on Albania and its place in the socialist world of the 1950s and 1960s. In the video below you can see Elidor discussing his work with Jessica Reinisch, including his interest in socialist internationalism, the changing relationship between Albania and Mao’s China, and the role of experts in the Cold War world.

If you’re interested in applying for our 2015 Visiting Fellow position, please see the call for applications in the post below.

Visiting Research Fellowship – Call for Applications

The Reluctant Internationalists project is now accepting applications for its 2015 summer research fellowship.

The Reluctant Internationalists is a four year Wellcome Trust-funded project, run by Dr Jessica Reinisch at Birkbeck College, University of London, with a team of four full-time researchers. Each summer term we invite a Visiting Research Fellow to join the project team.

Fellowships are open to academic researchers working on any aspect of the history of internationalism or international organisations in the twentieth century. The Fellow will be entitled to £1,300 per month for a maximum of three months. The Fellow will be expected to collaborate with the Reluctant Internationalists team by taking part in our reading group and project meetings, and by helping us to organise a seminar, lecture or other public or outreach event. The Fellow will be a member of the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology for the duration of their stay, and will have access to Birkbeck’s and the University of London’s facilities, including use of a shared office for visiting fellows in Birkbeck’s Russell Square site. Successful applicants can take up their posts any time between April and July 2015.

Applications consisting of a CV, a one page research overview, a suggested event and the preferred period of residence, should be sent to by 1 December 2014.

For further details about the project and previous visiting fellows, please see, or contact

black sea

CfP: Landscapes of Health: The Black Sea in the Socialist World

The Black Sea in the Socialist World

Birkbeck College, University of London
February 6-7, 2015

Supported by the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, The Wellcome Trust, The Society for the Social History of Medicine, and The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Call for Papers

In May 1962, shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet premiere Nikita Khrushchev toured Bulgaria. Under banners declaring “Forward, to Communism!” at a mass meeting in Varna, a Bulgarian health resort, Khrushchev lauded the Bulgarian people for the way in which they had developed the Black Sea coastline. Model health resorts like Varna, which drew visitors from all over the world, were the pride of the Bulgarian people, he claimed. These resorts demonstrated the commitment of the socialist states to the health and welfare of the people. He contrasted the health resorts on the socialist side of the Black Sea to the NATO missile build-up across the sea in Turkey. The health resorts of the Black Sea demonstrated the peace-loving nature of the socialist states to the world. “The Black Sea should be a sea of peace and the friendship of the peoples,” he argued.

While interest in the place of the Black Sea in the history of tourism, public health and architecture has grown rapidly in recent years, leading to ground-breaking studies, these works have treated each topic and national context in isolation. Works on Cold War diplomacy, too, have not taken into full consideration the position of the Black Sea as a site of cultural and political diplomacy in the socialist world. This workshop seeks to bring together historians studying the Black Sea or whose work involves the Black Sea from a variety of perspectives and both historians of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. The objective of the workshop is to develop the idea of the Black Sea littoral as an international meeting place of the socialist world.

As Khrushchev’s words suggested, the idea of the socialist Black Sea was closely linked to ideas of health and welfare during times of peace. The Black Sea littoral became a favoured health retreat of the political elite and soon became a setting for high politics and diplomatic negotiations. With the Yalta conference (February 4-11, 1945), the place of the Black Sea as a site of East-West diplomacy was formalized. But the Black Sea also became a place of less formal international exchange. From international children’s camps to delegation visits, at the Black Sea people from the socialist world introduced visitors from all over the world to the socialist way of life, in a Cold War contest fought over standards of living.

Participants are sought to present papers which may but will not necessarily fall into the following themes: The divided sea in the Cold War; the political context of Soviet-Turkish, East-West and socialist relations; ideas of Europe; international law; mobility, migration and tourism; commodities; socialist design and urban planning; environmental health; international congresses and festivals, and environmental history. Papers relating to all countries of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR, and which emphasize transnational and international components, are welcome.

Informal enquiries are welcome. Please send paper titles and abstracts (around 300 words) by November 15, 2014 to Workshop papers will be pre-circulated and are due January 15, 2015.

Contact Details
Dr Johanna Conterio, conference convener
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Birkbeck College, University of London
Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
26-28 Russell Square
London, United Kingdom, WC1B 5DQ

Welcome back to a new academic year!

While we were away from our blog, the researchers of the Reluctant Internationalists were busy this summer. A number of us saw publications come out, which may be of interest to some of our readers.

Dora Vargha published an article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, “Between East and West: Polio Vaccination across the Iron Curtain in Cold War Hungary” (v. 88, no. 2, Summer 2014), which is part of her larger book project, Iron Curtain/Iron Lungs: Governing Polio in the Cold War.

Jessica Reinisch edited, with Matthew Frank, a special issue of Contemporary European History, “Refugees and the Nation-State in Europe, 1919–59,” (v. 49, no. 3, July 2014), which examines how refugees and refugee crises were defined and managed by European nation-states in the forty years after the First World War. Read their introduction for a sketch of the historical context of the refugee problem in Europe and an analysis of the common themes of the papers.

The special issue continues conversations started at a conference Jessica Reinisch and Matthew Frank convened at Birkbeck in 2010, “The Forty Years’ Crisis: Refugees in Europe, 1919-1959.”

Ana Antic published two articles: “Heroes and Hysterics: ‘Partisan Hysteria’ and Communist State-building in Yugoslavia after 1945,” in Social History of Medicine (v. 27, no. 3, August 2014), and, earlier this year, “Therapeutic Fascism: ‘Re-educating’ Communists in Serbia, 1942-1944,” in History of Psychiatry (v. 25, no. 1, March 2014). Both articles are part of her larger research project on the development of psychiatry and psychiatric culture under the conditions of Nazi occupation in Eastern Europe and in its immediate aftermath.

In other publishing news, Dora Vargha was awarded the 2014 Young Scholar Book Award by the International Committee for the History of Technology for her dissertation, Iron Curtain, Iron Lungs: Governing Polio in Cold War Hungary, completed at Rutgers University in 2013.

Also over the summer, we hosted our first major workshop, “Agents of Internationalism”. Thank you to all the participants who made that workshop a great success. Please keep your eye out for further posts about the workshop and about our work together with our first visiting fellow, Elidor Mehilli, Assistant Professor at Hunter College in New York.

This will be a very eventful year for our research group, so please keep your eye out for more details about upcoming talks, events and publications, and for calls for papers. In the meantime, welcome back, and we wish everyone a good start to the new term.

Agents of Internationalism: First Internationalism Workshop at Birkbeck College

19 to 20 June 2014

This workshop is the first in a series of events organised under the umbrella of The Reluctant Internationalists, a four-year project which examines the development and institutionalisation of international collaboration in twentieth-century Europe.

The workshop programme is now available at

The workshop is co-hosted by Contemporary European History and has three main aims:

  • First, it attempts to look beyond the self-declared liberal elites to identify other groups who built or dismantled international institutions. The workshop aims to shed light on who these (inter)national agents were, and why, when, and with what results they argued that some form of internationalism was practicable, necessary, or unavoidable.
  • Second, the workshop seeks to bring into focus alternative chronologies and periodizations of European history. We wish to revisit and revise the by now standard narrative of internationalism’s rise, decline and rise – from its rediscovery in the aftermath of the First World War, and a new enthusiasm for international institutions in the subsequent decade; to its spectacular failure in the era of protectionism, racial conflict and the destruction of the international architecture; to its triumph in the second post-war era; and, after the worst of the Cold War freeze, the flourishing of a new global era in the 1970s. We wish to re-examine variations of this narrative, and recover nuances and pinpoint different trajectories for different international projects.
  • Third, the workshop seeks to foreground Europe’s place in the history of internationalism. We are particularly interested in how international cooperation has evolved within European nation-states, and how concepts have differed within different parts of Europe and European peripheries.

Each of the seven panels will examine one group with international connections (relief workers, women, children, refugees, collaborators, soldiers, and ‘experts’) and identify continuities and disjunctures in the appeal and application of different internationalist programmes and agendas.

Attendance is free but places are limited. Please contact Ana Antic to reserve a space.