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Scholarly interest in the imperial origins of the new world order of 1919 has largely focused on thinkers and political figures from the British Empire and Anglo world more broadly. Yet that new order arguably took shape on the ground most palpably in Central and Eastern Europe, where problems of financial collapse, national minorities, endemic disease, and humanitarian aid emerged as domains where the League’s institutional identity and political-legal authority were defined and tested. In this region, international organisations and actors worked in the shadow not of the British Empire, but the Austro-Hungarian one.

In December 2015, a collection of junior and senior scholars from Europe, the US, and Australia met in Vienna to explore the co-implication of regional and international orders in interwar Central Europe. Peter Becker, Professor of Austrian History at the University of Vienna, and Natasha Wheatley, an ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, joined forces to organise the event under the title “After Empire: The League of Nations and the Former Habsburg Lands.” Co-sponsored by the Austrian Institute of Historical Research at the University of Vienna and the Laureate Research Program in International History at the University of Sydney, the conference “After Empire” analysed the symbiotic relationship between the successor states and the League’s agencies as both sought to build their capacity and identity out of the rubble of collapsed empires and world war. International and transnational responses to the region’s challenges confronted the legacies of Habsburg rule across a range of planes and scales, including social and scientific networks, epistemic communities, legal concepts, fiscal structures, trans- and supranational political imaginaries, horizons of expectation and spaces of experience. In excavating these links for the first time, “After Empire” explored the possibility and plausibility of treating the domain of former Habsburg rule as a (more or less coherent) region, and asked how the view from Central Europe might recast our broader histories of the interwar international order.

GLENDA SLUGA (Sydney) gave a programmatic keynote in which she recovered imperial and post-imperial Austria’s international past as both historical phenomena and historiographical imperative. There was a “new movement amongst historians,” she explained, “to take off the ideological blinders imposed by an older national and state-centric view of the international past and to recover a neglected history of transnational experiences and ideas.” Seeking to rezone those internationalist experiences into mainstream historical narratives, she surveyed a broad tableau of thinkers and projects, including well-known figures like Karl Polanyi, Robert Musil, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, Heinrich Lammasch, Alfred H. Fried, and Egon Ranshofen Wertheimer, as well as lesser known ones like Erwin Hanslik (with his Institut für Kulturforschung) and Emmy Freundlich. Riffing on the “weltösterreichische” program of Robert Musil’s famous fictional salonnier Diotima, she showed how individuals from the Habsburg lands were “inventors as well as interpreters of the main trends of the new internationalism,” and how images of the “national” and the “international” were enormously changeable (and entangled) in this period.

The first panel, “Empires and States: Public Campaigns, New Claims, and Political Legacies” opened with MICHAEL DEAN’S (Berkeley) paper “The Imperial Internationalism of Small States: Czechoslovakia and the League of Nations, 1918-1938.” Dean reconsidered the new literature on the mutual implication of imperialism and internationalism (especially by Mark Mazower) through the prism of a “small state” (Czechoslovakia) rather than a great power. Small states proved a powerful vantage point onto these problems because of their deep reliance on international cooperation and organization. Czechoslovak political actors, Dean showed, embraced the language of imperial internationalism and staked their own claim to participation in the mandates system as a civilized state capable of supervising others further down the civilizational chain. Claims and vocabularies of this sort reveal the “changing shape of empire” in the interwar order.

The reconfiguration of polities and their languages of self-description likewise featured in the papers of ZOLTAN PETERECZ (Eger) and REINHARD BLÄNKNER (Frankfurt Oder). Peterecz traced the shifting relationship between Hungary and the League of Nations and the latter’s role in shaping the contours of the post-Trianon Hungarian State. Despite its dissension from the League’s underlying assumptions, Hungary felt compelled to engage in the new institution for want of other plausible means of revising the reviled Treaty of Trianon, illustrating the diverse motivations and the complex webs of mutual reliance that characterized international institutions and their work in the interwar years. After much internal debate and tense international diplomacy, the financial reconstruction of Hungary relied upon financial aid from the League (the “high point between Hungary and the League of Nations”). The League was also called in to mediate crucial conflicts between Hungary and Romania over landownership and reparations, with mixed success.

Blänkner, meanwhile, unearthed a little-known episode in which the the intellectual history of late- and post-imperial Austria tangled together with diagnoses for the interwar settlement in unexpected ways. The International Studies Conference, established 1928 under the auspices of the International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, convened conferences in 1936 and 1937 on the notion of “peaceful change”: how could the international order bend and adjust to new configurations of power while avoiding war as the primary avatar of change? At the 1937 conference, three scholars – including two of Austria’s most famous intellectuals from the period, Eric Voegelin and Otto Brunner – addressed the question in the context of “Danubian problems,” and argued forcefully that any assessment of the means and mechanisms for change must take central account of the “political ideas” and ideological make up of the population. Austria remained an endless source of tension for the Danubian settlement because from the outset it had a “will to non-existence” (Voegelin) – a desire for union with Germany that needed to be explained out of the intellectual political history of the Monarchy, which itself lacked mechanisms for “peaceful change.” On the eve of the Anschluss, these intellectuals knitted imperial, republican, and international orders into a common conceptual fabric.

Few issues exposed the deep implication of imperial legacies and the dilemmas of the interwar settlement like the question of national minorities. Yet, as STEFAN DRYOFF (Bern) observed in the opening paper of a panel on the subject, Austria is rarely mentioned in the literature on the League and minorities, ignored in favor of German, Jewish, and to a lesser extent Hungarian contexts and connections. In uncovering the Austrian heritage of a broad array of the key political figures and scholars, Dryoff made a plea to study this history “from its beginning” and not from its “end phase” in the late 1930s, when “German” minorities were more centrally organized and directed by the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle in Berlin. Many key “German” campaigners (in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, for example) in fact stemmed from the imperial lands and were steeped in those traditions. In the enormous scholarly literature that sprang to life soon after the minorities treaties were signed, nationality politics in the Austrian half of the old empire formed “the most important reference point” and scholars from the former Habsburg lands were among its leaders, with Prague connections particularly prominent (viz. Rudolf Laun, Heinrich Rauchberg, Leo Epstein, Emil Lingg, Josef Kunz, Joseph Rouček). When the important international associations discussed minority questions, the Habsburg legacy was front and center – especially at the Congress of European Nationalities, whose headquarters lay in Vienna. On the institutional side, the role of the Czechoslovak government and petitions from Czechoslovakia shaped the League’s minorities section in more pronounced ways than Polish politicians who did not have comparable access to section head Erik Colban. What is needed, Dryoff concluded, is an “interlaced and transnational history of minorities and nationalities questions” that decentralizes Germany’s role and integrates Austrian and Czech archival research with the League archives and the literature of international history more broadly: “Contrary to the assumption of most scholars it was not the Polish-German antagonism that originated transnational discussions around the minority protection system, but the Austrian-Czech struggle on nationality rights.”

BÖRRIES KUZMANY (Vienna) took an alternate path through the same domain, tracing the fate of the Habsburg idea of national-personal autonomy in the interwar minority protection organizations. He cited the influence and precedent of national “compromises” in Cisleitania (Moravia, Budweis, Bukovina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Galicia) and the theoretical models developed by the Austro-Marxists Karl Renner and Otto Bauer. Figures like Rudolf Laun digested these Habsburg experiences in drafting proposals on the protection of national minorities for the Central Organisation for a Durable Peace. If Laun’s proposal was rejected by the peace conference in favour of a more individualized model of minority rights, various iterations of corporate rights were in circulation, and were discussed in Paris especially in connection to Jewish issues. Activists in the the Committee of Jewish Delegations like Leon Reich (from Austrian Galicia) used the Austro-Marxist vocabulary in his submissions for the Paris conference, and the debates of the Congress of European Nationalities likewise invoked features of the Austrian national-personal autonomy idea: “The transfer of this idea could follow direct lines, but very often occurred on indirect, concealed and winding paths.”

If Kuzmany explored versions of the personality principle in circulation amongst interwar Jewish political groups, JANA OSTERKAMP (Munich) zoomed in on the protean legal status of Jews at the moment at the moment of imperial collapse, exploring how group subjectivities mapped onto legal structures as one order replaced another. Zwi Perez Chajes, controversially elected Vienna’s chief Rabbi in 1918, served as Osterkamp’s foil. In the context of Emperor Charles I’s late official promise for an empire rebuilt around the principle of ethnic federalism on October 16, 1918, Chajes secured Charles’ approval for the recognition of Jews as an official nationality – a legal category from which a range of constitutional rights flowed, including collective autonomy in matters of schooling, language, and culture. This late sanction of the notion of Jewry as a nationality caused great controversy in the Austrian Jewish community: while some (particularly in Zionist circles) viewed it as a great triumph, Viennese Jewish liberals declared a Jewish “nation” to be an East European problem far removed from the lifeworld of the modern Western Jew; and the Viennese Orthodoxy, for their part, feared the prospect of nationality replacing true religiosity. This contested landscape of political-legal group identity persisted into the post-imperial order and shaped debates about the status of Jews both in postwar Austria and in internationally-oriented organizations like the Austrian Jewish League for the League of Nations. Having belatedly won a place in the empire’s regime of nationality law in the moment of its disintegration, Jews faced a similar set of tensions in defining and securing a legal-national status between religion and nationality and between the minority system in Europe and the mandate system in the Middle East.

NATHAN MARCUS (St. Petersberg) used a close case study to confront an influential counterfactual claim about the efficacy of the League’s experimental system of minority protection. Carol Fink and others have argued that the League’s efforts were in fact counterproductive, as they rewarded greater politicization which led to the escalation of conflict rather than its reduction. Might governments and minorities have dealt with their differences more effectively without the option of involving the League? Marcus presented minority conflict in South Tyrol as an example well adapted to testing Fink’s claim: here was a minority problem resulting from the Paris peace treaties that did not fall within the jurisdiction of the League’s minority system (as Italy was not required to sign a minority treaty). Did the fact that neither Germany nor Austria could formally bring the case to Geneva diffuse conflict? In some senses, the formal boundaries of the League’s jurisdiction were not decisive, in that the League “became a focal point for the struggle between defenders of South Tyrolean minority rights and the Italian government.” Yet the lack of a legal basis did prevent Austria or Germany officially involving the League over the Italianization of South Tyrol. The defense of national minorities tangled messily with security considerations and realpolitik: inter-state conflict between Vienna and Rome over South Tirol was largely avoided because of Austrian desire to have new international loans approved, which Italy threatened to derail of more was made of the Tyrolean minority: “Faced with a choice to support its struggling economy or back the national struggle of its minority in Italy, the Austrian government considered Volkswirtschaft more important than Volksgemeinschaft.” Seemingly, the fact that the League could not be brought in, and that no minority treaty regulated the situation, “made this kind of choice possible.”

A third panel on “national delegates and international work” opened with MADELEINE DUNGY’s (Cambridge, Mass.) paper on the League of Nations Draft Convention on the Treatment of Foreigners. The Draft Convention was a radical and innovative attempt to create an international code that removed the penalties and obstacles that placed foreign nationals at a commercial disadvantage – and one that proved pivotal in attempts to define the economic role of the League. Under its auspices, the League would have become the guarantor of an international regulatory order that expanded the League’s purview far into the domain of national legislation. Concerns about trade relations among the successor states played an important role in this history of international commercial regulation: the text of the convention itself had origins in a Vienna Chamber of Commerce memorandum of April 1926 authored by Richard Riedl. Dungy explored Riedl’s political motivations and regional vision: Riedl envisioned a continental economic system that would “consolidate Austro-German influence in Central Europe,” with Vienna as an “oriental marketplace” bridging East and West. The failure of the convention, Dungy argued, proved more revealing than its early success, because it exposed the tension between the dual imperatives of economic reconstruction in Europe and a more universalistic understanding of commercial liberty. Moreover, the Draft Convention likewise exemplified a broader friction that played out over the course of the twentieth century between states’ imperative “to support a globally integrated free-market system while simultaneously restricting access to national labor markets and social resources.”

In a paper on Polish, Hungarian, and Czech experts active in international bodies, KATJA NAUMANN (Leipzig) highlighted twinned processes of “nationalization and inter- or transnationalization.” She framed the immediate postwar years at the intersection of two major historical narratives: one that focused on abrupt change through the birth of a new order of self-determination and national states in 1918-1919, and another that stressed a longer arc of internationalization stretching from the mid-19thC to the 1930s. At the same time, she sought to sew together new literature on experts in East Central Europe with that on international organizations. She argued that networks and experiences from previous forms of “cross-border cooperation,” which in this context had an imperial bent, were crucial to the League’s capacity to remake an old order, establish its authority, and “open up new fields of global regulation.” She relied on three case studies: Count Albert Apponyi, the long serving parliamentarian and Hungarian’s representative in the League Assembly; Stansilac Špaček, a Bohemian civil engineer, who drove an international movement of “scientific management” focused on the technical improvement of industrial production and which led to the founding of the International Management Institute; and the bacteriologist Ludwik Rajchman, who shaped interwar international health efforts from his perch as director of the League of Nations Health Organisation. All three knew how to “work the international,” with a wealth of experience in the mechanics of international organisation, especially in moving between different “scales of action” and in internationalizing their projects. They were useful to the League because of their subject-related specializations as well as their expertise in how to do international work.

MADELEINE HERREN (Basel) presented a rich and ethnographic paper on the League’s international civil servants as engineers of world politics. The international civil service in Geneva, she argued, was a sphere of personal reinvention and self-fashioning, as well as a workshop for the production of a new sort of global person. Taking Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer as a key case study, she reconstructed the lifeworlds of the League’s civil servants, exploring their lifestyle and its materiality (including the transport of possessions like cars and pianos), cultures of sociability and self-presentation, ties to “national” identities, dilemmas of loyalty and neutrality, and paths of career development. Wertheimer invoked Austria-Hungary as a model of supranationality, and channelled experiences of two “failed” international orders (Austria-Hungary and the League) into advice for the nascent UN in his 1945 work The International Secretariat – A Great Experiment in International Administration.

The fourth panel tracked epistemic communities and networks of experts. SARA SILVERSTEIN’s (New Haven) paper “Healthcare and Humanism” made a powerful case for Central Europe as the field in which the Polish physician Ludwik Rajchman (director of the League of Nations Health Organisation) and his colleagues pioneered new understandings of public health as “something more than a state’s concern.” Further, this transnational story was embedded within “imperial legacies of administration, legislation, and personnel in the health fields.” As the typhus epidemic of the immediate postwar years made palpably clear, good health was dependent on factors that did not stop still at state borders. Nevertheless, interwar public health projects continually ran up against traditional understandings of state sovereignty: did all people, irrespective of the funds or inclinations of their particular state, have a right to share in scientific advances that could improve their own health and the greater good? To what extent did and should the state mediate between international (medical) knowledge and the health of its citizens? Silverstein traced the gradual evolution of international health programs that not only fostered collaboration between states but increasingly transcended state frameworks altogether. This new field of international health work placed great emphasis on its responsiveness to particular local and social conditions – a reaction to the war and its structures of mobilisation as well as a critique of medical education in the Habsburg empire that was ostensibly too focused on abstract research. All in all, in driving a change in ideas about the way science should relate to society, a Central European medical elite adopted aspects of old imperial laws and structures while reimagining those links for a new and pragmatically-minded order.

DAVID PETRUCCELLI (Vienna) redirected our gaze from liberal internationalist ideas to illiberal ones. He explained how, after earlier hesitation, the League was drawn into the domain of international crime in the 1930s as a result of the activism of the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC) and a group of jurists (led by Romanian jurist Vespasien V. Pella) campaigning for the international unification of penal law. The ICPC, known today as Interpol, was established in Vienna in 1923 and part of the geopolitical vision of Vienna police president and sometime Austrian chancellor Johannes Schober. These groups responded directly to the social and political dislocation wrought by the war in East Central Europe: theirs was an emphatically post-imperial internationalism, fed by fears of political unrest, revolution, and cross-border crime. They “sought variously to rollback, circumvent, and supersede key elements of liberalism that had pervaded legal thought and policing in the 19th century and that served as a founding ideal for the League of Nations.” Their star rose as Geneva’s original agenda waned in the 1930s. This illiberal turn involved a number of re-conceptualizations: until that point, issues like the traffic in women and the drug trade had been conceived as social problems rather than crimes. This revised framework would shape the UN’s subsequent approach to these offences. Both groups understood international criminal policy as a means of securing “their countries’ continued existence,” and offered a sophisticated legal critique of a liberal order that placed the interests of the individual, rather than those of (international) society and “social defence,” at the center.

MICHAEL BURRI (Philadelphia) likewise explored the internationalisation of Austrian experts in a paper on Clemens von Pirquet and the creation of the child as an object of international concern. Having lost its surrounding multinational empire, Vienna arguably became more internationalized in the 1920s, as the subject of elaborate international salvage efforts. This process was most apparent in “global resources devoted to emergency relief to children,” with some 80 international organisations establishing offices in Vienna, and a whole cohort of entrepreneurial humanitarians establishing reputations, institutions, and networks. Foremost among them was paediatrician and director of the Vienna children’s hospital, Clemens von Pirquet, who personified the internationalisation of Austrian public health in this period, masterminding the humanitarian relief effort to feed hungry children in Austria after World War One (providing 300,000 meals a day in 1920). The number-obsessed Pirquet pioneered a new set of anthropometric tests designed to measure child nutrition and development. Practises of assessing and documenting children were built into the delivery of aid: the hungry child morphed into a “large-scale experimental subject” and generated an enormous archive of health data that fed Pirquet’s intense interest in the “medicalization of statistics,” sharply distinguished from more socially-oriented methods of analysis. These biomedical projects tangled with geopolitical considerations: Rockefeller funding of the relief effort was designed to stave off health contagion (typhus, influenza, and other epidemics) as well as the political contagion of Bolshevism, in an understanding of international order that tied child nutrition in Vienna to peace and security across the continent.

Vienna appeared more marginal to international projects in JOHANNES FEICHTINGER’s (Vienna) presentation on Austria’s involvement in the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. The Committee sought to give assistance to countries in which intellectual life had been most disrupted by the war and its aftermath, and judged Austria to be chief among them. In 1922, the economic and social historian (and former rector of the University of Vienna) Alfons Dopsch was chosen as a “corresponding member” of the Committee and tasked with reporting on the state and needs of intellectual life in Austria. To that end, he conducted a vast survey of Austrian academic life and set up an Austrian sub-committee that later served as a role model for the Committee’s program of intellectual exchange between countries. Dopsch, who sought to use these platforms to reintegrate Austrian in the “Western intellectual system,” grew frustrated with the Committee’s French orientation and its failure to implement his suggestions, and eventually lost faith in the value of formal intellectual cooperation for the Austrian scientific community.

In the conference’s final panel, PATRICIA CLAVIN and MARY COX (Oxford) offered and empirically and conceptually rich paper on the internationalisation of hunger in Vienna and the “invention of ‘positive security.’” They presented Vienna as a “global node” in which the hunger crisis, born of the war and imperial collapse, “mobilized and shaped international networks that generated norms” and rules about humanitarian aid that were in some cases “institutionalized in a new global order.” The “scientific opportunity” of the crisis had methodological as well as political consequences. A preoccupation with observation pervaded relief efforts: “the search for demonstrable results in international intervention in child welfare was crucial in legitimating claims to organizational agency at the time,” a theme that still animates research on humanitarianism today. If the hunger crisis “helped to build the agency of the League of Nations in the sections of Health, Society and Finance,” Clavin and Cox revealed how “food security in Vienna and Austria connected to wider discussions about the basis of international security after the First World War.” The financial and food crises were linked: while the League’s management of Austrian hyperinflation generated norms for currency stabilization, food aid likewise “gave crucial ‘ground level’ impetus to the practical agenda of the League of Nations.” In grasping this interconnected picture, and in paying more attention to the League’s actual activities rather than the abstract agenda of Jan Smuts and his colleagues, we might arrive at a richer understanding of security that moved beyond the simple protection of frontiers.

JÜRGEN NAUTZ’s paper on economic experts focused on Richard Schüller (born 1870 in Brno, studied in Vienna), a distinguished scholar and civil servant in both imperial and post-imperial Austria. Carl Menger’s favourite pupil, Schüller came of age in the context of the Viennese school of economics and the Methodenstreit. He argued against the notion that unrestricted free trade was “advantageous from the international point of view”: contra Hayek, protection was not inherently wrong. Nautz deemed him a “new sort of ministry official” who did not act in the background, but became a prominent figure in his own right, exploiting both the media and private networks. Involved centrally in post-imperial Austria’s foreign trade and monetary policy as well as more international approaches to the economic problems of the successor states, Schüller preferred the creation of regional market areas when faced with limited success at the level of international policy. In her paper “Financing the new Czechoslovakia,” ANTONIE DOLEŽALOVÁ (Prague) reported on Czechoslovakia’s fiscal policy in the interwar years in light of the connection between balanced state budgets and international credibility, and explored ruptures and continuities with Austro-Hungarian traditions of budgeting. While some basic Austro-Hungarian fiscal laws remained in place in the new state (and Austrian taxes were transposed onto the new state), certain innovations represented a rupture with that imperial legacy, and each Minister of Finance initiated changes to those inherited structures.

All told, the conference probed the various ways we might understand the empire’s regime of supranational administration alongside the League’s version of the same, which followed quickly on its heels. The paradoxes of this period emerged clearly into view: some toiled to construct new state borders in the very same moment that others developed new techniques for transcending them. Perhaps more than any other region, interwar Central Europe compels us to view the twinned process of nationalization and internationalization in the same historical frame. “After Empire” likewise proved extremely effective at exposing the interconnectedness of different regional challenges and their remedies: fiscal, national, social, health, intellectual, and political crises twisted and melted together in unpredictable ways. If this interconnectedness proved especially visible on the ground in Central Europe, then the regional approach might allow us to write histories that are not beholden to the League’s own categorization of different domains of governance and organization of knowledge. In this way, the conference pointed forwards to a new phase of the League’s historicization, and simultaneously suggested the contours of a new, unsentimental and non-provincial history of the empire’s disappearance that was far more engaged with current developments in the fields of international and transnational history.


How do we write the international history of economics? On August 7, a group of historians of economic internationalism attempted to answer this question, in a panel organized by the Laureate Research Program in International History at the World Economic History Congress in Kyoto. Spanning WWI-era attempts to set up a peacetime global economic organization, the activities of Australian labor activists in interwar China, the World Bank and the Aid-India Consortium in the 1950s, and the early days of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the papers sought to excavate the long twentieth century history of cross-border economic organization and visions of the world economy. They also began a rich and nuanced conversation about international economics that will be continued in July 2016 in the Laureate’s Scales of Economy conference.

The panel opened with an introduction by Glenda Sluga, who also wrote her own observations of the experience in Kyoto in a post for this blog on August 8. In her introduction on the day, Sluga placed the recent surge of interest in the history of international political economy in the context of the wild popularity of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013). As she noted, international institutions are notably and surprisingly absent in this and other recent blockbuster works on inequality, which tend to focus on economic management by nation states as opposed to multi- or inter-national organisations. Such discussions are of course directed at contemporary political debates; nonetheless, Sluga suggested that, if we take them as the starting point of a renewed historical interest in global inequality and attempts to ameliorate it, we risk losing the international context of many of these debates in the twentieth century. This possibility makes the work on international economic history undertaken by the following four panelists all the more critical and timely.

In the first paper Jamie Martin (Harvard) examined the economic implications of the technocratic internationalism that underpinned the interwar League of Nations. He began by tracing the wartime discussions about an inter-Allied project to manage the global economy, which he convincingly demonstrated were key to the later international economic policies pursued by the League. As Martin argued, the wartime goals of the Allies were repurposed for postwar use, undermining the League’s claims to economic neutrality and supposed promotion of peacetime economic objectives. Accordingly, throughout the interwar period the League’s economic programs were infused with a deeply politicized split between former allies and former belligerents, premised as they were on the permanent economic subordination of the Allies’ wartime enemies. Furthermore, the almost immediate postwar ‘red spectre’ of Bolshevik Russia was used to justify the expansion of the League’s precursor, the Supreme Economic Council, in 1919, which in turn laid the groundwork for the wide-ranging economic powers later claimed by the League’s technocrats.

Sophie Loy-Wilson (Sydney) continued the chronological focus on the interwar period, shifting from Geneva and Paris to Sydney and Shanghai. Her paper discussed the efforts of Australian labor activists to lobby for a reform of factory conditions in 1920s and 1930s China. As she argued, Australian union officials saw the rapidly industrializing China, and Shanghai in particular, as a site to ‘civilize capitalism at its inception through labor regulation.’ Anti-colonial sentiment fueled this engagement, as figures such as the Australian Eleanor Hinder saw China’s struggle against Britain as a humanitarian struggle against capitalism. In this way, these activists infused interwar internationalism with the language of class struggle and labor rights, a context that is often left out of histories of humanitarianism in this period. The activities of the Australians in Shanghai also left their mark, as Hinder drafted a series of factory acts in the 1930s and wrote about the harsh conditions among the city’s industrialized labour force in her report ‘The Long Hard Day in China,’ which raised international interest in the plight of the Shanghai workers. Loy-Wilson’s paper thus served to provincialize, to a certain extent, our classic accounts of internationalism focus on Europe and North America, highlighting the alternative configurations of ideas about class and colonial rights produced within the Asia-Pacific region.

In the third paper, David Engerman (Brandeis) traced the story of the Aid-India Consortium, a story he argued allows us to see the postwar dreams of global governance up close and personal. The Consortium, founded with Nehru’s support under the aegis of the World Bank in 1958, was supposed to channel and support foreign aid to India in an era in which both the Soviet Union and United States were attempting to garner ‘third-world’ support through specific aid projects in South Asia. Nehru hoped that the Aid-India Consortium would facilitate the provision of ‘non-project aid’ which would allow the Indian government more autonomy in funding development. However, tensions soon arose between donors, the Indian government, the Soviet Union and the United States. The World Bank did not, for example, approve of the rapid expansion of the public sector in India in the 1950s and 1960s. Soon, early commitments to non-intervention on the part of the Consortium gave way to attempts to influence the direction of Indian economic policy. In the end, Engerman argued, India was hardly in a position to benefit, as economic internationalism might have reconfigured power differentials but did little to diminish them.

The final paper, by Francine McKenzie (Western) recreated the early days of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the precursor to the World Trade Organization founded in Geneva in 1947. Like that of the Aid-India Consortium, the story of the GATT highlights the limits as well as the possibilities of global governance. Reflecting the tenor of the time, in its early days the explicitly liberal internationalist GATT pushed the notion that freer (if not entirely free) trade would raise global standards of living. Initially signed by 23 countries, the methodology of the organization was supposed to be multi-lateral, but it was also universalist, meaning that one set of processes was meant to work for all members. This led to an emergent tension in the organization, as more states from the developing world joined and decried the unfairness of global trade relations. By the 1960s, it became clear that although developing countries constituted the majority of GATT members, they were unable to use it to their advantage. Both Engerman and McKenzie thus underlined some of the limits of economic internationalism as it was practiced in the twentieth century, particularly for newly decolonized states fighting against an unequal global distribution of economic power.

As Eric Helleiner (Waterloo) argued in his role as discussant, all four papers highlighted the long history of engagement of international organizations with the crucial question of inequality. The political and discursive meanings of ‘inequality’ are not, however, unchanging over time. Helleiner suggested that there are three distinct if interrelated scales at which ‘inequality’ is produced: the domestic, the international and the global. While the interwar focus was squarely on domestic inequality - that is, the gap between rich and poor within a given state, the post-1945 debate shifted to the question of international inequality – inequality between nations. This shift was not inevitable and needs to be explained by historians. By understanding this shift better, we may be able to more clearly understand why international organizations today seem to be returning to domestic inequality as the key economic problem to be fought. Furthermore, it might help us to bridge the gap and form a better understanding of what truly global equality would look like. Stay tuned for more attempts to historicize international economics and global inequality at the Scales of the Economy conference in July 2016!


The ‘international turn’ is well and truly upon us. Over the past two decades, the rise of international history has plucked long-forgotten historical actors from obscurity, bred new historical methodologies, and brought new subject matter to the fore. In doing so, international history has reconfigured how we think about histories of politics, economics, and women, alongside the national, the transnational, and the global. But what might the study of memory have to add to this new international history?

On 19 and 21 August 2015, an interdisciplinary group of scholars convened first in Sydney and then Melbourne to answer this question, and to launch the Laureate’s ‘Sites of International Memory’ project. The project aims to recover sites of international memory as ‘memories’ of internationalism, global governance, and intellectual cooperation, in an era of nation-states. The two workshops were sponsored by a number of organisations: the Laureate Research Program in International History; the Australian National Commission for UNESCO in connection with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage at the University of Melbourne. Across the two days, speakers considered how sites of international memory have figured within national and international histories. The particular sites in question were conceptually and temporally diverse: from buildings to ideas to postage stamps. Lively discussion attended each paper, as participants hashed out what this project might look like. These conversations are set to continue well into the future, with edited volumes and future events planned with Madeleine Herren (Basel), Davide Rodogno (Geneva), and Peter Becker (Vienna).

The Sydney workshop began with an introduction from Professor Glenda Sluga, the project’s director and Laureate head. Professor Sluga posed a number of stimulating methodological and epistemological questions for the project, and drew attention to Michael Rothberg’s work on memory, in particular his conceptual framework for studying ‘noeuds de mémoire’ (‘knots of memory’). Subsequent discussion amongst workshop participants highlighted Rothberg’s emphasis on a multidirectional approach to memory, and how this might play out in relation to sites of international memory. Jay Winter (Yale) delivered the first paper of the day, in which he argued that the Historial de la grande guerre—the international museum of the Great War, founded by Winter and others in 1992 in Péronne, France—functioned as a transnational site of memory. Winter pointed to the use of the horizontal axis in the organisation of the museum, and an interest in authenticity over verisimilitude, as a means of enacting transnational memory. Marco Duranti (Sydney) continued this focus on physical space with a paper on the 1913 Peace Palace of the Hague. As Duranti explained, the Palace blended neo-Renaissance architecture with Christian and humanist iconography. This pre-modern aesthetic, Duranti argued, was reflective of an early twentieth-century romantic internationalism, which sought to unite opposing political groups behind a common internationalist cause. Finally, Roland Burke (La Trobe) explored postage stamps commemorative of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as constitutive of transnational and international memories.

The Melbourne workshop opened with a panel on UNESCO and its place in the Sites of International Memory project. Jens Boel (UNESCO) spoke first about UNESCO’s Memory of the World project—which aims to preserve and promote documentary heritage—and how sites of international memory might be protected. The focus of the panel then moved closer to home, as I (in the role of Laureate affiliate and researcher) surveyed the rich archival record of UNESCO’s involvement with Australia. My report formed part of the ‘Documenting UNESCO in Australia’ project, which seeks to recover this history of UNESCO in Australia, and which focuses in particular on the research areas of migration, cultural heritage, natural sciences and world heritage. Participants then benefited from a series of papers by major practitioners in museum and cultural heritage studies. William Logan (Deakin) assessed the prospect of Gelibolu (Gallipoli) being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and what this might mean for memories of the First World War in Turkey and Australia. Anoma Pieris (Melbourne) compared Pacific War commemoration at two sites of wartime internment in Australia and the US, arguing that the seemingly innocuous architecture of settler colonies assumes a more violent undertone when associated with racist conflict. Turning to contemporary practices in museology, Jennifer Barrett (Sydney) probed the tensions between universalism and human rights discourses as central to the activist platform of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums. Lastly, Andrea Witcomb (Deakin) tracked the development of what she termed a ‘pedagogy of feeling’ within museum practices: a pedagogy designed to facilitate affective encounters between visitors and the past.

Ultimately, these workshops were an exciting sign of things to come. Workshop discussions flagged numerous avenues for future engagement between this new international history and the history of memory, and participants were coaxed into taking serious the possibility for interdisciplinary engagement. All this bodes well for the future of the Sites of International Memory project.


Just back from WEHC—the World Economic History Conference—in Kyoto, where the daily temperature was a relentless 37 and more. (It seemed apropos that the location, the Kyoto International Conference Centre, was once home to Kyoto Protocol negotiations). I was there because a panel I had put together on behalf of the Laureate Program in International History had been accepted, an historical intervention by a group of historians who study international politics and economic history, at the meeting of an international history organization more usually home to economic historians who use numbers to answer questions about the past, but increasingly drawing the attention of culturally-focused scholars of trade, as well as economic life.

Precisely because the WEHC conference is rarely on the circuit of cultural, political or intellectual historians, it seemed a useful testing site for one of the central aims forof the Laureate program: encouraging new conversations among international historians about the significance of economics. I was extremely fortunate to gather support for the idea of a panel from Francine Mackenzie (Western), whose international economic history credentials are impeccable—she is a historian of the GATT. We organized the panel intending to discuss the ‘international’ framing of Thomas Piketty’s Capital. By the time we collected an excellent team, there was no time for Piketty (I will work that up for a forthcoming series of columns in the German review, Merkur). The final panel featured in speaking order: Laureate affiliate Jamie Martin (Harvard) , Laureate postdoc Sophie Loy-Wilson (Sydney), David Engerman (Brandeis), Francine Mackenzie (Western), and Eric Helleiner (Waterloo) as the commentator bringing it all together.

Laureate postdoc Philippa Hetherington will be reporting on the panel in a separate blog. I’ll just say that from my perspective it was a valuable experience particularly because of the individual papers. Each constituted a critical intervention into twentieth century history—whether economic ideas, economic practices, or economic life—seen from an international perspective—whether international institutions, or international relations, or international imaginaries. Each presentation brought into question component premises of existing narratives—whether of international development history, US foreign policy, the role of non-state actors in the dissemination of a wide range economic ideas, the place of international institutions and organizations in the history of states or non-state politics and economics, and just how those relationships and roles were negotiated or came into being. So rich pickings for the new international history, and those historians conversations with the new history of capitalism. And lots of interest and excitement generated (no small thanks to the contextualization brought to bear by Eric Helleiner, whose scholarship traverses the disciplines of pol sci, IR, history, pol eco in innovative ways. As importantly for the Laureate, the panel underlined the questions driving our own projects: Can we fruitfully disaggregate the history of the international from our analyses of globalization, especially when it comes to economics, and if we do what do we find? What place does a concept such as economic internationalism have in this history?

More to come, from the Laureate International History Program—Philippa, Sophie, me and others, and not least, the forthcoming ‘Scales of Economy’ project, which takes up all these questions, and more. Stay tuned to the Laureate site.


Human trafficking, ‘people smuggling’ and clandestine migration are some of the most politically volatile issues in the present day. What much contemporary commentary misses, however, is that illicit migration has a history, both as a social phenomenon and as a focus of (international) governmental regulation and public moral panic. On June 18 to June 20 2015, a number of scholars of trafficking came together at Birkbeck, University of London, to discuss this history, with particular reference to the emergence of the notion of ‘traffic in women’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as one manifestation of public, state and international organizations’ concern about clandestine movement. The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, the Laureate Research Program in International History at the University of Sydney, Birkbeck School of Law, and the Economic History Society of the UK sponsored the conference. Across the three days, speakers sought to critically engage with the category of ‘traffic in women,’ or sex trafficking as it is more often known today, by placing it in the broader context of histories of labour and migration as foci of global regulatory concern. The result was a stimulating conference, in which speakers discussed issues as diverse as migrant prostitution in eighteenth century St Petersburg and the negotiations around CEDAW in the 1970s and 1980s. Participants are now involved in the formation of a lively international network of scholars interested in historicizing trafficking, with more workshops and events planned for the future.

The first day began with ‘Girl Traffic, White Slaves and Circulating Narratives,’ a panel on civil society activism around prostitution and trafficking from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Rachel Atwood explored the work of the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women in Britain between 1899 and 1910, a highly visible anti-white slavery organization that sought to rescue Jewish migrant girls from the threat of prostitution. Atwood argued that, although the well-to-do members of the JAPGW saw their work as part of the struggle against anti-Semitism and xenophobia in fin-de-siècle Britain, in fact it discursively linked Jewish migrants and crime, something that exposed the members’ own prejudices about their poor, East European coreligionists. Next, Stephanie Skier explored the German manifestation of the white slavery narrative, and in particular the nuances of the term mädchenhandel, or ‘girl trafficking.’ As Skier argued, concern about mädchenhandel in late nineteenth century Germany contributed to the formation of a ‘para-bureaucracy,’ the proliferation of small organizations, some state based and others partially non-state, that attempted to bolster the crime- and illicit migration-fighting capacities of the state. Laura Lammasniemi then examined the implementation of the criminal law reforms targeted at stopping white slavery in fin-de-siècle Britain, starting with the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. As she argued, the 1885 act was highly significant not least because it created for the first time the category of ‘involuntary prostitute,’ a move that at the time was almost accidental but later proved highly salient to attempts to exclude and make deviant certain kinds of female work. Finally, Ira Roldugina spoke about ‘foreign’ or migrant prostitutes in eighteenth century St Petersburg, drawing on a set of newly-discovered sources from the ‘Kalinkinskaia Commission’, an attempt by the local government to locate women selling sex across the city. From her examination of these files, Roldugina was able to conclude that ethnically German women were highly influential in the internal organization of the prostitute community in the period, and migration was thus a key structuring force in commercial sex even before the nineteenth century.

The second panel of the day considered the ‘Conceptual and Methodological Challenges of Historical Trafficking.’ The panel opened with Philippa Hetherington, who used a set of early twentieth century interviews with women who consular authorities believed had been trafficked from Russia to Istanbul as an entry point into exploring theoretical questions of ‘agency’ and ‘truth’ that emerge when we historicize trafficking. Hetherington argued that, while these interviews can help us to see the disjunctures between narratives produced by these women’s would-be ‘saviors’ and narratives produced by the women themselves, neither source constitutes the unmediated ‘truth’ of whether or not trafficking occurred in this period. Next, Paul Knepper considered the micro-history of a particular case unearthed by the League of Nations in their 1927 Inquiry into the Traffic in Women. The pre-conceptions with which League activists approached the case, concerning a jazz singer and prostitute in Panama, highlighted for Knepper the importance of new, supposedly ‘objective’ social scientific methods of 1920s which nonetheless fit complex stories about movement and commercial sex into a small number of pre-conceived categories. Finally, Petra de Vries explored the fin-de-siècle Dutch anti-white slavery campaigns, with particular reference to the production of an ‘ideal victim’ in their discussions about forced movement for the purposes of prostitution.

Friday June 19 opened with a panel on tracing migrant prostitute networks in Eastern Europe, Britain and the Middle East. Elizabeth Bishop began with a discussion of prostitution and attempts to suppress the traffic in women in imperial and mandate Iraq. As Bishop argued, the narratives that emerge from this region speak less to the classic model of kidnapping and forced prostitution common in ‘white slave’ accounts, and more to complex systems of debt bondage that drew women into commercial sex and made it hard to leave. Next, Keely Stauter Halsted explored the interwoven nature of trafficking panic and emigration panic in nineteenth century Poland. As Stauter-Halsted argued, in the Polish case a panic over outmigration became a panic about commercial sex, and young women became a concern only because so many of them were leaving voluntarily in this period. Next Pamela Cox and Amanda Wilkinson gave a joint presentation on using census data to trace high-class migrant prostitutes in nineteenth century Britain, arguing that careful archival work makes it possible to find the previously obscure voice of the migrant sex worker in this period. Nancy Wingfield closed the panel with a study of prostitution on the Austrian Riviera and particularly in Trieste in the nineteenth century, in which she emphasized the spatial links between train lines crisscrossing the Habsburg Empire and purported trafficking networks.

In the next panel of the day, entitled ‘International Governance: Views from Geneva,’ Eva Payne opened with a discussion of the American activists involved in the interwar League of Nations Traffic in Women committee. As Payne highlighted, the Committee was a key site through which progressive Americans could extend both American internationalism and moral imperialism. Next Sonja Dolinsek brought us into the postwar era, with a discussion of the transnational advocacy networks responsible for pushing the anti-trafficking conventions of the past fifty years. Dolinsek highlighted the connections as well as tensions between apparently disparate strains of feminist advocacy around the 1949 UN anti-trafficking treaty and the later anti-trafficking protocol, arguing that the classic binary between ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ feminist approaches prostitution is insufficient for understanding the competing political claims of the drafting processes. Finally Eileen Boris explored the gendered understandings of worker protection put forward in the interwar by the ILO, for whom protection of female migrants was supposedly a key goal. Boris highlighted the distinction between what she called the ‘culture of protection’ and ‘protective legislation,’ in this period, arguing that the ILO accorded male migrants far more agency than female migrants when considering how to best ‘protect’ them.

Opening for the next panel, entitled ‘Implementing Anti-Sex Trafficking Laws,’ Julia Martinez introduced the participants to the history of Japanese prostitution in Australia, and in particular the story of the karayuki-san. These women, Martinez argued, were involved in well-established networks of circular labor movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ensuring the regular arrival of Japanese women in the antipodes, and posing a governance problem for an increasingly xenophobic Australian state. Next Jessica Pliley explored the central role of anti-white slavery work in the early twentieth century formation of the FBI in the US. As she recounted, the US immigration department and FBI worked closed in this period, as a result of which domestic anti-vice law and immigration law operated in a symbiotic relationship through overlapping repertories of border control to exclude potentially ‘immoral’ women. Finally Torsten Feys examined the role of international shipping companies in circumventing and enforcing migration laws between 1882 and 1929. He argued that the common conception that migrants were exploited by shipping companies seems not to have been generally true, as it was in the companies’ business interests to build a reputation as safeguards of migrants’ physical and moral health.

The final panel of the day, ‘Marriage and Illicit Migration,’ concerned fictitious marriages and their role in real and imagined migration flows. Mir Yafitz explored the role of religious marriage as a real and imagined route for bringing young women from Eastern Europe to Argentina in the early twentieth century. In the Jewish diaspora in Latin America in this period, attractive younger men played an important role in recruiting for prostitution, as they could encourage experienced women to take the risks that the ‘marriage migration strategy’ required. Julia Laite continued this theme, discussing attempts by British authorizes in the 1930s to identify ‘sham’ marriages that they assumed were covers for illicit migration networks. As Laite emphasized marriage was (and is) one of the most porous borders through which people migrated, and the inspection of intimacy to identify whether a given marriage was ‘real’ brought the state firmly into peoples’ everyday lives. Finally, Irene Meissinger examine three compelling narratives of sham marriages designed to save individuals from Nazi repression during the 1930s and 1940s. As she demonstrated, transnational political and familial networks facilitated the movement of oppressed groups (particularly Jews, homosexuals and communists) from Nazi Germany to the UK via the ‘illicit’ migration strategy of organized marriage.

The final day of the conference opened with a different kind of illicit migration: that of Polish nationals into the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. For the panel ‘Tracing Clandestine Networks,’ Maria Blackwood detailed this (paradoxical) illicit cross-border movement into Soviet space, arguing that NKVD investigations into some of these individuals teach us much more about continued cross-border ethno-national ties in the Soviet Union than we have previously known. Next Victor Peirera detailed illicit emigration from Portugal to France during the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar between 1957 and 1974. Much as Feys sought to rehabilitate shipping companies, Peirera argued that we need to reassess the role of the ‘smuggler’ in illicit migration, as his research has found that smugglers were loath to exploit migrants, if only to ensure they maintained a good reputation back in Portugal as trustworthy migration agents. In the third talk, Jean Pfaelzer explored the forced movement of native women in North America, linking the dispossession of indigenous inhabitants of Alaska to the indenture of Chinese women in the nineteenth century. For Pfaelzer, the story of nineteenth century US expansion is one in which the trafficking of women has played an almost continuous role, raising questions about what we mean when we say ‘trafficking’ and how we understand the genealogy of the practice.

In the next panel, ‘Beyond Trafficking: Gender, Culture and Illicit Migration in the Recent Past,’ Ann de Shalit and Katrin Roots gave a joint paper exploring current Canadian anti-trafficking policies. They highlighted the ways in which laws against trafficking have been used to target migrant domestic workers as well as prostitutes, and found few if any examples of ‘trafficking’ even as defined by law. Next up, Jacqueline Berman related a case study of an anti-trafficking panic in Bosnia in the early 2000s, specifically around the supposed trafficking of Bosnian women by UN officers as well as representatives of a private US security firm. As her research found, the main UN and US response was to conduct ‘bar raids’ in Bosnian towns which served to intimidate local sex workers, while the evidence of trafficked women gleaned from these raids was ambivalent at best. In the last paper on the ‘contemporary world’ panel, Mary Buckley surveyed the field of anti-trafficking work in contemporary Russia. Relating a fascinating set of recent polling data, Buckley found that individual Russians polled about trafficking were much more likely to blame women than men for being trafficked, highlighting the continued gendered nature of trafficking discourse in the contemporary context.

The final panel of the conference, ‘Slavery, Trafficking and Smuggling,’ explored the discursive links between concepts of ‘slavery’ and ‘trafficking’ in both historical and contemporary contexts. In the opening paper, Faith Marchal analyzed the political meanings of involvement in the underground railroad in nineteenth century US, and drew links between anti-slavery activism in this period and contemporary efforts to end trafficking. Next, Joel Quirk approached the questions from a less flattering angle for the nineteenth century abolitionists, arguing that the terms in which abolition were framed actually contributed to the civilizational discourse that later justified colonialism in Africa. As Quirk argued, abolitionism always set up a stark binary between saviors and supplicants, and further tied slavery to a politics of exception in which it was falsely juxtaposed with forced labor, helping to dichotomize slavery and the systems of indenture on which colonialism was predicated. Finally, Deliana Popova explored the analytical framework of securitization as one in which trafficking has been corralled in contemporary discourse. As she argued, this process can be seen in the removal of trafficking from the human rights category in international law and its insertion in the criminal law category, thus (falsely) identifying it a problem of border security and not of individual rights.

After the final panel, the participants had an opportunity to reflect on the previous three days and ask where we can go from here. Discussion highlighted a number of key red threads running throughout the papers: the symbiotic relationship between international and domestic law vis-à-vis trafficking and the need to pay equal attention to international and domestic governance structures; the potential utility of analyzing sex trafficking and other forms of so-called people smuggling or clandestine movement in the same analytic framework; and the need to engage in rigorous theoretical discussions around key concepts of agency, choice, and coercion that frequently appeared in papers but were not always carefully defined. Fortunately, there should be more opportunities to discuss these issues in greater depth, as the organizers plan to use the conference as a jumping off point for a further series of workshops, conferences and publications in the next three years. More information about the program can be found at and live tweets from the conference can be found using the hashtag #traffickinghistory.


Conference: The Black Sea in the Socialist World

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

Early last month, Laureate postdoctoral fellow Philippa Hetherington took part in an intellectually rich conference on the comparative and connective history of the Black Sea region at Birkbeck, University of London. The workshop was convened byJohanna Conterio, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck, and part of the Wellcome Trust-funded project The Reluctant Internationalists: A History of Public Health and International Organisations, Movements and Experts in Twentieth Century Europe, led by Dr Jessica Reinisch. The February event, ‘Landscapes of Health: the Black Sea in the Socialist World,’ brought together historians working on both the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, and explored the idea of the Black Sea region as a particularly important node in the geography of socialism. Coinciding with the sixtieth anniversary of the Yalta Conference (4-11 February 1945), the conference highlighted the unique position of the Black Sea in international history, as well as in the economic, social and cultural history of tourism, health, and migration in the region.

Mirroring the international focus of the conference, speakers came to Birkbeck from across the world, including Russia, Australia and Switzerland as well as Texas, California and Illinois. The opening panel explored the singular trajectory of the Black Sea in the Cold War. Samuel Hirst (European University, St Petersburg), spoke about the shared antipathy of both Soviet and Turkish policy-makers towards Western economic dominance in the 1920s. As Hirst explained, for a brief moment in the interwar period, anti-Westernism and economic cooperation bound the Soviet and Turkish states into an unlikely trans-Black Sea alliance. In her examination of the transnational politics of Soviet deaf activism, Claire Shaw (Bristol) turned from Turkey to France, exploring the sites of miscommunication and misunderstanding between French and Soviet understandings of welfare and support for deaf communities. Finally, Stephen Bittner (Sonoma State), discussed the visit of international wine experts to the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, on the invitation of the Soviet wine industry. As Bittner outlined, definitions of ‘taste’ and ‘quality’ vis-à-vis wine proved fundamentally untranslatable, as wine occupied a different social role for the Soviets and their guests. All three papers emphasised the contingent nature of cross-cultural cultural and economic ties between the Soviets and their neighbours, and highlighted the importance of attention to the ruptures, as well as the points of connection, produced by trans-national ties.

The second panel discussed population mobility on the Black Sea, through the prisms of both short-term travel (for tourism) and long-term departure (emigration and defection). Diane Koenker (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) explored the particular place of Black Sea tourism in the internationalization of Soviet culinary tastes. Any visitor to the former Soviet Union will notice the ubiquity of Georgian cuisine across the region: Koenker uncovered the longer history of this love affair with shashlyk, which she explained was complicated by fears of Caucasian ‘danger’ alongside a desire for ‘Eastern exoticism.’ Mary Neuberger (University of Texas, Austin) gave the first paper of the day focusing on Bulgaria, tracing the highs and lows of the country’s Black Sea resort industry since 1949, and particularly the initially highly successful Balkanturist state tourism agency. Erik Scott (Kansas) explored the politics of the Turkish-Georgian border in the post-war Soviet Union, highlighting the importance of studying immobility alongside mobility in the migratory dynamics of the region. He then discussed a notorious example of a defection from Georgia, on a plane traveling from Tblisi to Trabzon, and the long lasting effects of this event on the imagination of the space between Turkey and Georgia. Finally, Philippa Hetherington (Sydney) spoke about the importance of the Black Sea as a ‘laboratory of mobility’ in the interwar period, and in particular the special place occupied by displaced Russians crossing the sea in the refugee regime instigated by the Nansen Office at the League of Nations.

The final panel of the first day focused on a topic particularly close to the heart of the Reluctant Internationalists project: the Black Sea as a site of experimentation in health resorts after 1945. Juliana Maxim (San Diego) discussed the architecture of early Romanian socialist resorts from the perspective of art history, arguing that the bright new seaside resorts of the late 1950s operated as vehicles of cultural engineering, turning a ‘backward’ region into a hub of socialist modernity. Johanna Conterio (Birkbeck) emphasised the Black Sea as a site of aesthetic exchange, through which the Soviet authorities learned a new architectural language of ‘mass healthcare resort’ from their Bulgarian and Romanian neighbours.
As she pointed out, examples such as this are an important corrective to a historical narrative that assumes the Soviet Union always imposed its political and aesthetic preferences on the rest of the Eastern Bloc. In the third paper, William Nickell (Chicago) examined the instrumental use of Sochi as the ‘model resort’ within Russia and the Soviet Union since the 1930s, and its role as a palimpsest serving as a paradigm of both socialist and capitalist development. Arguably, it was more viable in the former incarnation than in the more recent latter, and Nickell ended by speculating that new development plans in the city would be undermined by their decidedly un-democratic nature.

Day two of the conference opened with a rich panel on mapping, both literal and imaginary. Kelly O’Neill (Harvard) discussed a remarkably diverse set of maps inspired by the archeological exploration of the Russian/Ukrainian Black Sea Coast since the eighteenth century. As she argued, maps of the Black Sea, and visualizations of its archeological riches, could convey highly disparate ideological messages, from presenting the coast as a sum of its ports, to highlighting the great distances between the origin point of archeological treasures and their homes in museums. Susan Grant (University College, Dublin) explored the production, and sometimes unraveling, of Sochi as the ideal ‘place of rest’ through the perspective of the ‘middle’ health care workers, the nurses and feldshers who tended to patient needs for health through ‘cultured rest’ from the 1930s to the 1970s. Finally, Ruxandra Petrinca (McGill) introduced conference participants to 2 Mai and Vama Veche, two Romanian socialist-era resorts that she argued were ‘oases of individual freedom’ for the middle-class holiday-makers in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, participants learned about the various ways in which the Black Sea Coast was imagined as site of historical authenticity, idealized space of health, and even rare arena for political freedom, in the context of socialism(s).

Rounding off the conference, three distinguished discussants summed up the weekend's proceedings and pointed to directions for future research. Diane Koenker (Illinois, Urbana Champaign) highlighted the need to pay more attention to both gender and class in our analyses of the region, and to question whether we are writing specifically connective histories of the different national spaces around the Black Sea, or more comparative ones. Elidor Mehilli (Hunter College) reminded participants that the Black Sea historically was not only a space of mobility and freedom, but also a space of Communist careerism, political posturing and the socialisation of Communist elites. Further, he raised the question of whether the socialist model of interconnectedness across this space was distinctive. Valeska Huber (German Historical Institute, London), meanwhile, called speakers’ attention to the need to think about the space of the sea itself, and not merely the coastline, and thus to engage with maritime historians who have discussed the social and cultural role of water. She also reiterated the need to historicize not only the dynamics of movement across the region, but also of immobility - moments of acceleration and deceleration in population and cultural exchange, as well as points of flow and spaces of blockage.

Ultimately, this conference sought both to place the Black Sea region in the burgeoning scholarship on global and transnational history, and also to problematize both comparative and connective perspectives on the region. Participants agreed that thinking more broadly in terms of the region as an ‘inter’ or ‘trans’-national space, albeit one ideologically divided at specific moments along nationalist lines, was enriching for scholars of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. However, many participants also felt that it was important to remember how national boundaries were also reified at various points in the twentieth century, and processes such as cultural, economic and population exchange could sometimes serve to concretize imagined notions of essential difference, rather than break them down. Podcasts of the discussions at the conference are available here; readers are also encouraged to look out for the proceedings of the conference, which are to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Slavonic and East European Review


Moving Idea: Methodological Challenges of Chasing Post-National Histories
A Symposium with Professor Benjamin Zachariah
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
University of NSW
13th February 2015

Last week a symposium entitled ‘Moving ideas: Methodological Challenges of Chasing Post-National Histories’ was held in the Faulty of Arts and Social Sciences in the University of New South Wales to honour the work of historian Benjamin Zachariah. The symposium featured a keynote from Professor Zachariah (University of Heidelberg) as well as papers from Dr Samia Khatun (University of Melbourne) Associate Professor Kama Maclean (University of New South Wales) and Dr Roanna Gonsales (University of New South Wales).
The aim of the symposium was to “reflect on the moving of ideas, and of the methodological and practical difficulties a historian has in tracking them.” Moving on from “the blandishments and glossy catalogues of ‘transnational’, ‘global’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ ones,” papers at the symposium sought out alternative methodologies for the movement of ideas beyond “regional blocks of thinking.” Papers were presented on the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne in 2004, the spread of Fascism and Aryan ideologies in Northern India in the 1930s, the mobility of Islamic texts and storytelling in the nineteenth century Indian Ocean World and the spread of theosophy and internationalism in India and Australia in the interwar period. Each speaker engaged with the twin concerns uniting the diverse topics of the symposium: the challenge of writing a South Asian history of mobility across diverse linguistic and cultural divides when much academic work continues to be divided into area studies and splintered fields of regional specialisation.
The workshop was the brain-child of Associate Professor Kama Mclean, whose current Australian Research Council funded Discovery project, 'Imagining India in White Australia: Inter-colonial Relations and the Empire', explores the extent and impact of social and political relationships between Indians and Australians in the early twentieth century through “sites of meaningful cosmopolitan exchange” such as the League against Imperialism and the left-leaning Theosophists society both of which espoused internationalist sentiments of universal brotherhood. Associate Professor Maclean spoke of the project as an exploration of the degree to which membership of the empire constrained but also enabled a certain imagination of India in Australia from federation to the 1950s.
Prof Zachariah opened the symposium by reflecting on one of the dominant methodological debates of the past decade; the trend in ‘marking border crossing’ in history and the legitimacy of transnationalism as an effective category of historical analysis. Noting that the term has been accused of lacking ‘descriptive bite’ Zachariah said that “transnational methodologies can seem to re-inscribed and underline the very national borders they seek to transcend.” Building on arguments made by David Harvey in ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Banality of Geographical Evils,’ and Paul A Cohen in ‘Re-discovering Discovering History,’ Zachariah laid out an alternative methodology for tracing the movement of ideas which he called “an intermediate history of ideas.” Posing the question, “What happens when simplistic polarities are not available?” he argued that historians of internationalism have been more successfully than transnational historians in “tracing and tracking the movement of ideas.”
Calling “internationalism” a neglected candidate in the field of South Asian history, Zachariah posited the following definition of international history:
It has come to mean something relates to states’ relations with one another, whereas it was once invoked for solidarities that disregarded the interests of states and strove for unity and solidarity of a different kind. The proletarian internationalism of the pre-First World War world was paradigmatic in this regard, although it was more aspirational than real.
He then proceeded to examine the spread of both internationalist and fascist ideas amongst northern Indian elites in the interwar period noting the plasticity of fascist ideas in the early 1930s. This detailed intellectual history was presented as a corrective to global histories of fascism which are overly weighted towards the Holocaust “the ideas we call fascist have been over determined by the end product – that is Auschwitz and Hitler’s final solution.” Zachariah sought a more complex reading of the spread of Fascism in India which took into account the religious beliefs of Indian fascists who translated Fascist terminology into the Northern Indian context. He argued that historians interested in tracing the influence of ideas “at least at a rarefied level” needed to take into account the following “inventory of variables”: language, context and ‘terms versus ideas’ (the Begriffsgeschichte approach).
The next paper was presented by Dr Samia Khatun on “Reading a Begali Puthi in Broken Hill: In translation from British India to the Australian Interior.” In her paper Khatun explored the movement of ideas from British India to the Australian colonies in the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. As a case study, she traced the movement of one book of poetry printed in Calcutta in 1894 CE to a mosque in Broken Hill, constructing a methodology of reading texts and writing history that illuminates the social networks that sustained the movement of ideas from British India to Australia. Cutting across the metropole/periphery circuits of motion that haunt the field of intellectual history, her paper explored the possibilities of drawing upon historiographical traditions beyond the Anglo sphere to write histories of ideas in motion between British settler and franchise colonies. Ultimately, Khatun’s paper mapped out entire knowledge systems in which her mobile text sat – knowledge systems which, she argued, existed outside of the categories of Empire, Colony and Rule.
Associate Professor Kama Maclean’s paper followed an Australian Communist, Jake Ryan, who in 1928 travelled to India funded by the Pan Pacific Secretariat to take part in the All India Trade Union Congress. His mission, to urge the later to affiliate with the former, was ultimately unsuccessful, but his visit to India demonstrates the fluidity of ideas, including failed ones. As Mclean demonstrated - Ryan travelled at a time when ideas about what constituted communism were not yet fixed, and the Comintern was transitioning into its third period, which would emphasise moving away from collaboration with bourgeois nationalists and political parties. These forces would pitch nationalism against internationalism, and Jack Ryan against the Communist party.
This was an innovative workshop which playfully challenged the lexicon of the global history of ideas. And by highlighting new and exciting work from South Asian scholars, the workshop took established debates over mobility and transnational history and imagined them afresh.