Beyond Versailles. Governance, Legitimacy, and the Formation of New Polities after the Great War

Beyond Versailles. Governance, Legitimacy, and the Formation of New Polities after the Great War

Marcus M. Payk, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Roberta Pergher, Indiana University Bloomington
Vom - Bis
21.05.2015 - 23.05.2015
Patrik Schmidt, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Historians now look beyond great power diplomacy and metropolitan centres to explore how the world changed in 1919. The relatively recent upsurge in research on the transformation of international order after the First World War has considerably broadened our understanding of the truly global scope of this process. Ahead lies the challenge to further expand our historiographical outlook to grasp the consequences, evolving practises, local repercussions and contestations of this new global order. In order to find new and innovative ways to tackle this challenge, Roberta Pergher (Indiana University Bloomington) and Marcus Payk (Berlin) organised a workshop that met in Berlin from May 21–23 with support from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Indiana University Bloomington and HU Berlin’s Kosmos programme. Providing insights into ongoing research projects on the interwar period, the workshop covered a broad range of topics that included the administrative complexities of self-determination, the remaking of citizenship, the reconstruction of gender norms in international politics, the new ‘humanitarian’ rationale of colonial exploitation and the Catholic Church as a transnational actor in an age of national homogenisation.

Starting with the first panel’s presentations, BRENDAN KARCH (Louisiana State) provided the workshop participants with an overview of his research on the 1921 plebiscite in Upper Silesia, which asked the local population to vote on whether it wanted the region to be part of Germany or the new Second Polish Republic. A closer look at the referendum’s result shows, Karch argued, that in a climate of economic and political insecurity, the vote did little to force more people into self-identifying primarily along ethnic division lines (rather than class or confession). JESSE KAUFFMAN (Eastern Michigan University) presented a research project in its early stages that also focuses on the heavily contested German-Polish border region in the years from 1919 to 1939. Through an analysis of the aggressive political-cum-scientific campaigns in both Poland and Germany that aimed to strengthen claims on these lands, Kauffman showed how inevitable the political language of national self-determination had become in the post-Versailles world. The ensuing discussion, chaired by VOLKER PROTT (Tübingen), explored the problematic consequences that the strong homogenising drive of self-determination created within an international system riddled with new and old insecurities.

On Friday, ISABELLE DAVION (Paris) shed light on the complex problems the Allied powers, and France in particular, encountered in implementing a plebiscite in Teschen Silesia. Wartime promises to the future states of Poland and Czechoslovakia, the imposed referendum and constant attempts of various actors to take matters into their own hands led to an explosive situation. Soon, the limits of both traditional great power arbitration and new Wilsonian ideas of international order became very visible. Looking at the post-war German-Austrian Republic, JOHN DEAK (Notre Dame) used the prism of institutional transformation to trace the cumbersome transition from multi-ethnic empire to nation state. The incipient Republic’s decision to terminate the employment of all “non-German” state officials collided with the practical and judicial realities of Austria-Hungary’s multi-ethnic legacy. Legal definitions of nationality that functioned as agents of homogenisation in a world of complex multi-ethnic realities were also at the core of JEFFREY CULANG’s (New York) presentation. Culang sought to locate the emergence of a specific Egyptian nationality within a history of colonial and imperial “governmentality” that was perpetuated well into the age of the “Paris System” (Eric Weitz) and Egypt’s limited independence after 1922. ROBERTA PERGHER (Indiana University Bloomington) explored the unique ways in which Fascist Italy merged colonial and national modes of government in its annexed territories in North Africa. The fascist argument for the ‘nationalisation’ of Libya through large-scale population transfers, Pergher argued, still echoed the rhetoric of the Paris order but was in fact an outright contestation of it. KATHRIN KOLLMEIER (Potsdam) and other discussants highlighted language, religion and race as the primary categories that defined inclusion and exclusion in the post-Versailles word. What was the role of legal experts and the social sciences in defining these categories? How can historians – in the spirit of a history from below – understand the ways in which people dealt with such categorisations?

The third panel was dedicated to post-war internationalism and new actors on the diplomatic stage. DAGMAR WERNITZNIG (Oxford) presented an account of Rosika Schwimmer’s short-lived diplomatic career as Hungarian ambassador to Switzerland in 1918/19. While the structure and normative tenets of the international order were shifting, the realm of diplomatic service witnessed a swift reconstruction of traditional gender roles, as Schwimmer and others soon had to learn. Drawing on new archival insights, NADINE AKHUND (Paris), sought to portray the evolution of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s wide array of activities, which ranged from peace education and the promotion of international law to fact-finding missions in war zones. Akhund underlined that the Great War and its aftermath meant not so much a turning point for the Endowment’s outlook but rather led the board to further strengthen internationalist concepts and programmes it had considered essential before the war. STEFAN DYROFF (Bern) used the League of Nation’s archives to examine how individual League representatives chose to fill their respective roles within the legal framework set by the Minority Treaties. Dyroff found that, with notable exceptions, League officials in the early 1920s were poorly qualified for their tasks, often had a national rather than an internationalist outlook and showed little interest in interacting socially with the local population in Greece and Bulgaria, Danzig or the Saar Basin. ISABELLA LÖHR (Basel) summarised that all three papers reflected on both institutional and individual dimensions of the new forms of governance that emerged with the Paris order. What Löhr felt was needed, however, was an analytical framework that would carve out what exactly was new about these novel forms of diplomacy and international politics.

THIES SCHULZE (Münster) in turn spoke about a very old transnational organization, the Catholic Church, which was facing new challenges as state borders were being redrawn. While the church generally supported the realignment of diocesan borders with newly established state borders, in some instances, such as the re-annexation of Alsace to the French Republic, it also acted as a counterforce to national homogenisation. With high-level diplomatic support from the Holy See, Alsatian clergymen continually opposed attempts to ban the use of German in religious education. MICHELLE MOYD (Indiana University Bloomington) presented her ventures into the hitherto overlooked historiographical territories of Tanganyika’s transition from German colony to British Mandate territory in the years from 1916 to 1925. Her research project is primarily interested in how the Tanganyikans themselves experienced this transition, which was accompanied by severe economic hardship and famine during the war and afterwards. Ultimately, Moyd wants her project to serve as a contribution to the yet-to-be-written history of the First World War that incorporates more fully the perspective of non-European/non-Western societies. Along with other contributions of this workshop, TIMOTHY NUNAN’s (Harvard/ Berlin) analysis of how Iranian intellectuals envisioned future modes of sovereignty for a post-war Iran can certainly be considered a part of such an effort. Nunan looked primarily at the writings of the influential intellectual and politician Seyyed Hassan Taqizādeh and his Berlin-sponsored anti-colonial wartime magazine Kāveh. Above all, Nunan stressed the temporal contextuality of the Iranian discourse on self-determination, internationalism and imperialism. As the political realities changed, different visions of international order were readily adopted to the Iranian setting, from Mitteleuropa ideas to Wilson's Fourteen Points. Anti-colonial, anti-European and nationalist arguments were blended with tropes from the discourse of civilization, emphasizing Iran’s status as an integral part of European civilization and history. Marcus Payk recapitulated that the peacemakers in Versailles envisioned an international order based on a system of European-styled nation states. Yet, Payk continued, the three papers had made it very clear that parallel systems, like the transnational hierarchy of the Catholic Church, continued to exist or even expanded, such as the British Empire. Still other visions of international order guided the anti-colonial movement as well as the communist and fascist regimes that came to power after 1917.

On Saturday morning, MIGUEL BANDEIRA JERÓNIMO (Lisbon) addressed the interconnectedness and various syntheses of these different visions of international order. Jerónimo pursued the argument that systematised colonial labour exploitation was still thriving in the post-Versailles world precisely because a new “moral economy” of Empire was part and parcel of the League of Nations project. With the League, it’s mandate system and bodies such as the International Labour Organization a set of norms, forums and reporting mechanisms was established that went hand in hand with a peculiar imperialist-humanist internationalism that pushed for an ever more ‘rational’ utilisation of colonial resources and manpower. CAIO SIMÕES DE ARAÚJO (Geneva) looked into the silence that surrounded issues of race in the League’s diplomatic forums, where it had made such a bold entrance with the Japanese Racial Equality Proposal. Araújo used the example of Portugal, a small state whose status as an imperial power was anything but unchallenged, to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the politics of race and empire at the League. Calls to abolish racial inequalities went largely unheard, Araújo found, because race was so deeply entrenched in colonial administration and the League’s imperial humanitarian discourse that it became practically invisible. AIMEE M. GENELL (Yale) offered a different take on the interconnectedness of old and new ideologies. Ottoman leaders in 1918 embraced Wilson’s Fourteen points because in spite of the anti-imperial tone of the document, granting autonomy to the Arab Provinces (in line with Article 12) seemed to offer a viable route to protect the integrity of the empire against the ambitions of the European powers. Reflecting on the three papers, MARIA FRAMKE (Rostock) noted that the striking ways in which imperial rule was reconfigured in the interwar period could serve as one analytic gateway to a comparative and more comprehensive perspective on some of the prominent objects of interwar historiography, from the League of Nations to the concept of (imperial) citizenship and even the networks of anti-colonial movements that opposed this reconfiguration.

In what ways did the workshop achieve its aim to go “beyond Versailles”? In the final discussion Roberta Pergher stated that the papers and discussions had managed to overcome many of the divisions that sometimes still separate historians of different areas, different national historiographies, historians of empire and historians of internationalism and international organisations. In doing so, Pergher added, the workshop had also demonstrated that the self-determined nation state, to which contemporary discourse attached such paramount importance, has to be seen against the backdrop of all the continuities, radical contingencies and parallel hierarchies of governance that the workshop had explored. DOROTHEE WIERLING (Hamburg) agreed, but maintained that historians have to be careful to avoid the pitfalls that come with such widened perspectives, especially with regard to concepts such as nation, statehood or empire that could take on very different meanings in different contexts across the globe. MARK ROSEMANN (Indiana University Bloomington) raised the important question if, given these complexities of historical reality, there was still something identifiably distinctive about the interwar era then. Brendan Karch again pointed to the advance the state and the modern concept of statehood that came out of Versailles as a defining characteristic of the age. Taking up on this in his final statement, Marcus Payk specified that above all it were the new ways in which the state was conceived as the prime device for the regulation and normativization of international order that had been explored in this workshops contributions – from the unforeseen dynamics of Wilsonian self-determination, the design and workings of the League of Nations to the ‘nationalization’ of Empire with the proto-states of the mandates system.

Judging by promising work in progress discussed at the Berlin workshop, it will be fascinating to see to where the journey “beyond Versailles” will lead these projects. What we can certainly hope for is a wide range of new insights into how great ideas and great power calculations shaped and were shaped and transformed by a very complex post-war world.


Welcoming Remarks

Marcus M. Payk (Humboldt University of Berlin) and Roberta Pergher, Indiana University Bloomington

1. Session: Plebiscites and Political Aspirations
Chair/Comment: Volker Prott (Tübingen University)

Brendan Karch (Louisiana State University), Making and Resisting National Borders in Central Europe

Jesse Kauffman (Eastern Michigan University), National Self-Determination and Political Legitimacy after Versailles: The German-Polish Borderlands, 1919–1939

Isabelle Davion, Sorbonne (Paris IV), The Impossible Plebiscite in Teschen (1918–1920): How to Put the Genie back into the Lamp?

2. Session: The Making of Nationals in the Postwar World
Chair/Comment: Kathrin Kollmeier (Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam Potsdam)

John Deak (University of Notre Dame), Fashioning the Rest: Forging “Austria” in the Aftermath of the First World War

Jeffrey Culang (City University of New York), “The Unmixing of Peoples”: Nationality and Religion in Colonial Egypt

Roberta Pergher (Indiana University Bloomington), National Claims and the Rights of Others: Italy and its Newly Found Territories after the First World War

3. Session: Postwar Internationalism
Chair/Comment: Isabella Löhr, Basel University/ Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentrum Geschichte und Kultur Ostmitteleuropas/Leipzig University)

Dagmar Wernitznig (University of Oxford), Beyond Reconstruction. Rosika Schwimmer (1877–1948), New Polities, and Old Governance

Nadine Akhund (Sorbonne-Identités, relations internationales et civilisations de l'Europe, Paris I), The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: A Newcomer in International Affairs

Stefan Dyroff (Bern University), International Monitoring and Governance Beyond Legal Frameworks. Minority Protection and International Administration by the League of Nations in East Central Europe

4. Session: The Limits of Influence—Power Centers and Peripheries
Chair/Comment: Marcus M. Payk (Humboldt University of Berlin)

Thies Schulze (Münster University), Religious Values, Nations and Ethnicities: The Roman Catholic Church and the Post-Versailles Order

Michelle Moyd (Indiana University Bloomington), From Colony to Mandate: Postwar Governance and Local Meanings in Tanganyika, 1916–1922

Timothy Nunan (Harvard University/Humboldt University of Berlin), Iranian Visions of Nationalism and Inter-Nationalism in a World At War

5. Session: Empire in the Age of Self-Determination
Chair/Comment: Maria Framke (Rostock University)

Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo (Lisbon University), Internationalism and the Post-War Standards of Imperial Civilization: The Case of Colonial Native Labour (1919–1939)

Aimee M. Genell (Yale University), Woodrow Wilson in the Ottoman Empire

Caio Simões de Araújo (Graduate Institute Geneva), Equality in Versailles and Beyond: the League of Nations, Empire and Race in the Interwar Period

Final Discussion

Roberta Pergher (Indiana University Bloomington)

Dorothee Wierling (Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg/Hamburg University)

Mark Roseman (Indiana University Bloomington)

Brendan Karch (Louisiana State University)

[1] Adam Tooze, The Deluge. The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931, London 2014; Robert Gerwarth / Erez Manela, The Great War as a Global War. Imperial Conflict and the Reconfiguration of World Order, 1911–1923, in: Diplomatic History 38 (September 2014), 4, S. 786-800; Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment. Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism, New York 2007; Patrick O. Cohrs, The Unfinished Peace after World War I. America, Britain, and the Stabilisation of Europe, 1919-1932, New York 2006; Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers. The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War, London 2001.
[2] Eric D. Weitz, From the Vienna to the Paris System. International Politics and the Entangled Histories of Human Rights, Forced Deportations, and Civilizing Missions, in: The American Historical Review 113 (2008), 5, S. 1313-1343.

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