Wars spare neither civilians nor cultural assets - on the contrary, both are repeatedly exposed to targeted aggression. The destruction and plundering of cultural assets, which are considered integral parts of national heritage and identity, are every bit a part of the hostile tactics of war as the instrumentalization of history to justify plans for territorial expansion – Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine providing an extreme example of this. This conduct is a clear violation of the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, an augmented version of the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land ratified in 1907. The effectiveness of this first international treaty (with an antecedent in 1899) aimed at protecting cultural property in the event of war was sorely tested a few years later, during World War I.
This conference sets out to comparatively examine the strategies and practices of dealing with cultural heritage in the various theaters of the First World War. There will be a regional focus Eastern and Southeastern Europe with a further consideration of Asia Minor, where the First World War continued existing confrontations (the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913) as well as regional prolongations until 1923 (including the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Soviet Wars, the War of Independence in the Baltic States, and the Greco-Turkish War).
In order to achieve this, we will need to discuss the preliminary stages and longer-term effects of the concepts developed in those days, as well as the eventual appropriation of cultural assets for the purpose of shaping identities and/or geopolitical goals in the following decades – up to and including the current Russian war against Ukraine.
It was during the First World War that both the Central Powers and the Entente initiated measures for “art protection in wartime” in many theaters of war, and that these were implemented by experts such as art historians, archaeologists, ethnologists, and historians. These measures included the emergency protection of destroyed buildings, protection of movable cultural property, protection against art theft, and the documentation of destruction and loss. For the first time in history the protection of the cultural heritage of a wartime adversary or the occupied territories was a focal point, a fact that should be expressly emphasized in view of subsequent armed conflicts up to the present day.
The staging of one's own commitment and contrasting it with the “work of destruction” of the enemy in words and pictures served as a means of propaganda that all warring parties knew how to use. Conversely, the inventories and research campaigns undertaken within the framework of the protection of cultural assets became the starting point for a process of exchange and appropriation in art and cultural studies that had a long-term impact beyond the interwar period.
Art protection campaigns spanned across large areas of Europe and Asia Minor, and their strategies and practices were similar. In contrast to the military, political or everyday history of the First World War, the cultural-political and historiographic-historical subject area of the protection of works of art and of cultural property has been researched only partially and rarely in a comparative perspective; this applies in particular to Eastern Europe.
In light of this, the following sets of questions should be addressed at the conference:
- Structures and stakeholders of the protection of cultural assets in the different theaters of World War I: case studies and comparative perspectives.
- Between art protection and propaganda: Strategic objectives and practical measures of the protection of cultural property
- Interference and cooperation between local protagonists and their professional colleagues among the occupying forces
- Transnational methodological exchange during the occupation and its reflections in the national(istic) scientific cultures of the interwar period
- Legal aspects: The restitution of cultural property between the disintegrating empires and the newly established nation-states, and their initiatives to establish/construct national patrimonies - demands and achievements
- From a contemporary perspective: Which were the long-term effects of the World War I efforts to protect cultural property? To what extent can they serve as a precedent for today's conflicts?
The conference will conclude the 2020–2024 research project funded by the German-Polish Science Foundation 'Art Protection' in World War I and the Historiography of Art and Culture in East-Central Europe in the First Half of the 20th Century. Stakeholders – Networks – Concepts" (DPWS 2020-11, https://www.bkge.de/Projekte/Kunsthistoriker/Projekt_DPWS.php), which is conducted by the Oldenburg Federal Institute for Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe (BKGE; Robert Born, Beate Störtkuhl) and the Institute of Art History of the Polish Academy of Sciences / Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk (IS PAN; Ewa Manikowska).
The conference is a collaborative project between the Chair of Heritage Studies at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder (Paul Zalewski), the BKGE and the IS PAN. Conference languages are German and English. Based on funding provided by the German-Polish Science Foundation, the costs for travel and accommodation can be covered by the organizers.
A publication of the proceedings is planned within the BKGE series published by De Gruyter Publishing House (https://www.degruyter.com/serial/okg-b/html#overview).
We invite you to send your proposal (max. 1500 characters incl. spaces) for a presentation (20 minutes) with a short CV and information about your current research activities by September 30, 2023 to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.