Underground Publishing and the Public Sphere. Comparative and Transnational Perspectives

Underground Publishing and the Public Sphere. Comparative and Transnational Perspectives

Jan C. Behrends (WZB, Berlin), Thomas Lindenberger (ZZF, Potsdam), and Franz Mauelshagen (Historical Seminar, Zürich)
Wissenschaftszentrum für Sozialforschung, Berlin
Vom - Bis
27.07.2006 - 29.07.2006
Mauelshagen, Franz

The Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung and the Historical Seminar of the University of Zürich will jointly hold a conference on Underground Publishing and the Public Sphere. We invite international scholars to present original research relating to the subject in July, 2006, at WZB, Berlin.
The conference will consist of key-lectures, panels presenting original research, and a concluding round table.

Theme of the conference:

Absolute monarchies as well as modern dictatorships of the twentieth century strove for far reaching control of the public sphere. To achieve this goal, they used censorship and the agencies of their political police against opposition and non-conformist groups that would not bow to state-control of the public sphere. We assume that in both – absolute monarchies and modern dictatorships – specific cultures of underground publishing emerged. As has been suggested by recent historical research on the public sphere, the conference seeks to carry out large-scale diachronical comparison. We assume that political underground literature in both the systems of the Ancien Regime and the totalitarian state was surrounded by a “web of discourse” and (cross-border) networks of writers, printers, and distributes, thus making it a field of transnational history. The literary underground was, however, not isolated from the ruling classes of the “Leviathan”. We believe that underground publishing had a greater impact on the development of societies than the generally low circulation of its products may suggest.

The planned international WZB-conference is a first-time attempt at investigating the phenomenon of political underground literature in a comparative and transnational perspective. The enterprise seeks to bring together experts on the theory of the public sphere, historians of absolutism and experts on underground publishing in modern dictatorships such as Nazism and Communism. The geographical framework for case studies shall reach roughly from France to Russia, but is open to include non-European cases such as Communist China or Apartheid South Africa. Senior experts and young scholars will be given the opportunity to present new original research. National surveys are as much in demand as detailed studies on social, intellectual, and cultural aspects of underground publishing or on theoretical questions concerning the structural change of the public sphere. The influence of “counter-publics” on the revolutions of 1789 and 1989 may also be a question of debate.

Research questions:

From a comparative and transnational perspective we seek to address the following questions:
- What role did underground publishing play in different authoritarian systems? Did it undermine political governance? Or can – in some circumstances, at least – stabilizing effects be attributed to it? How did it relate to the official political discourse?

- By which means did political authorities react to the challenges of underground literature? How did the relationships between “counter-publics”, censors and police-states develop?

- Can the change of discourses, reading cultures, and conditions of governance from the Ancien Regime to modern dictatorships by both their attempts at dominating the public sphere be described as a process? What was “modern” about the totalitarian state? What are the structural similarities with pre-modern systems of rule?

- How did underground reading cultures develop? Which were the transregional or transnational networks of production and distribution that emerged? How were the book markets—in which underground literature became established—structured? And how did the structures and cultural practices of book markets affect the chances for underground publishing?

- How important did the literary underground become for the public sphere of certain societies at certain times? Can we speak of a counter-public sphere, and how did it relate to official discourse?

- Who were the authors of underground literature? Which role did they play within their societies? How closely were they tied with groups of political resistance? Which risks did they take?

- What were the means and tools – not least the literary ones (e.g. cryptography) – used by authors of underground literature? Can some of them be called “pre-modern”, others “modern”?

Papers should present original research on Underground Publishing in the modern age (1500-2000). They are not geographically restricted to Europe. Indeed, we encourage submission of proposals considering European as well as Asian, African or South American history. Conference languages will be both English and German.

If you wish to participate, please send a one-page proposal summarizing your contribution and a CV to
Dr. Franz Mauelshagen, Historisches Seminar der Universität Zürich, Karl Schmid-Str. 4, CH – 8006 Zürich
(email transmission preferred)
by October 15, 2006. The conveners will be able to provide travel expenses and accomodation for most participants.



Dr. Franz Mauelshagen
Historisches Seminar der Universität Zürich
Karl Schmid-Str. 4
CH – 8006 Zürich

E-mail: f.mauelshagen@access.unizh.ch

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