Climax or Beginning? Modernity, Culture, Central Europe and the Great War

Climax or Beginning? Modernity, Culture, Central Europe and the Great War

Faculty of Arts, Charles University; Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences; Philosophisch-Historische Fakultät University of Innsbruck,
Prague, Czech Republic
Czech Republic
Vom - Bis
24.10.2014 - 25.10.2014
Rudolf Kucera

The year 2014 will inevitably be a year of remembrance and offers to look back at the origins, course and consequences of the First World War. Contemporary reflections, however, tend to oscillate between two poles. One of the classic interpretations is the thesis of the Great War as the "seminal catastrophe of the 20th century." (G.F. Kennan) In this view, the First World War was the end of a golden age, as described in many memoirs and works of art, and a critical foreshadowing of the catastrophic 20th century with its wars, genocides and gulags. According to this point of view the First World War significantly changed the understanding of individuality, which could in certain contexts be reduced to a means of limitless achievement of collective goals.

On the other hand, there is an opposite view that emphasizes continuity instead and sees the First World War as albeit catastrophic, but nevertheless as the result of a deep spiritual and cultural crisis of western modernity. Fin de siècle, according to this thesis, did not represent the "golden age," but an era in the sway of decadent artistic visions, scientific and political irrationalism. First World War was just a climax of a long existing crisis, unfolding in nationalist and chauvinist movements, the repositioning of power centers within the western world and deepening conflicts between western culture and the rest of the world.

The conference will try to analyze and capture these conflicting interpretations from various points of view. Geographically it will focus on a broadly defined central European space, i. e. on the German speaking areas of Europe together with other parts of the Habsburg Empire. Since none of the above-mentioned theses was formulated purely on the basis of classic political history, the conference will strive to connect the perspectives of political science, cultural history, the history of science, historical anthropology and the history of literature, art, psychology and sociology.

Organizers welcome proposals for papers on some of the following thematic areas:

Social sphere:
- Politics of activism: closing the spaces for national, class and political indifference
- Mobilization of the masses: from mass politics to mass armies
- Migrations within great empires and beyond during and after the war
- Role of women in war related/stimulated activities
- Youth in wartime

Cultural sphere:
- The ideal of the individual self in science, literature and art
- The emergence of the culture and philosophy of decay
- Popular culture and entertainments before and during the war (theatres, vaudeville/operettas, movies, concert hall etc.) in urban and rural context
- War as an event that made people “travel” (as soldiers or refugees), write (changed forms of communication) and read

Political sphere:
- Military thought and planning at the eve of the war and changes during the war
- Changes in political leadership during the war, the birth of a new type of charismatic leader

Religious Sphere:
- Situation of religious practices in urban and rural areas before and during the war
- New role of the various churches (Catholic, Protestants, various Orthodox denominations, Greek Latin, Islamic etc.) or their representatives before and during the war

Economic Sphere:
- Kriegswirtschaft re-considered

Please submit paper abstracts of no more than 400 words, along with a short CV, to the email address:

We will notify applicants in March, 2014. If accepted, we will ask for a draft paper by September 1st. 2014. We will cover accommodation to foreign conference presenters. Selected reworked papers will be published as a collective volume.

Conference Scientific Board: Prof. Dr. Gunda Barth-Scalmani (University of Innsbruck), Prof. Dr. Mark Cornwall (University of Southampton), Dr. Phil. Rudolf Kučera, PhD. (Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences), Prof. PhDr. Ivan Šedivý, CSc. (Faculty of Arts, Charles University)



Rudolf Kucera
Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Na Florenci 3, 110 00, Prague 1, CZ