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
Marcus M. Payk, Professur für Neuere Geschichte unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der westeuropäischen Geschichte, Helmut-Schmidt-Universität / Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg

The First World War brought massive changes to European empires and nations as well as to the international order. It spelled the demise of traditional, authoritarian regimes in Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, new states were born, new borders drawn, new forms of government and political participation implemented, and new rules of citizenship established. The postwar order was shaped by new ideas and practices of “good governance”, by assumptions about the defining characteristics of the nation, and by the contested boundaries between national sovereignty and international responsibility. The forging of a new order was a multifaceted, open-ended, and competitive process that unfolded long after the Paris Peace Conference ended. As empires collapsed or evolved the very substance of what constituted a political community and how it should be governed was up for grabs.

A workshop will be held in Berlin in May 2015 addressing the processes by which new polities took shape – the ideas and concepts which found expression, the forces and institutions that wielded influence and power, but also the experiences and exigencies on the ground that forced international bodies and state makers to rethink their designs. In particular, we seek to explore how the actual governance of new polities was constituted and contested in a complex interplay of local concerns, national ambitions, and international influences. The “new polities” that we hope to discuss comprise the new states and newly annexed provinces as well as newly defined forms of governance, such as the mandate system, and new political players, such as new international and non-governmental bodies. Rather than treading the well-worn path of high-level diplomacy and international agreements, the conference aims to examine how government and non-government actors adapted new concepts of “good governance”, such as self-determination and minority rights, to local conditions. Recognizing that government action is rarely animated by a coherent agenda, we intend to focus on contradictions, cleavages, and individual objectives within a multilayered fabric of political decision-making, state bureaucracy, and regional authorities.

We invite submissions for individual papers that might address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

--- Lessons of war: What wartime experiences continued to shape state practices and governmental decision-making in peacetime? To what extent was the wartime expan-sion of domestic state power retained and translated into the post-war world? How did revolutionary upheavals and the disintegration of state power in Central and Eastern Europe challenge the state as supreme authority?
--- Transfers of power and transitions in state rule: How was legitimacy in ceded territories newly forged? How was the transition from old state authorities to new ones managed; what established state structures persisted on which level? How did the plebiscites held in various territories give rise to a new relationship between the citizenry and the state? How were new international norms mediated and implemented at the national and local level?
--- The locus of sovereignty: What did various players understand sovereignty to mean? Who defined the political and the non-political, both in democratic and non-democratic societies? How did associations, lobby groups, or private interests influence govern-ment authority? What novel role was assigned to corporations, unions, or other asso-ciations, often created or expanded during wartime?
--- Conceptualizing a “world of nations”: What “mental maps” influenced the cession of territory or the relocation of peoples across borders? Which role did scientific knowledge or expert advice play in the formulation of new legal, national, and ethnic standards of citizenship? How were prewar principles of nationality reconceptualized and their significance magnified? What importance did international bodies assign to the sentiments and the aspirations of peoples in a given territory?
--- Governing “others” and monitoring “each other”: How were traditional ideas of state-hood and sovereignty transcended by new forms of international supervision and transnational governance in the post-1919 world, from multilateral commissions ruling internationalized territories to the mandate system? On what idea of statehood did the League of Nations rest; and what role did traditional notions of balance of power play after 1919? How did new normative concepts of nationhood and citizenry underpin ideas of international oversight or “tutelage” on the Arab peninsula as well as in parts of Africa, Asia, or the Pacific? To what degree did the experience and knowledge of administering “backward” peoples and territories in the colonial world reflect back on Europe?

We are looking for contributions presenting case studies that deal with the formation and transformation of territories, peoples, and states after the First World War, as well as contri-butions that deconstruct and historicize generalized notions of “state”, “nation”, or “international system” as basic categories of historical thinking. Realizing that much of the “governing imagination” of the immediate postwar period was Euro-centric, we strongly encourage con-tributions that look beyond Europe. Likewise, we are very much interested in the diversity within Europe itself, suggesting that the European model is anything but uniform and coherent.

The workshop will focus on discussion with papers circulated beforehand among participants. Please send paper proposals consisting of a 250-word abstract, contact information, and a brief CV no later than June 1, 2014 to the organizers at and We hope the workshop will result in the publication of selected papers. We are currently applying for additional funding and hope to be able to provide travel and accommodation for all participants.



Dr. Marcus M. Payk
Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Dr. Roberta Pergher
Department of History
Indiana University Bloomington

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