A two-day conference to be held at the Institute of Historical Reserach, London, 12-13 July 2004.
The Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research invites younger or established scholars to submit proposals for original papers to be presented at a two-day conference on the metropolitan dimension of total war. Total war blurred the boundaries between home and front and transformed cities into battlefields. The logic of total mobilisation turned the social and cultural fabric of urban life upside down. Moreover, large cities and city dwellers became legitimate targets of enemy action and suffered disproportionately from air raids, sieges, genocide, and epidemic diseases in the wake of war. The social upheavals and physical devastation of total war cast a long shadow over the postwar years. Survivors and later generations set out to reconstruct urban life and to search for meaning in the midst of the ruins of their communities.
The imagery of urban disaster preceded the experience of catastrophes. The first strand of the conference, Scenarios, discusses the apocalyptic imagination of intellectuals and experts in peacetime. Artists and writers anticipating doom presented the coming upheaval as an urban event – a commonplace of late-Victorian and post-1918 pessimism. On a different plane, civil servants and engineers materialised visions of urban chaos and devised countermeasures in case of emergencies. Both groups helped to furnish a repertoire of cultural forms which channelled and encoded the actual experience of war. The second strand deals with metropolitan Experiences, notably mobilisation, deprivation and destruction in wartime. Possible themes range from displays of 'war enthusiasm' at the outbreak of hostilities to house-to-house fighting concentrated in the ruins of family life. Ruins and the repercussions of war is the central theme of the third strand, Commemorations, which investigates postwar efforts to remember and forget. The quest for meaningful forms of commemoration was hard enough after the First World War; the Second World War, which saw whole cities disappear in flames, raised the possibility that the limits of representation had been reached.
This conference hopes to provide a forum for the interchange of ideas on the comparative history of metropolises and wars. During the last decade, scholars have shown increasing interest in the social and cultural history of modern warfare in general and the two world wars in particular. Yet the comparative history of total war remains largely unwritten; much research is limited by national perspectives and conventional periodisation. This conference explores the cultural imprint of military conflict on metropolises (understood as cities of international stature, but not necessarily capital cities) worldwide over a long time-span. While papers which focus on a single city at a particular point in time are welcome, contributions comparing different metropolises or contrasting the relative impact of different wars on the same city are especially encouraged.
Keynote speakers will include: Professors Patrice Higonnet (Harvard), Jay Winter (Yale) and Antony Beevor (London).
The Centre is seeking proposals for both 30-minute papers and shorter contributions of 10 minutes. Contributors would be encouraged to include visual material. We expect to publish a selection of papers in a volume. The working language of the conference and the published volume will be English. Contributions towards speakers' expenses may be available.
Please send a 300-word abstract and a 1-page CV by 12 January 2004 to the contact below.
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