Convenors: Riccardo Bavaj, Andreas Gestrich, Martina Steber, Bernhard Struck, University of St Andrews (UK) & German Historical Institute London
Time & venue: 2 -- 4 July 2009, German Historical Institute London
Images of ‘the West’ have played a decisive role in modern German history. In the first half of the 20th century, the ‘German ideas of 1914’ were pitted against the ‘Western ideas of 1789’. ‘Western civilization’ was deemed to be utterly opposed to ‘German culture’. ‘Western democracy’ seemed irreconcilable with ‘German state’. In the second half of the 20th century, on the other hand, ‘the West’ often provided an ideal image which politicians and intellectuals in the Federal Republic sought to emulate. Frequently used as a shorthand in political discourse, ‘the West’ encapsulated the successful model of ‘consensus liberalism’ and ‘consensus capitalism’. ‘The West’ was considered to be the final goal of the secular process of modernization from which Germany had fatally been deviating since the beginning of the 19th century.
The conference intends to historicise the concept of 'the West' and will mainly be focussing on the 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifically, the conference will discuss the following key questions:
1) What was actually meant by ‘the West’ in Germany’s ‘long 19th century’ (Eric Hobsbawm)? What was associated with it? Which political, economic and socio-cultural phenomena did the concept evoke?
2) Which spatial dimensions were reflected in German images of ‘the West’? How was ‘the West’ defined geographically? Which implications did imagined boundaries have on the meaning of the concept (and vice versa)? Which role did regions and nations play in this context? And who was the West’s ‘Other’?
3) In what ways were images of ‘the West’ used politically? Which groups favoured and propagated particular images of ‘the West’? What interests did they pursue? More specifically, which role did German federalism play in this context? Did images constructed in the ‘Third Germany’ differ from those produced in Prussia or the Habsburg territories?
4) In what respects did transnational dimensions matter? In what ways were images of ‘the West’ influenced by intellectual and cultural transfers from countries associated with ‘the West’ (one may think of Alexis de Tocqueville’s De la démocratie en Amérique)? What kinds of cross-border networks (institutional or otherwise) fostered the circulation of ideas related to ‘the West’?
5) Which caesuras can be identified in the evolution of dominant images of ‘the West’? In which time spans were concepts of ‘the West’ discussed most intensely? When did they gather political momentum? Did caesuras follow political events, or did they rather square with ‘rhythms’ of socio-economic, cultural or technological developments? Or did the discourse of ‘the West’ develop its own logic?
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