Conference to be held at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford,
13-15 April 2011
In academia and cultural memory, the First World War has become a symbolic, almost mythicised cataclysm. The clichés that have grown up around images of sacrificed youth and fallen empires coexist, sometimes uneasily, with the analyses of trench warfare and of the ‘Materialschlacht’ predominant in military history. The conflict has tended to be read either within rigidly national frameworks or in overarching, transnational terms – as the end of the ‘long’ nineteenth century, as a product and catalyst of modernity, and as the incubator of European totalitarianism. That these interpretative paradigms struggle to do justice to the fragmented, multi-ethnic character of culture and society in the Habsburg territories perhaps helps to explain why wartime cultural life in the countries of the Entente has been more extensively researched than in those areas where the campaigns on the Eastern and Italian Fronts (rather than the Western Front) were closer to home.
The aim of this conference is to foster new research on the culture of Austria-Hungary – its production, dissemination, consumption and reception – during the First World War. Although the Habsburg authorities did not attempt to direct a concerted war effort on the home front, contemporary commentators nevertheless spoke of ‘cultural mobilisation’. The conference papers will investigate the realities that lay behind this convenient phrase, with particular reference to Cisleithania. What were the effects of the hostilities on literature, theatre, music and fine art? How did the avant-garde groups that dominated Austria’s literary and cultural elite react to the war? Were the boundaries between elite and popular culture renegotiated? What impact did the war have on the already critical relations between the Monarchy’s cultural centres and national groupings?
Although attention will focus primarily on the period 1914-1918, papers dealing with the years immediately before and after the war will also be welcome.
Themes and areas for investigation could include
• anticipations of the First World War in Austrian literature and culture
• patriotism / nationalism (the ‘Augusttage’)
• pacifism / internationalism
• war propaganda (including cultural journalism and the work of the Kriegspressearchiv)
• the impact of the war on literature, the press and theatre; censorship
• responses to the conflict of individual cultural practitioners or groups (potentially defined in ethnic, linguistic, gendered, religious, or socio-political terms)
• state policy as regards culture and the arts during the First World War (on, for example, arts education, arts and culture funding, official commemoration of the dead)
• the role played by culture and the arts in the many civilian ‘Vereine’ and welfare initiatives
• cultural life in the immediate aftermath of World War I
The conference languages are English and German. Papers should not be longer than 25 minutes. A publication is planned.
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