Research on the First World War has been experiencing a surge in popularity for some time, albeit not in all national historiographies and scientific cultures equally. New approaches to World War research in particular are very disparately represented, which complicates transnational perspectives. This is especially true for studies in the area of women's and gender history, although it has become clear that the war societies as well as the complex consequences of the First World War cannot be sufficiently documented and understood without considering the analytical category of gender. In all participating states this virtually total war not only led to the extensive support of the war by women on the "home front" – strongly conceived as a women’s sphere – but also in the combat zones. In addition, soldier masculinity was idealised in a far more powerful way than ever before – with implications for the hegemonic gender and societal orders, which also impeded pacifist efforts and activities. The extensive stylisation of nations as collective bodies in combat and the associated warmongering and ideological blindness are a European phenomenon, as is the experience of bellicose violence right through to active killing, flight and expulsion – with many manifestations, including gender-differentiated forms.
How can the existing contributions to women's and gender history of the First World War be focussed? Which conclusions can we draw when reviewing all relevant research and where do the existing focuses and shortcomings of the research field lie – for example, in comparison to various national studies or in connection with the latest research on masculinity? How essential is it to link gender-specific studies to perspectives of the First World War from the areas of political, social, economic and cultural history, the history of mentalities and/or social history? Which differences exist if the viewpoint is extended and national historiographies are placed in a comprehensive, comparative context? Can the evaluations made so far still be upheld and historians' debates – such as those on the war-related virulence of gender relations or an allegedly emancipative effect of the war – be generalised?
The international conference "War in a Gender Context – Topics and Perspectives within Women's and Gender History of the First World War", taking place from 29th September until 1st October 2011 in Vienna/Austria, intends to reflect on these kinds of questions on the basis of four selected topics that appear to be central: front line/home front, violence, citizenship, and peace efforts. It takes the upcoming centenary of 2014 as an occasion for detailed discussion, to review previous results and to conceptualise future research perspectives – including contributions to historical peace research, which has been particularly involved in aspects of social militarisation and the criticism of militarism.
Historians conducting relevant research are invited to submit their suggestion for a contribution to this conference in the form of an abstract on one of the four following closely connected topic areas by 31st December 2010 at the latest.
- Front line – home front: The First World War was also waged as a "people's war", in accordance with a war concept originating from the late eighteenth century aimed at the mobilisation of all human and material resources. As a result, not only front lines arose, but also "home fronts". How, by means of which war and gender images, did national discourses between 1914 and 1918 portray this new social order, which rendered absolute the – hierarchically constructed – difference between front-line soldiers and women of the "home front"? Can we identify any changes during the course of the war and counteracting concepts of gender orders in wartime in this regard? Did a widespread mobilisation of a "home front" really take place in all warring states? Which concepts of masculinity and femininity were generated in the contrast between the "front" and the "homeland"?
- Violence: Military and civilian societies experienced the presence of violence in war (such as the experience of imprisonment, sexual violence or other forms of belligerent violence right up to active killing) to some extent very differently, but also in similar ways. Which part did personal suffering or the participation in physical or psychological violence play within wartime experiences of men and of women? How was violence interpreted in relation to specific circumstances, and which gender-specific differences or similarities can be identified in this respect? How did war societies deal with active mass killing and which specific patterns of memory did perpetrators and victims form during the course of the war and the post-war period? To what extent can we pinpoint specific national and regional distinctive features and differences? Perceptions, experiences and (sometimes excessive) belligerent violence also influenced predominant conceptions of masculinity and femininity. To what extent did the everyday nature of violence change, disassemble, redefine or radicalise gender constructions?
- Citizenship: The state of war had a clear effect on the patriotic self-conception of the women's movements, leading to a specific discourse on the citizenship of women in the context of the war, the roots of which stretched back to the nineteenth century. Within this topic, new aspects pertaining to this discussion of civic inclusion, in particular its interconnectedness with nationalistic discourses in areas that strove for political autonomy, could be pursued. In addition, the implementation of the demand for equal integration of women in the state should also to be considered here. To what extent was the war a catalyst for pre-war demands of the women's movements, especially in light of an often postulated de-radicalisation of these demands by the war discourse? And which part did demobilisation and stabilisation of hierarchical gender norms play in this respect during the post-war period?
- Peace efforts: This topic is to focus on the varied national as well as supranational efforts, activities and concepts that aimed to bring about a swift end to the World War right from the start – whether in the context of the organisation of international peace conferences in neutral states or in the form of, often persecuted, acts of resistance in the warring states themselves. When and in which contexts did demands for peace develop? Who were the (male/female) supporters of these kinds of protests? In which networks were they organised? Which new focuses can research on the pacifist commitment and the gender models of women's peace efforts take up?
The conference, organised by Birgitta Bader-Zaar (University of Vienna), Christa Hämmerle (University of Vienna) and Oswald Überegger (University of Hildesheim), is held within the framework of the research platform "Repositioning of Women's and Gender History" of the University of Vienna in cooperation with the Arbeitskreis Historische Friedensforschung (AKHF). We are particularly interested in inviting scholars who are involved in the research of formerly neglected war zones as well as warring states and societies, for example in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The contributions will be published in a conference volume.
Those interested in participating are kindly asked to send an abstract of a presentation proposal written in English or German, approx. one page in length (approx. 2500 characters) and a CV to email@example.com (Michaela Hafner) by 31st December 2010.
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