Economic Crises as Structural Changes.
Causes and Effects from the Middle Ages to the Present
Call for papers: A conference held by the German Historical Institute Warsaw in cooperation with the Institute for Economic and Social History at the University of Vienna, 23/23 January 2014. Venue: GHI Warsaw, application due: 31 August 2013.
Main organizers: Dariusz Adamczyk and Stephan Lehnstaedt
A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of crisis. What exactly is meant by this? Is it a structural, a banking, a Euro or even a world crisis, or “just” an economic decline, a recession? Against the backdrop of a ubiquitous discussion regarding the turmoil in the financial markets, this conference shall investigate the historical phenomenon of economic crises. With an approach beyond the common definitions of historical periods, it will not focus on more common cyclical fluctuations, but on developments that actually became economic turning points in history. The conference will be about the resulting social and political effects and their widely understood causes and consequences, as well as the question of caesuras and continuities. The geographical focus will be on Central and Eastern Europe, with a particular interest in diachronic and synchronic comparisons that can then include other regions.
Agricultural and food crises, shifts in trade routes and monetary collapse, state bankruptcies, wars or speculative bubbles: They all have their own specific economic, but also political, social, demographic and environmental causes that affect the lives of ordinary people and lead to remarkable feedback processes. The conference will aim to provide not only historical classifications of past crises, but also help contextualize current perceptions and interpretations as well as identify specific features and peculiarities. New approaches to the history of, for example, politics, everyday life, ideas and culture, will be combined with economic aspects – which are often dismissed as dry, theory- and statistics-heavy by many historians and thus ignored despite their undeniable relevance.
Examples covered by such an extended perspective could for instance include an analysis of the plague during the 14th century. The pandemic in some parts of Europe killed about one-third of the population and thus led not only to demographic, economic and social, but also to cultural and mental transformations: The then current picture of the world and of mankind was deeply shaken. On the other hand, the “Black Death” – although affecting large parts of Eurasia – seems to have spared large parts of Eastern Central Europe. Being spared from the plague crisis raises questions about the causes and consequences for Poland and asks for comparisons with the affected areas.
How wars can affect the economic and cultural developments is shown in the debates about the so-called crisis of the 17th century. For the eastern parts of the aristocratic Polish Republic, the pogroms conducted by Chmielnicki and his men during the Cossack uprisings meant hunger and misery as many Jewish merchants were murdered. The massacres led not only to flight and migration of Ashkenazi groups to Lithuania as well as Central and Western Europe, but also to the emergence of Hasidism, since the largely obliterated Kahal no longer performed many of its previous administrative activities, resulting in Jewish communities gathering around rabbinical courts that not only offered spiritual, but also economic assistance.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, development, economic growth and modernization of large parts of Eastern and Eastern Central Europe took place in view of a clear gap to the industrialized countries of Western Europe . Thus, the migration from Poland can be interpreted as an expression of “permanent” poverty, which was further aggravated by the massive global economic crisis in 1929. The regional impact of global shifts and crises is reflected in the failure of monopoly socialism. It was no coincidence that the protests in Poland in the years 1976 and 1980, which erupted due to an increase in food prices and led to the establishment of a civil society mass movement called “Solidarność”, were associated with the collapse of the economic post-war order. The military defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War, the subsequent abandonment of binding the U.S. Dollar to the gold standard (and thus also of the Bretton Woods system of 1944) and, finally, the dramatic oil price increase were all symptoms of this structural crisis, which combined with the economic dilettantism of the ruling party and contributed to the collapse of the socialist system. As worldwide orders for new ships were decreasing during the late 1970s and early 1980s, this hurt the capitalist organized Bremer Vulkan shipyard in West Germany just as hard as the socialist Lenin shipyard in Gdańsk; mutual cross-border solidarity between workers affected by wage cuts and layoffs beyond system borders was only one of the consequences.
Please submit applications with a paper proposal (around 100 words) and a brief biographic summary by 31 August 2013. We will inform applicants on definite participation by mid September. The German Historical Institute will cover travel costs and provide accommodation.
The conference seeks to promote discussion. Thus, we only want short presentations of results and theses, based on 15-20 page long papers distributed among all participants in advance. These papers must be handed in by 31 December 2013. These articles are necessary for the conference and will be published in an edited volume at a later date. Travel expenses and accommodation can only be provided for those whose texts are accordingly submitted.
Conference languages are German and Polish which will be translated simultaneously. However, English contributions are welcome by those not fluent in either of the two languages.
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