The Steering Committee of the International Conference ‘The Legacy of the First World War; Interdisciplinary Perspectives’, aims at organizing a 3-day scientific conference in the The Hague, Netherlands, June 2015, for approx. 1000-1500 delegates from approx. 20 countries embracing a wide array of professionals: historians, scientists, politicians, ethicists, sociologists, medics, psychologists, artists, and the public.
Focus of the proposed conference
World War I commenced during the summer of 1914 and ended four years later. It was the war that was supposed to end all wars, but it became one of the largest acts of military carnage in our history; a war unprecedented in terms of size and victims.
Millions of soldiers were killed and many more maimed in the hopeless and endless trench battles in Belgium, Northern France and other places around the world. The war changed the world in ways still visible today. Many memorials will be held during the next four years to remember the dead and they will, in the main, focus on the past.
Our three-day conference will focus on the relevance of WW I for today. In which way did WW I change our world? It decisively influenced the decline of colonialism and the birth of new nations, it provided a cause for the establishment of the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations. It was also a prime consideration behind the development which ended Franco-German rivalry and the unification of Europe. It also had an influence on the development various sciences, including, of course, medicine, humanitarian law and economics that had their impact in the interbellum. But is the legacy waning, and gradually becoming a thing of the past? Or is the legacy still topical today?
Why the Netherlands?
The neutral position in the war, and its current international orientation makes the Netherlands a perfect host nation for this conference. Its neutrality offers not only a physical space, but also a conceptual one, in which the experiences and lessons learned by both sides in the conflict can be shared without political nuance. Moreover the city of The Hague has profiled as a city of Peace and Justice and launched the first world peace conference just over 100 years ago. The last German Emperor Wilhelm II lived in exile in the Netherlands from 1920 until his death in 1941; the historic house is now a national museum. It is also just north of Belgium and France which were one of the central locations where the war was fought.
Format of the proposed conference
In order to address the questions mentioned above, our proposed conference will have:
1) An inter-disciplinary character, which will demonstrate that the legacy of WW I is not limited to two or three areas of public policy, but that it is rather of an all-encompassing nature which has left, almost literally, no stone untouched;
2) Different target groups, depending on the day of the conference. Such target groups will range from youths whose grandfathers fought in WW I, to internationally renowned scientists;
3) A focus on building a bridge between the past and the issues which are topical today. In this sense, our conference is not a commemoration strictu sensu, but forward-looking.
Given the all-encompassing nature of our proposed conference, the program will consist of approximately ten main subjects:
• International relations. The changes in the political constellation mentioned, collapse of empires, the decolonalisation, the Balfour declaration, the drive toward European unity, etc.
• International law. The establishment of new international organisations, the rise to prominence of NGO’s, a movement in Europe toward a supra-national system, the development of international humanitarian law, human rights and a universal refugee law, etc.
• Ethics and religion. The relation between ethics and technology, the secularisation of ethics, the quest for an international ethic.
• Society and Memory: the development of a culture of remembrance, shaping the collective memory, monuments and tombs, commemorations, the veterans movement, the shift of honour to victimization.
• Warfare. The question of the massive destructiveness of warfare and the accompanying loss of considerations of chivalry; the rise to prominence of non-state actors on the battlefield, etc.
• Science and Medicine. Scientific discoveries, ideas about the universe, Heisenberg principle, Einstein, but also breakthroughs in plastic surgery, psychiatry, Red Cross, the role of nurses, etc.
• Mental health. Trauma and care, the medical selection on resilience, the therapies, the post-war investigation into the shell shock, the long-term changes in psychiatry and psychology.
• Environmental issues. The devastation, pollution with lead and gas, the recovery policy and thinking about restoring of the cities and the entire physical environment.
• Arts. The shift in emphasis from fine arts to applied arts, the rise of new schools within art, the shifting role of art in society, diaries, poems, descriptions, monuments, films, novels and literature.
• Economy. The gradual end of mercantilism, the creation of trading blocks, the rise of industrialisation and, by implication, the growing attention for issues such as industrial pollution.
Our considerations concerning the format of the conference will be combined with our thoughts on the main subjects. Thus, when it comes to the inter-disciplinary nature of the conference, we intend to invite participants of different specialisations to deal with the same subject. For instance, in the field of international law, we will invite a lawyer to give a presentation, and an ethicist to offer a prepared reply. When it comes to the different target groups, we hope to engage the grand children of those who fought in a dialogue on one particular day of the conference, while realising a scientific meeting on another day. Universities, schools, foundations and other organizations will be invited to take with cinema, documentaries, or special educational projects. When it comes to building bridges between past and future, all participants and speakers will be requested to discuss the lessons learned. Various European cities have, at present, a partnership (twin town) with another (foreign) European city. Some of these cities have suffered heavy damage. For instance, the German city of Aachen has a relationship with the Belgian city of Liège. We hope to bring together citizens of a number of pertinent towns in an attempt to foster friendship and understanding between former foes.
Day 1 and 2: Conferences will be held on, both, invitations to experts as well as a call for papers.
Representatives of various fields of expertise will be requested to engage with each other. Plenary sessions will be mixed with workshops, forum discussions, etc. Day 1 is expected to be opened officially by the Foreign Minister of The Netherlands as the representative of a nation that remained neutral during WW I.
Day 1 will be concluded by a dinner in the Peace Palace, for high profile guests.
Day 2 will basically be a continuation of Day 1, but with a number of smaller workshops. Moreover, Teimun, the student organisation which creates a model United Nations, will debate on a topic yet to be decided.
Day 3: Day three will offer members of the public a full day’s program of cultural events. These will include readings, music and discussions on poetry, art, film and photography from the First World War. The participation of the grand children of combatants as well as of citizens of twin towns is envisaged for this day. Thus, the conference will reflect not only the tragedy and human suffering of the war, but also the cultural heritage it left behind.
Under the auspices of the Sympopna Foundation Utrecht, a Steering Committee ‘Conference Legacy World War I’ (CLWW1) has been created that deals with program development. This committee consists of members: dr Ted van Baarda, dr Leo van Bergen, dr Annelieke Drogendijk, dr Frank Hermans, dr Samuel Kruizinga, Herman Sietsma, dr Holly Young and prof dr kol Eric Vermetten. A national as well as international advisory board will be assembled that governs the representational aspect of the conference as a whole. Several candidates have been invited.
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