Our first event of the term at the Centre for Modern & Contemporary History is upon us! All welcome and details are below.
The Confidence Game of the Chicago School
Prof Matt Houlbrook
It is easy to find the confidence trickster anywhere, if you are looking closely enough. The global networks of trade and empire along which people and goods moved from the sixteenth century, the expanding cities of the modern United States, and the turmoil of revolution and civil war in the new Soviet Union: in each of these contexts the trickster was identified as characteristic or archetypal. Mobility and anonymity provided opportunities for personal reinvention and social advancement. They also allowed fakes and frauds to flourish, created intense anxieties about the difficulties of trusting those one met, and ensured social interactions and commercial exchange were haunted by the possibility of deceit. Britain’s bogus honorable and Weimar Germany’s hochstapler; Herman Melville’s Confidence-Man; Al-Hasan al-Wazzan and Martin Guerre; Felix Krull and Ostap Bender; Netley Lucas. The paradox of the trickster was that they seemed both universal and exemplary of their time and place. What, then, should we do with these elusive figures as historians?
Of Spongers, Sharpers, and Cannibal Eunuchs: Swindle Story Collections around the World
Prof. Christopher Rea
(University of British Columbia)
Why do collections of swindle stories appear at certain times and places? In China, for example, the swindle story has experienced bursts of popularity during the late Ming, the early Republican era, the early Mao era, and during the last 20 years. And comparable works exist around the world. What, for example, do Zhang Yingyu’s Book of Swindles (Ming China, 1617), Richard King’s The New Cheats of London Exposed (Georgian England, 1792), and P.T. Barnum’s The Humbugs of the World (Reconstruction-era United States, 1867) have in common—and how do they differ? Swindle stories, clearly, serve a double purpose: they teach techniques for navigating perilous social environments, and they entertain. But their authors tend to frame these narratives within a questionable claim: that ours is an age of unprecedented peril. Focusing on the example of China, this talk will highlight one thread running through literary history: connoisseurship of the swindler’s ingenuity.
‘All That Is Solid Melts into Air’: Modernity and the proliferation of liminality.
Dr. Lucie Ryzova
Tricksters are creatures of liminality. I will first broaden our discussion by looking at the nexus of modernity and liminality. Modernity is a historical condition in which transition becomes permanentized. The acceleration of time, shrinking of space, mass-mediated popular culture and unprecedented social mobility all worked to normalize fluidity and bring about new configurations of personhood. ‘Becoming another’ became a reality for many, and a fantasy for many more. Novel cultural practices and forms emerged that allowed for a ritualised consumption of this permanent flux and where liminality and enchantment could be safely indulged. I will use as example the photographer’s studio, a place of modern magic where anyone could momentarily transform the self into another. Secondly, I will present some thoughts on whether late modernity, specifically the current crisis of capitalism, creates the conditions in which trickster figures proliferate. Here I will propose to understand late capitalism through another archetypal figure of liminality, notably that of a vampire.
Abstract: Anastasia Egorova was a one-legged Russian tramp whose wanderings took her all over the Soviet Union in the 1920s-1940s. At the end of the Second World War, she decided to see the world, and successfully crossed the Western border in 1945, claiming to be Polish. Travelling on to Italy, she found refuge in a psychiatric hospital and stayed there for four years, until Soviet officials looking for repatriation prospects came by and offered her free passage home. She accepted, and was duly repatriated and returned to her native village in 1950. The paper examines this microhistory from the Soviet archives.
Bio: Sheila Fitzpatrick is primarily a historian of modern Russia, especially the Stalin period, but has recently added a transnational dimension with her research on displaced persons (DPs) after the Second World War. She received a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002 and the American Historical Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction in 2012. She is past President of the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (formerly AAASS) and a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Having worked for most of her career in the United States, she moved back to Australia in 2012.
As a historian of twentieth-century Russia, her earlier work focused mainly on Soviet social and cultural history in the Stalin period, particularly social mobility, social identity and everyday practice. Using some of the techniques of her “everyday” work, she recently published her first major study in political history: On Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, which came out with Princeton University Press in 2015. My Father’s Daughter, her memoir of her father, the radical historian Brian Fitzpatrick, and her childhood in Melbourne came out in 2010, and she published a memoir of life as a student in Cold War Moscow in the 1960s, A Spy in the Archives in 2012. She is currently co-CI (with Mark Edele) of an ARC-funded project entitled “War, Displacement and Resettlement” as well as working on a more personal DP study based on the correspondence of her late husband, the physicist Michael Danos, and his mother Olga when they were displaced persons in postwar Germany.
Between 1846 and 1940, more than 50 million Europeans moved to the Americas, irrevocably changing both their new lands and the ones they left behind. As villages emptied, some blamed traffickers in human labour, targeting Jewish emigration agents. Others saw opportunity: to expand their empires, gain economic advantage from an inflow of foreign currency, or reshape their populations by encouraging the emigration of minorities.
These debates about and experiences of emigration shaped competing ideals of freedom in Eastern Europe and “the West” over more than one hundred years. After the Second World War, the “captivity” of East Europeans behind the Iron Curtain came to be seen as a quintessential symbol of Communist oppression. The Iron Curtain was not, however, built overnight in 1948 or 1961. Its foundation was arguably laid before the First World War, when Austrian Imperial officials began a century-long campaign to curtail emigration in the name of demographic power and humanitarian values.
Professor Tara Zahra works on transnational and comparative approaches to the history of modern Europe. The focus of her research and teaching is Central and Eastern Europe (including the Habsburg Empire and successor states and Germany), but her work integrates Central Europe into broader histories of Europe and the world. Her most recent book is The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (Norton, 2016). The book explores how debates about and experiences of emigration shaped competing ideals of freedom in Eastern Europe and “the West” over the course of one hundred years.
Her previous books include The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II (Harvard, 2011), which tells the story of Europe’s displaced and refugee children in Eastern and Western Europe from 1918 to 1951, and won the George Louis Beer Prize from the American Historical Association for European International History. Her first book, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900–1948 (Cornell, 2008), is a study of Czech and German nationalist mobilization around children from the Habsburg Empire to the Nazi occupation. It was awarded five prizes, including the Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European History, the Hans Rosenberg Prize of the Conference Group for Central European History, and the Barbara Jelavich Prizes of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
She is currently working on a co-authored book with Pieter Judson on the Habsburg Empire during the First World War (to be published by Oxford University Press) and beginning projects on Roma and statelessness in the Habsburg Empire and on the history of gender, sexuality, and migration in twentieth-century Europe. Professor Zahra is Professor of East European History at the University of Chicago and in 2014 was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
In week 8, we’re delighted to welcome Dr. Mo Moulton, who will be speaking on an aspect of her current research. All welcome, and there will be drinks afterwards.
We’re delighted to be hosting a round-table on Wednesday 22 February 2017, in Muirhead Tower Room 112, from 4-6pm. Around the theme ‘Reconstructing the Historical Subject’ Dr. Adam Dighton, Dr. Marta Filipová, Dr. Ben Mechen and Dr. Zoë Thomas will discuss their current research. Prof. Matt Houlbrook will chair.
All welcome! Contact: Dr. Simon Jackson, S.Jackson.firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Adam Dighton: Military History at the British Army’s Staff College, 1885-1914.
The study of military history formed an important part of the syllabus used to train high ranking officers at the army’s Staff College during the latter half of the ‘long nineteenth century’. During the period between 1885 and 1914 the justification for teaching this subject underwent a fundamental transformation. This was caused by a change in the perceived didactic function of history during this time. It is the aim of this paper to examine why this change took place and how it affected the way in which history was taught at this institution.
Dr. Marta Filipova: The people or the proletariat? Class appropriation in interwar Czechoslovak culture.
The paper examines the attention to the working classes in the visual arts and literature in Czechoslovakia after 1918. I look at the different interpretations of proletarian art on the background of the emergence of the new political entity, negotiations of modernity by artists and art critics, and their attempts for renewal of art. I therefore address the questions of identity, belonging and construction of artistic narratives.
Dr. Ben Mechen: ‘A positive advance of our standard of civilisation’ – consuming and defending pornography in postwar Britain.
This paper will outline my postdoctoral project exploring the cultural politics of pornography in postwar Britain. In particular, I will seek to locate the pornographic consumer within this history, a problematic figure – like those who laboured to produce explicit imagery – usually absent from existing work. Drawing upon letters sent by buyers of pornography – men and women, straight and gay -to a late 1970s inquiry into obscenity, I will ask: how were sexual subjectivities formed in the age of pornographic reproduction?
Dr. Zoë Thomas: Historical pageants, citizenship, and the performance of women’s history before second-wave feminism.
This paper argues that the early twentieth-century craze for historical pageants provided an opportunity for women’s groups to bring a nascent, popular form of women’s history into the lives of local communities across Britain. Prior to second-wave feminism, when scholars advanced the study of women within the academy, thousands of people had been invested in re-enacting women’s history since the inter-war years. Emphasizing the bravery and public duties of women in the past, pageants also provided a non-controversial format through which women’s groups could effectively project their beliefs about the role they felt women should play as newly enfranchised citizens.
*Image Credits, from top-left, clockwise: Officers reading military history in the Prince Consort’s Library in the army camp at Aldershot; Pravoslav Kotík, Accordion player, 1923; Women’s Institute outdoor pageant in 1927; Walker’s Court in Soho. All images courtesy the speakers.
Please join us for this session with Dr. Rimner – drinks will be held afterwards in the Bratby bar.
One week before his inauguration, a Google search for “Trump” and “Fascism” retrieves more than half a million results. When it comes to the collective memory of Western democracies, it is the experience of Fascism that resonates more strongly than any other with the American president-elect. But is this a precedent that holds up to scrutiny? How far do we get in understanding Trump when we look at him against the crisis years of Western democracy in the interwar years? And how does the literature on Fascism in Germany and Italy look against this contemporary challenge: do we have the kind of history of Fascism in our libraries and our collective memory that we need to confront Trump? By bringing history and contemporary politics into a dialogue, this presentation tries to make sense of a phenomenon that may not be quite as unprecedented.
When the First World War formally ended in November 1918 with an Allied victory, three vast and centuries-old land empires – the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires – vanished from the map. A fourth, the Hohenzollern Empire, which had become a major land empire in the last year of the war when it occupied enormous territories in East-Central Europe, was significantly reduced in size, stripped of its overseas colonies, and transformed into a parliamentary democracy with what Germans across the political spectrum referred to as a “bleeding frontier” towards the East.
As a consequence of imperial collapse and the rise and clash of nationalist as well as Bolshevik and anti-Bolshevik movements, an extensive arc of postwar violence stretched from Finland and the Baltic States through Russia and Ukraine, Poland, the borderlands of Austria, Hungary, and Germany, all the way through the Balkans into Anatolia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. This lecture will explore the effects of “1918” on the defeated states of Europe, drawing on comparisons between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. It will also seek to argue that the political agenda of the following three decades was very much set in the years between 1917 (Russian Revolutions) and 1923 (Lausanne Treaty). It was in this period, rather than in the Great War itself, that the ground was laid for the even more terrible conflict that began in 1939 / 41.