CfP: Aftermath: German and Austrian cultural responses to the end of the First World War (1918-1933)

The international workshop ‘Aftermath: German and Austrian cultural responses to the end of the First World War’ will be held at King’s College London on 13-15 September 2018.

The end of World War I marked the beginning of a period of political turbulence and social upheaval in both Germany and Austria. Contrary to popular belief, the conflict did not end overnight with the signing of the Armistice on 11th November 1918; instead, a lengthy series of peace negotiations took place, concluding with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. These negotiations and treaties resulted in considerable losses for both Germany and Austria: national boundaries were redrawn and colonial territories removed, reparations were imposed, and Germany and her allies were compelled to accept full blame for the conflict. In their early years, the Weimar Republic and the First Austrian Republic were buffeted by revolts and uprisings from both right and left, as different political groups sought to assert their competing visions of post-war society.

In spite of these turbulent events, the years after World War I saw the development of a flourishing cultural scene. As major centres of European modernism, Germany and Austria became associated with writers, musicians, artists and filmmakers who engaged in radical formal experimentation and rejected conventional values and aesthetic norms. Yet the post-war period also saw the resurgence and reinvention of more traditional modes of representation through movements such as Neue Sachlichkeit [new objectivity] and the ‘return to order’. Recent scholarship has highlighted the falsity of the traditional dichotomy of the ‘progressive’ and the ‘anti-modern’, showing how the co-existence of plural and seemingly contradictory cultural practices reflected specifically modern anxieties about language, culture and politics. However, questions still remain about the impact of war and defeat on post-war cultural production: in what ways did ‘the double wound of war and defeat fester beneath the […] surface’ [Anton Kaes] of interwar culture? And to what extent did the need to come to terms with experiences of loss and defeat result in what Jay Winter terms the ‘recasting of traditional language’ in an ‘attempt to find collective solace’ after 1918?

The approaching centenary of 1918 offers a timely opportunity to assess the impact of the end of World War I on German and Austrian cultural production in the interwar period. This interdisciplinary workshop aims to shed light on ways in which German and Austrian literature, art, music and film were shaped – both directly and indirectly – by experiences of wartime defeat and political unrest in the period up to 1933. How did cultural practitioners respond to the various peace settlements of 1918-1923, and how did they engage with the associated political turmoil and social upheaval? What role did culture play in envisioning and shaping a new, post-war society? And in what ways did the legacy of the war continue to influence the cultural production of the interwar years?

Scholarship on this area has often tended to concentrate on certain left-wing intellectuals and pacifists, regarding the experience of military defeat and the consequences of the peace treaties of 1918-23 as a taboo subject for all but a few individuals. The workshop seeks to broaden this focus by exposing the rich variety of cultural responses to the end of the war and considering their significance for our understanding of the cultural climate in which the Weimar Republic and the First Austrian Republic came into existence. Its comparative, interdisciplinary scope will enable similarities and differences to be traced across various forms of cultural practice, allowing light to be shed on the shifting relationships between politics and aesthetics in this period.

We invite proposals for papers of 20 minutes in length. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, cultural engagement with the following:

– Peace and (ongoing) conflict
– Experiences of defeat, questions of war guilt and individual/collective responsibility;
– Revolutionary politics and revolution(s);
– Territorial losses and the reshaping of national identity;
– Internationalism and the foundation of a new global order;
– The return of war veterans and their adaptation to civilian life;
– Women’s responses to the end of the war and their emergence as political subjects;
– Commemoration, memory and memorialisation;
– Modern vs. ‘anti-modern’ aesthetic practices;
– Visions of a post-war society.

Please send a 300-word abstract and a brief biographical note to Catherine Smale ( by 31 January 2018.

The workshop will include a guided tour of the exhibition ‘Aftermath: Art in the wake of WW1’ at Tate Britain, as well as a screening of G. W. Pabst’s film Westfront 1918 – Vier von der Infanterie (1930) held in collaboration with the German Screen Studies Network. Keynote talks will be given by Ingrid Sharp (Leeds) and James Van Dyke (Missouri). Conversations are underway for the publication of selected papers in a journal special issue in 2019.