Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict: Colonials, Neutrals and Belligerents during the First World War

Research

Here you can read about the work being undertaken by each of the individual researchers and how it feeds into the wider, overarching themes of the project, as well as some of the ways in which members of the team hope to engage non-academic audiences with the exciting and illuminating material that they are unearthing.

Hubert van den Berg

Hubert van den Berg is professor in literary studies in the Department for Dutch and South-African Studies in the Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. He has researched on the European artistic avant-garde, German-Dutch cultural mobility and German ‘art and culture propaganda’ in the First World War, for which he has previously received grants from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the German Literary Archive (Marbach am Neckar), the Klassik Stiftung Weimar and the Ministry for Science and Higher Education. Recent book publications include: A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in Nordic Countries 1900-1925 (co-edited with Irmeli Hautamäki and others, Rodopi, Amsterdam/New York 2012) and Transnationality, Internationalism and Nationhood. European Avant-Garde in the Early Twentieth Century (co-edited with Lidia Głuchowska, Peeters, Leuven/Paris/Walpole MA 2013)

Geert Buelens

Geert Buelens is professor of Modern Dutch Literature at Utrecht University, guest professor of Dutch Literature at Stellenbosch University (RSA) and Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress (2008). His research deals primarily with the intersections between literature and society. He has published widely on the Flemish avant-garde writer Paul van Ostaijen and on 20th Century avant-garde poetry, nationalist literature and European poetry of the First World War.

In the CEGC project he works with Tessa Lobbes on the neutral strand, focusing on Dutch-Flemish/Belgian and German/Flemish relations, on the complicated legacy of the First World War in ‘neutral’ Belgium and on transnational approaches to the cultural history of the First World War. He hosts the several ‘Grote Woorden’ (‘Big Words’) evenings associated partner deBuren will organise in the Netherlands and Flanders and he will lecture widely on these topics in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, for acadamic and non-academic audiences.

Santanu Das

I am the Project Leader for CEGC, and my own research concerns the colonial strand of the project, with a focus on South Asia.

I teach in the English Department at King’s College London, and work on early twentieth-century literature and culture, with a focus on the First World War. My first monograph was Touch and Intimacy in First world War Literature (Cambridge, 2005) and I edited Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge, 2011) and The Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War (Cambridge, 2013).

Over four million non-white people were drafted into the European and American armies during 1914-1918. Of all the colonial empires, British India contributed the highest number of men, with over one million combatants and non-combatants who served in Europe, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, East Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Sinai. Looking at a variety of sources in Europe and India – objects, images, letters, diaries, poems and short stories – I will specifically investigate the nature and scope of encounters between Indian sepoys and soldiers and civilians from other places (primarily Europe and Mesopotamia), and the various structures – racial, imperial, religious, cultural, linguistic – through which such encounters were framed, negotiated or remembered. How were the South Asian soldiers understood and represented in the visual and literary culture of the time and how does it compare to the representation of other non-white troops from British and French colonies? Crucially, I shall examine how cultural encounters take shape in a time of war, to what extent these encounters involve exchange (or not), and how source-materials themselves are often involved in processes of encounter and exchange.

Presently, I am working on two books related to the CEGC project: Les Indiens dans la Grande GuerreIndians in Europe in the First World War, a visual sourcebook (in French and English) forthcoming from Gallimard in September, 2014, and India, Empire and the First World War: Words, Objects, Images and Music, under contract with Cambridge University Press.

At King’s, I work closely with Anna Maguire and Dr Jennifer Wellington, both of whom are investigating the colonial visual cultures of the First World War. I have also done a few events with Suzanne Bardgett from the Imperial War Museum and Dominiek Dendooven from In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres.

Martyna Kliks

Martyna Kliks (née Pędzisz) is a doctoral student at Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznań, Poland). She obtained her M.A. in Art History, but she also studied Dutch Philology. Her previous research focused on medieval and modern figurative Dutch painting.

Within the framework of the HERA-CEGC project, she focuses on the issues of translation understood as processes of cultural exchange. More specifically, she investigates how the Dutch book market was targeted from France, Germany and the United Kingdom in an attempt to influence Dutch readers and public opinion during the First World War. Archival material reveals that the influence of books as a major means of communication was recognized by the belligerent Empires and used in planning their cultural policies. French, German and English agents of cultural transfer undoubtedly interfered in Dutch publishing policy during the First World War. Martyna will explore the structure of the Dutch book market invaded by translations, which can be seen as a major cultural target of the belligerent Empires, and, furthermore, she will interpret the long-term effects of the impact of the Empires’ aggressive cultural policies on the Dutch literary field.

Heike Liebau

I am a Senior Research Fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), where I coordinate the research group ‘Trajectories of Lives and Knowledge’. I hold a Diploma in Indian Languages and Literature from the State University Tashkent and a PhD from the MLU Halle. Throughout my professional career, I have held positions at the Institut für Allgemeine Geschichte, Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR in Berlin, the Forschungsschwerpunkt Moderner Orient in Berlin, and ZMO in Berlin.

Within the CEGC project, I am the principal investigator for the ZMO team in Berlin where I closely work together with Larissa Schmid. Our main focus is on prisoner-of-war (POW) camps as sites of encounter. Camps became social spaces, where cultural encounters took place and identities were negotiated. The team explores cultural encounters inside POW camps as well as the connections these camps had with their local environments. While Schmid is looking primarily at North African POWs, I am concentrating on South Asian prisoners. Within the CEGC project, I am cooperating with local historiographers in Zossen and Wünsdorf as well as on school projects.

Results of the research have for instance been presented in a lecture given at the Bücherstall in Wünsdorf in March 2014: “Imprisoned in Zossen and Wünsdorf: encounters during the First World War” (Kriegsgefangen in Zossen und Wünsdorf: Begegnungen im Ersten Weltkrieg). Here I focused explicitly on encounters of POWs with the local population of the region.

Tessa Lobbes

I am involved in the CEGC as a postdoctoral researcher at Utrecht University in The Netherlands where I work closely together with prof.dr. Geert Buelens. My research as a cultural historian concerns the encounters between ‘neutral’ Dutch intellectuals and foreign cultural propaganda services.
The First World War was also a large propaganda war. If we want to understand how cultural propaganda works, the dealings of and with the ‘neutral’ Dutch can be highly illuminating. The Netherlands never saw real fighting on their national territory. Yet, in the eyes of the belligerent nations, the Dutchmen were potential enemies or allies, so both Germany, France and Great-Britain targeted Dutch intellectuals with a variety of cultural propaganda such as the organization of French art exhibitions in Amsterdam, the convincing of book traders in order to present more British or German literature, the organization of translation projects and the often secret financial support to periodicals. A serious number of Dutch intellectuals left official neutrality aside and worked for foreign propaganda services. So, The Netherlands transformed into an truly international discursive battlefield, in which a struggle was put up on convictions, in the shape of poems, pamphlets and essays. By examining both the archives of the foreign propaganda services and the wartime publications, activities and private correspondence of Dutch intellectuals, I will specifically focus on the reaction of Dutch writers towards foreign cultural propaganda. Which war activities did they overtly or secretly undertake (translator, publisher, publicist, war journalist)? Which side were they on? Were they ideologically inspired, did they also have more financial or professional motives? And what impact did these cultural encounters have on their ideas about cultural identities, about nationalism, the idea of Europe, pacifism and internationalism?
This research will result in a book on the confrontation between Dutch writers and foreign cultural propaganda during the First World War, a number of academic and public lectures and several contributions to the traveling exhibition and sourcebook.

Anna Maguire

I am a PhD student working collaboratively with King’s College, London and the Imperial War Museum on the colonial strand of the project. I am co-supervised by Santanu Das and Suzanne Bardgett.

My research explores colonial encounters that occurred during the war, examining the spaces and peoples that came together as a result of the mass mobilisation of men throughout the British Empire. The particular focus is on men from New Zealand and the West Indies, countries with different colonial status and complex racial demographics. I am investigating the encounters these troops had with each other, as well as civilians, nurses, and the lands and cultures they visited. I will be considering the complexities and nuances of these interactions, as they occurred in the imperial hierarchy destabilised by war. The research draws upon the rich collections of the Imperial War Museum and considers experiences as recorded in letters, diaries, photographs, film, novels and poems.

I have presented some of my photographic findings at an event at the Victoria and Albert Museum, organised by Heritage Lottery Funding. I have also been on the panel for a Whose Remembrance? event with Suzanne Bardgett.

Larissa Schmid

My doctoral research on ‘Cultural encounters with and among colonial prisoners of war during the First World War’ will be contributing to the overall research question by looking at ‘cultural encounters’ related to POW camps. Thousands of colonial soldiers from British, French and Russian territories were captured in POW camps in the German and Austro-Hungarian Empire during WWI. Individuals like businessmen, travelers, intellectuals or students were interned after the outbreak of the war. The project analyses POW camps as well as camps for civilians as one of many sites of encounter during wartime (like hospitals, trenches). It aims to explore the experience and representation of colonial actors during the First World War in Europe by investigating written (e.g. camp newspapers, letters, reports) and visual sources (e.g. photographs, postcards, posters), as well as sound recordings. Thus, the project seeks to uncover spaces, processes and relationships between actors from various colonies in a situation of captivity and control.

Natalia Stachura

The First World War caused immense shifting in the social systems of nearly all European countries. The urge to convince the national and international public about the political rightness of their purposes was even strong by all the sides of the conflict. Also the neutral countries needed a means of communication showing the citizens that, although they are not eager to fight, they are ready to defend their territories. The cinema proved to be the best method to achieve those propagandistic goals. The highly nationalistic pictures mythicized the heroism of fighting soldiers and civilians and the barbarism of the oppressors. The pictures thus spoke stronger than words and appealed to all social groups. Behind the typical marketing strategies the diplomatic agents of fighting empires were trying to stimulate the purchase of rental of films portraying their cause as the only just and to retard or bulk the screening of films showing the counterpart in a good light. In some cases the belligerents were able to create their own film studios and film magazines in neutral countries and by doing so they were able to produce film propaganda which was not evident yet present and working.

The Netherlands, balancing between the Allied and the Central Powers offer a perfect case study of film propaganda, the foreign and the Dutch. My project focuses on the archive research and film analysis. I am looking at the newsreels, documentaries, travelogues and feature films screened in Holland during the War and I am trying to discover the political actions that stimulated the screening of certain titles and tried to stop another from being shown.

Pawel Stachura

I am currently editing an essay collection on literary responses to the War in various colonial nations and marginalized groups. The theme is divided loyalty and the sense of fighting somebody else’s war. The collection will include an exhaustive study of Black American novels about the First World War, and essays on African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, and Middle-European texts related to the war. I am going to prepare a chapter about novels and poems related to the war in the Caucasus, discussing texts written by Georgian, Armenian, Azerbeijani, Russian, Austrian, German, and Polish authors.

Daniel Steinbach

I am a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London, working on the colonial strand of the project with a focus on East and South Africa. I hold an M.A. from the Humboldt Universität Berlin and a PhD from Trinity College Dublin. Previously I taught at the University of Exeter and worked at the German Historical Museum in Berlin.

My research is concerned with the social and cultural impact of the First World War on the colonial societies of South Africa as well as German and British East Africa. I am interested in the interaction between African, Indian, and European soldiers and civilians in the colonial theatres of war and the representation and memory of these campaigns in Europe and Africa.

Jennifer Wellington

From March to September 2014, I was a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London, working closely with Dr. Santanu Das on the colonial strand of the project. My research focuses on the representation of war and violence in an imperial context, both during war and in its aftermath. I am particularly interested the representation of war in exhibitions during the war, and in metropolitan and colonial war museums. These can be understood as sites of encounter, both with allies and enemies, and with the experience of war itself. I am also working on soldiers’ souvenir collecting habits, and how collecting was used as a way of structuring their experiences. My research thus far has focussed on Great Britain and the British Dominions, particularly Canada and Australia.