CFP: Intellectuals & the Great War – Ghent, deadline: 1 February 2014

Intellectuals & the Great War
An International Conference.
Ghent University, December 17-19, 2014

Ghent University announces a First World War conference, scheduled to take place from 17-19 December 2014. The focus of this international scholarly gathering is on the role of the intellectual in the First World War. It aims to explore the ways in which intellectuals, working in different fields and contexts, dealt with the strain, the shock and the aftermath of WWI. We invite papers that look into the position of the university during the war; the ways in which academia and the ‘monde international des esprits’ dealt with the issue of action and commitment, and what it meant for thinkers to be confronted with the physical aspects of war. In the vast field of WWI studies, relatively little attention has been devoted to the role of the intellectual. When this topic has been tackled the debate rarely reached a transnational, multidisciplinary level. In bringing together scholars from different academic and national backgrounds, the 2014 Ghent conference seeks to do justice to the many faces of the intellectual during WWI and wants to trace what the scholarly world now owes to them. We aim to address the strategies and narratives of both the Entente and Central European intellectuals, of both patriots and collaborators in occupied territories.

The Great War broke out at a time of educational reform. Due to demographic changes and social reforms the early twentieth century speeded up the democratization of higher education, which had slowly begun in the second half of the nineteenth century. The fact that colleges started to open their doors to men and, in some cases women, from different social backgrounds changed the profile of the intellectual, from armchair scholar to public figure and intrepid adventurer. The impact of the First World War on this development cannot be overestimated. Those not out on the battlefield had to confront the questions if and how to contribute and react. In which ways did the events influence innovative developments, within the fields of the sciences, philosophy, literature and the arts? In which ways was the question how to make sense of the broken minds, the many maimed and dead bodies dealt with across disciplines? What survives today of the insights or techniques that question yielded? How do twenty-first-century intellectuals, engage in writing and rewriting the history of 1914-1918, look back on the attempts of our peers to mobilize their minds and bodies? More specifically, the conference proposes four avenues, with four intellectual disciplines, for discussion:

· Science

The positioning of the academic and scientific world at large during the First World War is this section’s focus. We also welcome papers that seek to find an answer to what it meant to be an academic at the time, both intellectually and practically. We are interested in the legitimization of scientific and technological progress made in service of the war effort. Finally, we also invite papers that aim to understand the impact in terms of continuity and discontinuity of the First World War and the Russian Revolution on the transnational circulation of ideas and cultural goods. We encourage proposals that deal with the individual life-story of scientists, engineers, social and human scientists, to open up to a larger perspective.

· Literature

In this section we want to explore the impact of the Great War on early twentieth-century as well contemporary literature. Possible topics include: WWI as a period of literary innovation; the production and reception of patriotic and non-pacifist texts; the image of war poets as “doomed youth”; generation gaps in the war effort; the production of nationalist literature before, during, and after the war; the decision for authors whether to swell the ranks or to comment from the sideline; the ideal of heroism; the employment of women in factories and other previously male domains; the formation of new social norms in masculinity and femininity; war poetry by female writers and its exclusion from anthologies until after 1980; nature and the countryside as a scene of war and peace; the representation of trauma during and after the War Effort.

· Philosophy

Paper proposals that deal with any aspect of philosophy’s relationship to the First World War and its reception among philosophers are welcome. Topics could include the role of the war in the thought (and lives of) particular philosophers (e.g. Wittgenstein, Otto Neurath, Carnap, Bergson, Russell, Reinach, Eucken, etc). We are especially interested in papers that explore the role of the war in the rise (and decline) of philosophical movements (analytic philosophy, phenomenology, Lebensphilosophie, positivism) and their broader relationship to larger intellectual and political movements. We also welcome contributions that deal with the philosophy and morality of mass war and that trace the ways in which current debate in ethics relates to 1914-1918, with the use of arms, with the philosophy of history, and with the social responsibility, if any, of intellectuals.

· Artists and architects

Paper proposals dealing with the following themes are welcomed: The Great War as artistic motif; the war as catalyst for the development of new artistic currents as well as for the rise of a new type of artist coping with industrial modernity; the use of visual media in the war effort; the relation between the arts and new war-related visual practices (such as aerial photography or camouflage techniques); industrial warfare as a nihilist “Gesamtkunstwerk” in relation to avant-garde currents such as Futurism and Dada; the development of new international contacts and forms of collaboration among artists within pacifist circles in exile; architectural conferences and education of architects abroad; exiles returning to their home country; confrontation of local and international ideas about rebuilding the country ; et cetera.

Proposals for 20-minute papers are due via email ( by Feb 1, 2014, and should take the form of a 1-page abstract accompanied by a short CV; in the case of complete panels, proposals should consist of an abstract and short CV for every panelist together with a short CV for the chair (if different).

The conference will be held from December 17-19, 2014 at Het Pand, Onderbergen 1, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. We welcome papers in English, French, German, and Dutch.

For more information please visit the conference website:

Keynote speakers:

1. Christophe Prochasson and Anne Rasmussen (EHESS) authors of Au nom de la patrie. Les intellectuels et la Première Guerre mondiale (1910-1919).

2. Santanu Das, Senior Lecturer at the University of London, author of Touch and intimacy in First World War literature and Race, Empire and First World War Writing.

3. Roy MacLeod, Professor Emeritus of (Modern) History at the University of Sydney, and an Honorary Associate in the History and Philosophy of Science. Author of ‘The Scientists Go to War: Revisiting Precept and Practice, 1914-1919’, Journal of War and Culture Studies, 2 (1), (2009), 37-51, and ‘Science and Scientists,’ Jay Winter (ed.) Cambridge History of the First World War Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), vol. 5, 434-459, 704-708.

4. Annette Becker, at l’Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense and senior member of l’Institut universitaire de France. She is the author, with Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, of 1914-1918, Retrouver la guerre (Gallimard, 2000).

5. Sophie De Schaepdrijver, Pennsylvania State University, author of De Groote Oorlog – Het Koninkrijk België tijdens de Eerste Wereldoorlog (1997).