Conferencing the International: a cultural and historical geography of the origins of internationalism (1919-1939)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography

Abstract

One of the largely forgotten legacies of the First World War was the belief that peace would result from connections between and across national borders, the fault lines of the war itself. After the centenaries of the War have concluded, we will argue that we should remember how hopes for peace were tied to hopes for connections across the earth; that is, for "the international".

Forging these connections and new worlds required new sites of interaction, meeting, learning and friendship making. These sites were the international "conferences" of the interwar period, the places in which internationalism was forged and politically debated, emerging through conversation, disagreement, dance, song, taste, and laughter. Through piecing together the records of these meetings, we will provide a rich history of the spaces through which the international was created and challenged, and in which it floundered.

Existing literature has shown that conferences had grown in popularity towards the end of the 19th century, connected to wider showcases such as world fairs and universal exhibitions (35 between 1900-1910) and to the explicitly internationalist claims of the socialist and communist left. But there is a dearth of research into modern international conferences that emerged specifically to take advantage of the opportunities the post-war world offered for peace. For some, peace was the stability of pre-existing colonial empires; for others, peace was "not-war"; while to others, peace required the destruction of the pre-war political landscape.

We will examine three sets of conferences that demonstrate these visions of peace and their forms of internationalism that were emerging through and in tension with specific nations (Britain, France and the USA): the Round Table conferences on the future of India in the British Empire (Legg), the International Studies conferences of the League of Nations's ICIC (Heffernan), and the Pan-African Congresses (Hodder). Each of these conferences provided a public commentary on the changes brought by the war and the prospects of a new international order which it was seen to make possible. It was the secret negotiations before and during World War I which exposed the urgent need for public political meetings, to which people would travel from around the globe; these meeting spaces are what international conferences provided.

We know very little about the internal spaces of these conferences. Internationalism wasn't centrally organised; it took place through specific, brief meetings of overlapping groups in particular locations. As a result, the archives of modern internationalism is fragmented and dispersed. This project will re-assemble and re-interpret these archives through an analysis of the infrastructures, materials and performances of the inter-war international conference: where people stayed; how their days were planned; how clothing and manners facilitated or hindered certain meetings; what they discussed, and how.

One hundred years after the First World War it is often claimed that modern digital technology and instantaneous communication will render the practice of conferencing obsolete. Yet our globalised world is still shaped by G20 meetings, Climate Change Summits and World Economic Forums, embedding locations like Davos and Kyoto in the international geographical imagination. This project will historically situate and explain how conferencing in our contemporary period remains as important as ever. We will communicate our research through a co-authored monograph and an edited volume resulting from a major international conference and exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on international conferencing at the end of the award, as well as with smaller workshops that will bring together academics, conferencing professionals, and community groups with interests in the global cast that these meetings assembled.

Planned Impact

Our research findings will be publicly launched immediately after the centennial commemoration of the Armistice in 2018, tapping into the substantial informed and curious public opinion which will have been created by four years of war centenaries. We will shine a new light on the interwar years through emphasising the international, the non-European, and the microcosms of the conferencing world. The highly visual research material will provide ample opportunities for cultural enrichment that will benefit the creative and media industries via our multi-sensory histories of the fashions, foods, interior decors, comportments and performances of the interwar world. Beyond popular interest we will specifically target three groups of beneficiaries.

1. Professional practitioners: To enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of outside organisations with potential benefits to the UK's global economic performance, we will share historical lessons of how conferences succeed or fail with these practitioners, presenting examples of successful host venues, programmes, etiquette and infrastructures, and the range of spaces used to combine business negotiation with environmental enjoyment that will inspire and improve their economic performance. Our workshops and international conference will provide a valuable networking event with contemporaries from cognate professions. We will select the most suitable practitioners to collaborate with from the following: representatives of NGOs and other agencies involved in international conference organisation; representatives of commercial companies specialising in conference organisation such as Bond Dickinson LLP, Informa, Getenergy, and World Business Research; representatives from the hotel and hospitality management industries; and representatives from a selection of learned societies involved in conference organisation, including the Royal Geographical Society and the International Geographical Congress.

2. Representatives of the modern incarnations of the historical conferences under study: these beneficiaries will learn about the history of their organisations, what made them succeed, and what made them fail. This will enhance their sense of institutional confidence and pride, provide new historical perspectives, and provoke them to reflect on their racial and international identities. These will include representatives of the UNESCO (see letter of support), Round Table organisation, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the on-going Pan-African conferences. The infrastructures which supported the conferences also have contemporary manifestations. These hotels, restaurants, bars, and institutions will also be actively involved in the network of academic and non-academic partners, increasing their awareness of their historic roles which will present various opportunities for business collaborations with similar institutions and marketing opportunities.

3. British South Asian and Black communities: the research will benefit society and encourage personal pride by providing inspirational role models and creating new public knowledge. The Round Table and Pan-African conferences represented early if temporary moments of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism in Britain and abroad. The figures involved will be an inspiration to black, Asian and minority ethnicity communities, especially children, who will get to learn about inspiring figures such as Gandhi and WEB DuBois. We will build on extensive connections forged by Heffernan as Co-Director of the AHRC World War One Engagement Centre which addresses national and faith communities that were excluded from WWI commemorations nationwide. We will work to enhance community cohesion via gatekeeper organisations such as the New Art Exchange (see letter of support), Nottingham's Pakistan Centre, the Hindu Community Centre, and the Afro Caribbean National Artistic Centre.

Publications

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Hodder J (2016) Toward a Geography of Black Internationalism: Bayard Rustin, Nonviolence, and the Promise of Africa in Annals of the American Association of Geographers

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Hodder J (2017) Waging peace: militarising pacifism in Central Africa and the problem of geography, 1962 in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

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Jons, H (2017) Mobilities of Knowledge

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Legg S (2017) Decolonialism in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

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Legg S (2016) Subject to truth: Before and after governmentality in Foucault's 1970s in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

 
Description We have hosted the first of three planned workshops with "professional practitioners". This was held at the University of Nottingham and brought together those involved with marketting Nottingham Universities as conferences spaces. We shared some of our historical work, and that of invited academics, and hosted discussions about the current state of conferencing.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Other
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Nottingham Art Exchange 
Organisation Nottingham Art Exchange
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Nottingham Art Exchange were named in our application as a partner with whom we would develop a working relationship over the four year duration of the grant. We have met with the director of the gallery and discussed how we can work together as the grant progresses.
Collaborator Contribution Skinder Hundal, the Director, is keen to be a gatekeeper to local community groups with whom we plan to do impact and knowledge exchange work. We will also discuss the possibility of displaying the exhibition materials we put together for use in London at this Nottingham gallery.
Impact Still at preparatory stage
Start Year 2015
 
Description Royal Geographical Society - Institute of British Geographers 
Organisation Royal Geographical Society
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution We have organised a session for the 2017 RGS-IBG Annual Conference and will be holding out concluding conference and exhibition on site, bringing new audiences to the venue and contributing to the institution's self awareness as an historical conference site itself. We have been sending historical mentions of the RGS to Catherine Souch and will continue to do so.
Collaborator Contribution The RGS-IBG will be hosting out concluding conference and will be offering financial and infrastructural assistance
Impact The main output will come in 2018 in the form of a major international conference.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Advisory Board Meeting, July 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held and Advisory Board meeting in July 2016 where the UK based members came to Nottingham for two days. We presented summaries of our research plans, heard about board members' work and sought advice on how best to procede.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/groups/interwarconf/documents/advisory-board-first-meeting-repo...
 
Description Advisory Board Meeting, July 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact We held an Advisory Board meeting in July 2017 where the UK based members came to Nottingham for two days. We presented summaries of our research plans, heard about board members' work and sought advice on how best to procede. We involved postgraduate students and then blogged a report about the workshop so that members of the public could follow the progress of our work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/interwarconferencing/2017/08/01/2nd-annual-advisory-board-meeting-july...
 
Description Black History Month school visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Dr Jake Hodder visited a local school during Black History Month to test a teaching pack he had devised, which included materials for a half-hour assembly, and two separate hour-long workshops, one aimed at younger students, and one older. He trialled both of these workshops twice. The focus of the assembly and lessons was on Marcus Garvey, one of the leading Pan-African figures of the 1920s. The aims of both of these workshops was to create an engaging activity that would encourage students to think critically about the past. They sought to draw on the latest academic scholarship, including some of the insights from this research, which has shown the importance of understanding Pan-Africanism not simply as a political project, but one in which social, cultural, artistic and intellectual elements combined. These 'enrichment' lessons blended together history, geography and literacy skills with a number of broader questions relating to citizenship.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/interwarconferencing/2017/11/01/black-history-month-2017/
 
Description Blogging 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We launched our blog which has featured regular updates from the research team on archival trips, reading groups, and conference activity.

We have made connections with other blogs and plan to cooperate in the future to share each other's work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/interwarconferencing/
 
Description Blogging 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have continued to maintain our blog, also using twitter to further advertise blog posts. We post on the first of the month, with blogs containing summaries of archival visits, recaps of discussions at reading groups, and adverts for forthcoming events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/interwarconferencing/
 
Description Conference sessions at the RGS-IBG Conference 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Hodder and Prof Legg organised two panels at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, held in London in August 2017. The panels were entitled "Anti-Colonialism and the Spaces of Political Negotiation" and included presenters from academic institutions in the UK, Ireland, Sri Lanka, South Korea. We were able to use our sponsorship of the Sri Lankan candidate to secure a fee waiver from the RGS-IBG. The session was well attended and in discussions afterwards with audience members and presenters there was an agreement that the panel had changed peoples views about the spaces and mechanisms through which anti-colonialism had operated.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://conference.rgs.org/AC2017/8d52279d-f98b-4eaa-877e-a2b55ce70fed
 
Description Conference/Seminar presentations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Papers were presented at various conferences and seminar series to trial the research and gain feedback. Stephen Legg presented work at the following events

States and their Making:International and Comparative Perspectives Conference, Lund University Sweden, May 19-20 2016

Technologies of Stateness: International Organizations and the Making of States Conference, European University Institute, Florence, Italy, 15 - 16 September 2016

School of Geography Seminar Series, King's College, London, 2nd November 2016

History Research Seminar, University of Manchester,10th November 2016

Institute of Asia Pacific Studies, University of Nottingham, 15th December 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Conference/Seminar presentations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Papers were presented at conferences, symposia and seminar series by the team members to communicate our work to students, staff and the general public. These included presentaations by team members at the following:

Hodder

1. RGS-IBG International Conference, London, UK. August, 2017
2. London Group of Historical Geographers Seminar Series, London, UK. October, 2017
3. Cultural and Historical Geography Seminar Series, University of Nottingham, UK, February 28, 2018

Legg:

1. Contemporary South Asia Seminar, Department of International Development, University of Oxford. February 2017
2. Department of Sociology, University of Delhi. March 2017.
3. O.P. Jindal Global University, Harayana, India. March 2017.
4. 20s30sNetwork: Workshop on "Display": University of Nottingham, May 2017
5. RGS-IBG International Conference, London, UK. August 2017
6. Geographical Association lecture, University of Nottingham. March 2017
7. Warwick Law School, University of Warwick. March 2017

Heffernan:
1. International Conference on the History of Science and Technology in Rio de Janeiro.July 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Workshop I: Campus Conferences 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On December 20th 2017 we hosted a workshop at the University of Nottingham which brought together contemporary conference practitioners with academics who have researched conference/events on campus and/or hosted them. We had two afternoon sessions. In the first session we heard from three teams who organise conference events on local campuses, representing: the University of Nottingham (UoN); Nottingham Trent University (NTU); the events team of the University of Nottingham Students' Union. We were also joined by members of the University of Nottingham's Centre for Advanced Study who advise on bidding for conference funds within grant-writing. In the second session we tried to provide materials that could help the UoN team reflect on the history of events on campus. We gained a tremendous amount in terms of insights into the current conferencing industry, some of the foundations of which were lain in the interwar period, which is the focus of our research.The attendees reported various benefits, from gaining insights into their professional practice by comparing their work to peers (NTU and UoN staff) and through gaining insights into the history of conferencing at Nottingham to use in marketting the campus as a conference venue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/interwarconferencing/2018/02/01/conferencing-and-universities/