Dr Tomás Irish will be speaking at the History Research Seminar on Thursday 15 October in room B02/03 of the James Callaghan Building at Swansea University. Entitled, ‘The Great War, universities, and cultural diplomacy’, the seminar is sponsored by CRAM.
This seminar will discuss the way in which universities were mobilized during the First World War. It will pay particular attention to the way in which universities and scholars in Britain, France, and the United States became agents of cultural diplomacy in wartime. This happened for two reasons.
First, universities quickly became seen as emblematic of the new type of warfare inaugurated by the First World War. Following the destruction of the library of the University of Louvain by the German army in August 1914, the war was quickly understood as one where cultural values, as well as armies, were fighting, with universities literally on the front line in this conflict. This became more apparent from 1915 as warfare changed and governments increasingly looked to academic experts to solve war-related problems. Consequently, universities became seen as emblems of modern war.
Second, the academic world was very inter-connected before 1914. While the outbreak of war limited contact between scholars on opposing sides, governments soon saw that pre-existing scholarly links could be leveraged to win neutrals over to their sides. As a result, British and French professors found themselves conducting cultural diplomacy in the United States. When the US entered the war in 1917, universities became the sites at which cultural alliance was celebrated and performed.
The paper will discuss these developments in the context of the historiography of the First World War and also that of cultural internationalism.