Confirmed keynote speakers are, Prof. Dr. Annette Becker (Université de Paris Nanterre), Prof. Dr. Maartje Abbenhuis (University of Auckland, New Zealand), Prof. Dr. Fischer-Tiné (ETH Zurich, Switzerland), Prof. Dr. Christian Gerlach (University of Berne) and Prof. Dr. Hans-Lukas Kieser (University of Newcastle, New South Wales and University of Zurich).

Keynote I – Prof. Dr. Christian Gerlach: World War I within a global history of mass violence in the first third of the 20th century

Time: Wednesday, January 31, 19.00 Uhr

Room: KOL-F-101

Abstract: Unlike what one would expect from an analysis of the First World War within a history of mass violence in the first have of the 20th century, aglobal analysis restricted to the first third of the century guides the view to phenomena undermining several grand narratives. Within the latter mentioned period, the industrial warfare of 1914-18 stands pretty isolated, with few exceptions. Some techniques and practices of the intense and widespread colonial violence between 1900 and 1914 may have been applied inside Europe later during World War I, but the time after 1918 – and from 1924 to 1933 in particular – was a relatively calm one in colonies (except for Northern Africa). There were few great interstate wars 1923-33, too, that could have generated mass violence against non-combatants. Many regimes became much more repressive at home after 1933. Civil wars or long-term inner conflict continued more or less in the USSR and China, but in other areas it ended (Mexico, Turkey, Caucasus region) for a shorter or longer period. Also, some bloody inner conflict (like in China) or colonial wars (like the Spanish one in Morocco) that did exist in the 1920s had little relation to World War I.

The presentation discusses possible explanations for these developments, e.g. financial constraints and the decline of certain great powers or, quite in contrast, the peak of colonial power. In addition, I shall consider how the developments in the first third of the 20th century fit into the larger socioeconomic picture based on the idea of long waves theory.

This picture draws into question teleological views and several popular theories like of a continuity from colonial violence to Auschwitz and of a 30 years‘ European civil war. One may also wonder then in which ways exactly World War I was the „great seminal catastrophe“ of the 20th century.


Prof. Dr. Christian Gerlach is a professor of modern history at the University of Bern and Associate Editor of the Journal of Genocide Research. Among his works we can mention (with Götz Aly) Das letzte Kapitel: Realpolitik, Ideologie und der Mord an den ungarischen Juden 1944/45 [The Last Chapter. Realpolitik, Ideology and the Holocaust in Hungary, 1944-45], Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941-1944 [Calculated Murder: The German Economic and Extermination Policy in Byelorussia] and Sur la conférence de Wannsee. Gerlach highly contributed to the debate about genocide and contemporary violence with his article « Extremely Violent Societies: An Alternative to the Concept of Genocide« . His contributions help us to understand the German resistance to Hitler and the implication of the Wehrmacht in national socialist war crimes.

Keynote II – Prof. Dr. Maartje Abbenhuis : Global war, global Switzerland: Neutrals at the heart of the First World War

Time: Thursday, February 1, 15.50 Uhr

Room: KOL-F-101

Abstract: If they consider them at all, historians of the First World War tend to relegate the plight of neutral countries to the peripheries of their war narratives. The heart of warfare lies, of course, in battlefronts, military confrontations and in the human suffering inflicted by belligerents. Yet in the global total war that played out between 1914 and 1918, neutrals fulfilled pivotal roles as agents of economic warfare, as protectors of geo-strategic advantages and as humanitarian ambassadors. This presentation revisits the functions of neutrality and belligerency during the First World War and argues that only by integrating the role of neutrals and neutrality into the grand narrative of the conflict can we fully understand its totalising and globalising effects. It suggests that a global history of the First World War has to be a history of belligerents and neutrals. As such, Switzerland should be considered a key site of war history, but so should other neutrals, like the Netherlands, Spain, Columbia and the United States (before 1917).


Maartje Abbenhuis is a historian of neutrality and internationalism, particularly in Europe in the period 1815 – 1919. She has published a book on the maintenance of neutrality by the Netherlands in the First World War, entitled The Art of Staying Neutral. The Netherlands in the First World War, 1914 – 1918 (Amsterdam University Press, 2006). Her latest book, An Age of Neutrals. Great Power Politics 1815 – 1914 was released by Cambridge University Press in 2014 and won a Choice Outstanding Academic Title award.

At present she is working on the global history of the two Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907. She was awared a Royal Society of New Zelanad Marsden Grant for this research. She is in the process of writing two books for Bloomsbury publishing: The Nineteenth-Century World. The First Age of Globalisation (with Gordon Morrell, forthcoming, 2019) and Global War, Global Catastrophe. Neutrals, Belligerents and the Transformation of the First World War (with Ismee Tames, forthcoming, 2020).

Keynote III – Harald Fischer-Tiné:  Migration of soldiers and YMCA


Time: Thursday, February 1, 18.40 Uhr

Room: KOL-F-101

Abstract This talk aims to contribute to the global history of the First World War and the history of ‘imperial humanitarianism’ by taking stock of the Indian Young Men’s Christian Association’s Army Work schemes in South Asia, Europe and the Middle East (Mesopotamia and Palestine) between 1914 and 1920. The outbreak of the war was hailed by some American secretaries of the Y.M.C.A. working in India as presenting overwhelming oppor­tunities for their proselytizing agenda. Indeed, the global conflict massively enlarged the organisation’s range of activities among European soldiers stationed in South Asia and for the first time extended it to the ‘Sepoys’, i.e. Indian and Nepalese soldiers serving in the British imperial army.  Financially supported by the Indian public as well as by the governments of Britain and British India, the US-dominated Indian Y.M.C.A. embarked on large-scale ‘army work’ programmes in the Indian sub­continent as well as in several theatres of war almost from the outset, a fact that clearly boosted its general popularity.  The paper addresses the question of the effects the Y.M.C.A.’s army work schemes had for the wider imperial war effort and tries to assess their deeper societal and political impact as a means of educating better citizens, both British and Indian. In doing so, the article places particular emphasis on the war zones as theatres of intercultural encounter. In particular the activities of American Y-workers are put under close scrutiny to better understand to what extent pre-existing imperial racial and cultural stereotypes influenced their perception of and engagement with the European and South Asian soldiers they wanted to transform into better civilians.

Harald Fischer-Tiné is Chair of History of the Modern World at ETH Zurich. He was Professor of History at the Jacobs University Bremen from 2006 to 2008; before that, from 2000 to 2006, he was Senior Research Assistant at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He obtained his PhD and habilitation in 2000 and 2007 respectively, from the University of Heidelberg. In 2012, he was Fellow in Residence at the Lichtenberg Kolleg of the University of Göttingen.

At ETH Zurich, Harald Fischer-Tiné currently chairs the committee for Compulsory Elective Courses (Studiendirektor GESS-Pflichtwahlfach) at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences (D-GESS), and is a board member of the GESS department (Departementsausschuss D-GESS). His research is focused on transnational and global history, history of knowledge, history of South Asia (18th to 20th century), history of colonialism and imperialism.

Among his publications we can mention: Shyamji Krishnavarma: Sanskrit, Sociology and Anti-Imperialism (London-New Delhi: Routledge India, 2014) ; Low and Licentious Europeans’: Race, Class and White Subalternity in Colonial India (New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2009) and « Mass-Mediated Panic in the British Empire? Shyamji Krishnavarma’s ‘Scientific Terrorism’ and the ‘London Outrage’, 1909 », in Fischer-Tiné. H. (ed.), Anxieties, Fear and Panic in Colonial Settings: Empires on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), S. 99-134.


Keynote IV – Annette Becker : The Ordeal of Civilians in a Globalized War

Time: Friday, February 2, 09.00 Uhr

Room: KOL-F-117

Abstract:  For 100 years, military fronts have played a dominant role in attempts to think the First World War, and justifiably so. But to understand the war as a whole, it is necessary to reflect not only on the soldiers’ war, but on everyone’s war. Civilians were both what collateral participants in combat, supplying the fronts with the fruits of their surplus labor, and collateral victims, suffering and grieving. But civilians were also at the very heart of the war in particular territories, invaded, occupied, raided, and bombed. How has the specific violence inflicted upon civilians in general and upon particular groups of civilians been remarked and represented, in its actuality or in its remembrance, forgetting, and deformation? What attempts have been made to show the unshowable, to apprehend the inconceivability of the facts themselves?
Intentionally or incidentally, the Great War became a laboratory in a globalized world: an experimental site for testing practices of violence and for optimizing its effects on men and materials. More specifically, civilians in zones of urban bombings, invasions, and military occupations provided a full-scale testing ground for population transfers and repression. In the case of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire, policies of extermination were tested as well.
These experimental zones constituted an atypical front where artillery and gas were replaced by exodus, deportation, forced labor, and concentration camps. For civilians in such zones, to flee and to take refuge were positive actions compelled by invasion; to be expelled, deported, and then interned in a camp as an “enemy alien,” a hostage, or a laborer was a passive state that was forcibly imposed. In both cases, civilians were torn from their homes and removed to temporary places of exile, lasting only for the duration of the war. But “temporary” was often four years or more.
I will draw up a general typology—too general—in an attempt to establish some intellectual order among the multiple hostilities that affected millions of civilians across Europe and worldwide during the First World War. The difficulty of naming the different conditions of death, departure and of life in exile is attributable to the novelty and complexity of the global phenomena.


Annette Becker, Professor of Modern History at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre and a senior fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France, is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Review of the Red Cross. She divides her work between the two world wars, and is especially interested in the plight of occupied, deported, and murdered civilians, in the concept of genocide, and in the memory of conflicts, in particular as practised by modern artists such as Jochen Gerz, Natacha Nisic, and Pierre Buraglio.

She published different studies about faith during the First World War (La guerre et la foi, de la mort à la mémoire Paris, Armand-Colin, 1994), about civilians, prisoners and occupations during the 20th century (Oubliés de la Grande guerre : humanitaire et culture de guerre, 1914-1918 : populations occupées, déportés civils, prisonniers de guerre, Paris, Noêsis, 1998 ; Les cicatrices rouges 1914-1918, France et Belgique occupées, Paris, Fayard, 2010) and she collaborates with Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, with whom she wrote 14 – 18, retrouver la guerre, « Bibliothèque des Histoires », Gallimard, 2000.

Keynote V – Prof. Dr. Hans-Lukas Kieser: Istanbul in the 1910s: A Hub of Diplomacy and Global Conflict

Time: Friday, February 2, 14.00 Uhr

Room: KOL-F-117

Abstract: The logics and chronology of war was different, if seen from Istanbul. The cataclysmic last decade of the Ottoman Empire anticipated major events and phenomena of European history. For Istanbulites, comprehensive cataclysm started with the Balkan Wars, when they experienced in late 1912 loss, defeat and hundred thousands of refugees. This was followed by the rise of the Young Turk committee’s dictatorship: the first single-party regime of the twentieth century.

Counterbalancing West- or Euro-centric narratives of the Great War, this presentation claims an appropriate dose of “Levant-centrism”. Although it was the seat of a universal caliphate and, diplomatically, part of Greater Europe, Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, has remained an underestimated, little known hub and factor of war. Ottoman decline together with daredevil committee politics made the Ottoman Empire a cup of trembling for the European powers already before the July Crisis in 1914. The eve of the First World War coincided with the culmination of the so-called Eastern Question, a major challenge of international diplomacy since the late eighteenth century.

As they were little calculable, multiply connected and displayed unconventional, growingly bold behavior, the Young Turk rulers in Istanbul became potent players, though often misjudged as junior partners only of Gemany during war. Young Turk warfare was “total” in a sense unknown in Europe at that time. It went in tandem with a transformative domestic agenda of a national social revolution, including country-wide demographic and economic engineering, dispossession and genocide. The main political leader of this era was minister and party boss Mehmed Talaat. The main ideologist was his close committee friend Ziya Gökalp, a seminal prophet, to this day, of Turkish-Muslim nationalism. Radical practice and propaganda of Islamic Turkism during war, as performed by Talaat, Gökalp and their affiliates, anticipated patterns of European fascism.

War in the core lands of the Ottoman world lasted until 1922. Widely appreciated as a triumph for the (ex-Young Turk) Kemalists, the Treaty of Lausanne had the merit to conclude the cataclysmic decade. Yet, it did neither heal wounds, repair damage and clarify major crimes nor permit the intrasocial negotiation of stable social contracts in the post-Ottoman geography. It set an international model for rewarding violence, compulsory population transfer, the primacy of unitary polities, and (revanchist) revision of (imperialist) Paris peace treaties.



Prof. Dr. Hans-Lukas Kieser, Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow at the University of Newcastle, is a historian specialising on the late Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey, and on interactions between the Levant and the transatlantic world in general. He was Invited Kratter Professor at Stanford University, Palo Alto, in 2010; invited Manoogian Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2008; invited scholar at the Bilgi University in Istanbul in 2006 and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes an Sciences Sociales in Paris in 2004; a fixed-term professor (Professurvertreter) at the universities of Freiburg (Germany) in 2008–09, and of Bamberg, in 2005–06. Fellowship and awards from academic institutions in Zurich (Fonds zur Förderung des akademischen Nachwuchses) and Basel (Freie Akademische Gesellschaft, Max Geldner Foundation), and from the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Among the books and articles he published we can mention: A quest for belonging. Anatolia beyond empire and nation (19th–21st centuries), Istanbul: Isis, 2007. Reprint: Piscataway N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2010 ; Der verpasste Friede. Mission, Ethnie und Staat in den Ostprovinzen der Türkei 1839–1938 [The squandered peace. Missionaries, ethnicity and the state in the eastern provinces of Turkey 1839–1938], Zürich: Chronos, 2000 and (with Elmar Plozza) Der Völkermord an den Armeniern, die Türkei und Europa = The Armenian Genocide, Turkey and Europe, Zürich: Chronos 2006.