Transnational Peace Networks and Communities of Pacifism from the 1920s to the 1960s

AHA Session 26
Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Iowa Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Kristen E. Gwinn, Northwestern University
Cecelia M. Lynch, University of California, Irvine

Session Abstract

Over the last decade, historians have paid increasing attention to the effects of movements, ideas and actors that transcend national borders.  Debates about the viability of transnational methods for the field of history have encompassed topics as broad as politics, gender relationships, and human migration.  In this context, the American Historical Association has played an important role in supporting academic discussions surrounding transnational methods.  Notable are the October 1991 AHR forum featuring American historians Ian Tyrell and Michael McGerr, the 2006 “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History,” the 2009 conference panel “Doing Transnational History” and the December 2009 AHR Forum “Transnational Sexualities.”  This panel builds on the AHA’s tradition of transnational historical inquiry by applying transnational analysis to twentieth-century peace networks.  Indeed, common goals of universal peace and disarmament forged strong bonds between nation-based peace activists, fostering critical exchanges of ideas and political strategies across national boundaries.  These four papers identify key areas in which a transnational approach can provide useful insights.  In particular, they argue that transnational analysis can be helpful to identify the complexities of the interaction among pacifists and the potential, as well as the limits, of their political activism.

The first two papers investigate the role of transnational women leaders who sought to influence the practice of internationalism in the 1920s and 1930s.  Kristen E. Gwinn (Northwestern University) looks at the role of Nobel Prize Winner Emily Greene Balch as a leader of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) who shaped the organization’s internationalist ideology.  Denise Ireton (Binghamton University) examines the role played by women activists Paulina Luisi of Uruguay and Mary Dingman of the United States in Geneva as they established an identity for women as international citizens and claimed their right to influence international policies debated by the League of Nations in fields such as disarmament.  The third and fourth papers shift the focus to visible displays of transnational pacifist cooperation during the period between the World Wars and into the Cold War.  Ilaria Scaglia (SUNY Buffalo) examines the network of individuals and institutions involved in the staging of international art exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s, looking at their role in inaugurating the practice of displaying national heritage in a context of international cooperation.  Through four case studies of German pacifist organizations from the early 1920s to the 1960s, Shelley E. Rose (Binghamton University) evaluates the extent to which German pacifists participated in transnational networks as well as the impact of those connections within national politics.  Organized around the theme of peace, this panel promotes further discussion on how historians can apply transnational methods to pacifist networks, broadening our understanding of political activism during this troubled period of history.

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