Lunchtime Colloquia 2016-2017 | Atlantic World Research Network

Lunchtime Colloquia 2016-2017

Lunchtime colloquia will meet in 2016-17 on varied weekdays (see below) from 11:45 am-1:30 pm. We usually meet in MHRA 1607, the Research and Partnerships conference room on the first floor of the Moore Humanities and Research Administration Building’s research wing. Colloquia will be led by colleagues from varied disciplines, but with a shared purpose: to explore life around the Atlantic Rim in ways that will spark new approaches, provide useful responses to work-in-progress, and reflect on the shared project of transatlantic studies.

As of February 2016, the 2015-16 Colloquium schedule is as follows:

Date Topic Presenter(s)
Thursday, November 17, 2016 Atlantic World or Atlantic Worlds?  How to Deal with Memories and Heritage of an Afro-Iberian-American World connected by the Atlantic? Dr. Amélia Polónia
University of Porto, Portugal
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 Winning the War, Winning the Peace: Twentieth-Century ‘Post-Wars’ Compared. Dr. Susan G. Pedersen
Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University
Monday, April 17, 2017 From Child Slave to Madam Esperance: One Woman’s Career in the Anglo-African World, c. 1675-1704. Dr. Colleen Kriger
Professor of History

Although each Colloquium will be by invitation and space is limited, you’re welcome to inquire about the availability of spaces on particular dates at

“Winning the War, Winning the Peace: Twentieth-Century ‘Post-Wars’ Compared.”—Dr. Susan Pedersen

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dr. Pedersen’s presentation focused on the League of Nations as a lens by which to examine the period between the First and Second World Wars, as well as the impact of the League’s legacy in influencing the post-1945 world. Historians’ understanding of the League has changed substantially in the last forty years. Arno Mayer’s 1967 book Wilson vs. Lenin: Political Origins of the New Diplomacy 1917-1918 and Charles S. Maier’s 1975 work Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany, and Italy in the Decade after World War I offered essentially Europe-centered accounts of efforts at stabilization following the First World War.  Although Arno Mayer focused on diplomacy and Charles Maier on attempts at socio-economic stabilization, both took the nation-state, and not the empire, as the unit of analysis and posited class conflict as the main threat to be overcome.

The recent “imperial turn” in historical and literary studies has proposed a different framework within which to understand this moment of post-WWI stabilization. Now scholars acknowledge that the Great War unfolded in Africa and the Middle East as well as in Europe. More recent scholarship, such as Erez Manela’s 2007 work The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism, demonstrates the far-reaching effects of the negotiations surrounding the Treaty of Versailles in a global context. While Wilson’s Fourteen Points had largely been written with Europe in mind, the ideas that Wilson espoused for the postwar world reverberated far beyond the Western epicenters of political power.

Through this more globalized historiography, we can examine the League of Nations in a different light. While it failed in its primary goal – the prevention of another global war – the League succeeded in other ways. It created a stage for the internationalization of crises, so that disputes between nations were thrown into the open where they could be arbitrated. While the absence of the United States as a member sunk any hopes of international peacekeeping, the League was quite successful at institution-building. Sir Eric Drummond, the League’s first secretary, organized its bureaucracy along functional rather than national lines. This creation resulted in a corps of bureaucrats loyal to the League rather than divided by national interests. The wide remit of the Covenant and the construction of the Secretariat facilitated international cooperation on non-political issues such as public health, refugees, communications, and economic stabilization, and fostered the growth of organizations like Save the Children. This nonpolitical bureaucracy and the people who managed it would serve as the foundation for the United Nations in 1945.

Ironically, the League’s focus on stabilizing the imperial order could foster greater contestation instead, especially as humanitarian or anti-colonial lobbyists descended on Geneva to expose contraventions of the Covenant. Dr. Pedersen pointed out that management of the imperial system stood as the common thread after both World Wars. In 1919 the goal was to stabilize the imperial order; in 1945 the colonized peoples of the world had their say in delegitimizing and dismantling that order.

To open discussion, Dr. Pubantz posited that the UN’s success in preventing another global conflict might be found in its greater diversity. Dr. Bolton suggested that the simultaneous development of the atomic bomb and the fear of mutually assured destruction might have staved off World War III. The UN’s peacekeeping mission, then, was successful not in preventing conflict, but keeping the scale of conflicts to small proxy wars between the First and Second Worlds (though this would offer little comfort to the victims, often people in young nations emerging from colonial emancipation).  Dr. Pedersen agreed that the UN’s decision to allow individual members of the Security Council a veto made it possible to avoid the sort of clashes between the institution and one or other of the great powers which brought the League down.

Dr. Moraru asked whether imperialism ever really disappeared. Perhaps the roots of modern conflicts could be explained by examining competition over influence between global powers. Where do nationalism, populism, and anti-globalism fit in?  Dr. Pedersen noted that one’s view on this was likely to be dictated by whether one took a proscriptive or descriptive view.

Dr. Williamsen inquired where the varied bureaucratic corps of the League went after its collapse. Dr. Pedersen noted that many of these corps moved on to offer their expertise in other agencies such the World Health Organization. The League of Nations also acted as an incubator for political theory. Members of the League bureaucracy also acted as conduits for networks of contacts within their own countries and did a good deal to establish international networks.

Dr. Hodgkins asked about the role of women within the League. Dr. Pedersen noted that many of the women who ended up in the League bureaucracy were clustered at the lower levels and often found their way in through more traditional secretarial work. While largely kept at the lowest levels of League staff, many women found opportunities to participate in international politics that they would not otherwise have been able to access.