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Age of Destruction: World War I – One Hundred Years Later (2014 Mary Stevens Reckford Memorial Lecture in European Studies)
February 20, 2014 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Reckford Lecture in European Studies:
The centenary of World War I is the occasion for unending retrospectives that express horror and amazement in the face of utter destruction. This lecture rather tries to articulate a different incomprehension. If World War I was a European war over the future of the world, the futures of the world that emerged from the age of destruction were unlike anything the belligerents, high and low, had expected. How could this happen? An answer to this question hinges, in part, on understanding the peculiar “totalizing” energy of the war, which was unleashed in 1914 and crashed through legal, political and “civilizational” hedges that had meant to contain violence – away from bourgeois society and beyond the European world. It also depends on making sense of an age of destruction – a yet more deadly war, a forty-year war-in-sight confrontation in Europe and the violent ends of empire – that emerged from World War I. Not least, it hangs on identifying the countervailing forces that broke, fractured, transformed, and excised this energy after the 19th Century containments had collapsed. For in the end, we need not only make sense of a peculiar form of war, “total war,” but also of the long and violent transformation of Europe in the hundred years since 1914. How did the ‘men from Mars’ become the ‘people from Venus’? How did autocracies turn into democracies? How did a Europe of Empires turn into a Europe of interdependent nation states? World War I is at the cusp of these developments. It is both an end and a new beginning.
Michael Geyer is Samuel N. Harper Professor of German and European History and Faculty Director, Human Rights Program, at the University of Chicago.
Co-Conveners: UNC-Chapel Hill: Center for European Studies, Department of History, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, Institute for the Arts and Humanities • Duke University: Department of History • Research Triangle Series on the History of Military, War and Society • Triangle Institute for Security Studies