Transnational Relations of Experts, Elites and Organisations in the long Nineteenth Century

Conference | 5-6 September 2008, St Andrews
Part 2: 31 August – 1 September 2009, Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland

Convenors: Bernhard Struck, Davide Rodogno, Jakob Vogel

Following the classic studies e.g. by Eric Hobsbawm and Charles S. Maier, the nineteenth century has long been understood as the age of European nationalism and imperialism and of modern territorial regimes. The erection of frontiers and borders in the wake of an intensification of national rivalries, especially during the second half of the century has been seen as characteristic for this age.

Such a nation or state-centred view, however, left out the trans-territorial and trans-border relations which developed in most western European countries during the same period. Increasingly, transnational elites and organisations contested this notion of geographical and political fragmentation and instead set out to act beyond the national frontiers. While the control of territories and borders was intensified by state authorities, informal as well as formal associations and organisations like the ancestors of non-governmental organisations built up networks trespassing national frontiers and acting inter- and transnationally.

In order to address these issues, the School of History at the University of St Andrews, and the University of Köln organised the workshop ‘Transnational Relations of Experts, Elites and Organisations in the long Nineteenth Century’, which was held at the University of St Andrews on September 5-6, 2008. It aimed at exploring and discussing the various aspects of transnational groups of elites as well as networks and organisations between ca. 1800 and the 1930s. The focus was centred on questions of the emergence of transnational networks and the periodisation of that process as well as the main objectives of the organisations and associations. Up for debate were the impact of such cooperations on a national and international level and the extent to which national and international politics and policies were reshaped. Connected to that was the issue of the intersection of NGOs and networks of elites and experts.

Given that set of questions, the workshop sought to tie in and integrate four fields of study which have flourished during recent years: the history of international organisations, the examination of scientific experts and elites, the general trend of analysing the nation and the emergence of transnational transfers and eventually the phenomenon of europeanisation/globalisation.

The workshop began with the first panel, ‘Scientific Communities and the Transnationalisation of the Social and Political’. It dealt with the role and objectives of experts and their congresses in the field of social, political and judicial issues during the long nineteenth century.

With revolution and repression often being analysed in a pan-European perspective, while social reform is mostly regarded in a national framework, CHRIS LEONARDS (University of Maastricht) argued for the examination of the latter in a transnational perspective. Understood as the first step towards writing a histoire croisée of social reform in Europe, he introduced his quantitative analysis of experts’ activities in five series of European penitentiary, welfare, social sciences, hygiene and statistical congresses. These gatherings, Leonards argued, were indicators of the transnationalisation of expert knowledge in this field. As a result, a ‘reform vanguard’ of some 20 mostly unknown individuals, which also included very few prominent reformers like Edwin Chadwick, had turned out to form an ‘epistemic community’ (Peter M. Haas) of social reform in the making. Its members were highly interconnected by biographies and transnational communication such as congresses, publications, correspondence and work in associations.

CHRISTIAN MÜLLER (University of Cambridge/University of Münster) investigated the Association Internationale pour le Progrès des Sciences Sociales as a case of social science congresses which, as he pointed out, had to be considered as political congresses. The self-constituted experts promoted the academicisation of the congress movement and used peace as a prominent catchphrase after the European wars and crises of the 1860s in order to gain influence with the governments. According to Müller’s findings, this was especially the case with liberals after the failed revolutions of 1848.

In her paper, MARTINA HENZE (University of Copenhagen) gave an impressive long-term analysis of the prison reform movement from the end of the 18th to the middle of the twentieth century. She depicted three distinct phases (1770-1820, 1820-1870, 1870-1935/51). In the first phase, the prison reform movement started as a cosmopolitan discourse revolving around the prevention of criminality on a broad transnational basis. Thereafter it developed into a close-knit transnational network during the emergence of nation states in the course of the nineteenth century. Finally, it became a semi-official organisation in the notion of ‘governmental internationalism’ (Madeleine Herren) with a broadening, but still European/North American centred scope, with its functions virtually taken over by the UN in the 1950s. Henze’s account of the growing infiltration of the movement’s congresses by the axis powers in the 1930s also illustrated that transnationalisation should not, however, be positively connoted in general, since it always bore the danger of being ‘hijacked’ by downright national agendas.

With the emergence of international judicial organisations and the construction of transnational jurisdiction, LEONIDA TEDOLDI (University of Verona) took into account another objective of cross-boarder operating organisations and associations. He showed how international jurists used the opportunity of the peace congresses, held in European capitals or major cities during the 1840s-50s, to claim the establishment of an international tribunal to deal with disputes between states. Thus, as Tedoldi put it, international law was born at the end of the 1860s. The impression of the bloody conflict in the Austrian part of Italy, as well as the Franco-Prussian war, led to a further series of conferences of experts and state delegates. After a long process of consolidation this finally resulted in the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1899 and the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1922 under the auspices of the League of Nations, both residing in The Hague.

Recapitulating the papers of the first panel, BERNHARD STRUCK (University of St Andrews) pointed out that obviously smaller countries took means to take part in congresses, thus attempting to increase their political influence on an international scope. Consequently, he suggested stressing spatial issues further in future works. With regards to the question of periodisation, a shift can be observed in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was due to improvements in transport and communications, paralleling the findings of Ernest Gellner regarding the formation of the nation state. As a third consideration, he hinted at the social background and fabric of the expert groups, which could be an object worthy of further analysis, for example by deploying Bourdieu’s concept of social and cultural capital.

The second panel was entitled ‘National Rivalries and Transnational Exchanges’ and discussed competitive aspects and the question of nation as a category in general.

The congress movement was not constrained to social, political or judicial issues, but also took educational topics into account. Comparing the French, German and Swiss case, DAMIANO MATASCI (University of Geneva) examined a network of contacts between actors in science and politics in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Here, again, the formalisation of networks in the shape of transnational organisations can be observed in the field of school reforms and knowledge circulation. This led to the establishment of the International Congresses of Education, which functioned as an important place of international circulation of pedagogical ideas and school models. This circulation, as Matasci posited, overcame the constraints of national debates, and developed into a transnational discourse of school culture on a European scale.

Not an issue of transnationalisation but one of nationalisation of experts was addressed by JAN SURMAN (University of Vienna). He examined the mobility of academics as an elite in the Habsburg monarchy in the period of increasing nationality conflicts after the failed revolution of 1848. Surman depicted a digression of the original Habsburg transnationality towards a nationalisation of academia by nationalising both personnel recruitment and the various disciplines. This had a confining impact on academic mobility, as Surman pointed out. During the discussion, however, the question posed was in how far the concept of transnationalism could be deployed with the multi-faceted case of the Habsburg Empire.

Regarded as a project fixed at the intersection of historical politics and environment, CHRISTIAN LOTZ (Institute of European History, Mainz) illustrated the struggle for sustainable timber resources between Hanover, Scotland and Norway. Lotz made the case that between 1780 and 1890 a change in the perception of wood took place in these countries. This also influenced the character of conflicts about timber resources, which therefore should be investigated on a transnational perspective, taking into account not only economic but also political and cultural aspects. This development also led to the rise of Forestry Science and the introduction and transfer of new techniques of forestry in these three countries, bringing up a new technical and scientific elite in charge of that important economic field.

TOBIAS BRINKMANN (University of Southampton/Penn State University) focused on Jewish mass migration from Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. As a group without its own state and territory, Jews and Jewish communities could not act nationally. In contrast to hitherto research on migration which tends to focus on the role of national authorities, Brinkmann studied the function of transnational philanthropic organisations such as the Hilfsverein. Given the factual statelessness of Jews in Eastern Europe, he was able to show that such organisations did not only provide material support, productivisation and the efficient handling of transmigration. Above all, as Brinkmann argued, they perceived themselves as guardians of the stateless Jewish migrants, thus substituting the state and transforming a specific Jewish problem into a general question of human rights.

It is obviously easier to identify the transnational notion with the congress movement than with the specific cases presented here, as JAKOB VOGEL (University of Köln) summarised the findings of the second panelcs papers. He suggested a careful handling of the concept of transnationalism where one practically deals with non-national entities, and also raised the question in how far the category of the nation could be substituted by that of a cultural space, thereby stressing the chances linked to such questions for further conceptual reflection in transnational studies.

The third panel, ‘Transnational Connections in the early Twentieth Century’, shifted the temporal focus of the workshop and took an approach to institutionalised internationalism around the League of Nations as well as to the transnational transfer of modern technology.
In his paper, FRANK BEYERSDORF (University of Mannheim) discussed the function and impact of the Information Section of the League of Nations, which took an active role in endorsing League internationalism by collecting and disseminating information. Beyersdorf made the case that the IS furthered the creation of non-state transnational journalist organisations, however with the underlying aim to steer the press under League tutelage in the interwar period. On the other hand, such organisations, as Beyersdorf argued, would distance themselves from the League and rather criticise the unfulfilled claim of League internationalism.

The question of what it was that led to experts being perceived as such or perceiving themselves as experts was central in the presentation of JEAN MICHEL CHAUMONT (University of Louvain-la-Neuve). Being part of a history of prostitution in the nineteenth century he intends to write, Chaumont discussed the legitimisation of the members of the Special Body of Experts on the Question of Trafficking in Women and Children set up by the League of Nations in the 1920s. He denied the expertise of its members, but in explicating the case of the Italian Princess Bandini, he was able to show that they claimed their expertise from having visited international congresses on the topic, thus presenting an inverted understanding of the so far observed relation between experts and congresses.

A local approach towards a transnational network of experts was taken by STÉPHANE FRIOUX (University of Lyon II). Working on the history of hygiene in Lyons, he found vast transnational relations on the questions of sanitary engineering and garbage and sewage management. He showed how French municipal authorities benefited from this transfer of ideas and technical innovations: cities like Paris, Lyons and Nancy took a leading position in the transnational network and boosted the French urban sanitation field at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Widening the geographical horizon of the workshop, KATHARINA RIETZLER (University College London) presented a study of transatlantic entanglements. She investigated the Carnegie Endowment as an example of American philanthropy support of international peace networks and organisations in the first third of the twentieth century. Its European branch, the Centre Européenne de la Dotation Carnegie pour la Paix Internationale, served as a hub for European internationalists. While the foundation, as Rietzler demonstrated, strengthened European internationalism by providing grants to several groups and journals, after World War I it changed its approach: very early it focused on backing the establishing League of Nations, as well as on financing research with the aim of developing International Relations as a science. In doing so, the foundation tried to transform its pre-war `elite network’ into a ‘network of experts’ as Rietzler concluded. In her presentation she also emphasised the importance of the Hague Peace Conference in 1899 for the network formation between the delegates and its consequences for the international peace movement.

In reviewing the panel, DAVIDE RODOGNO (University of St Andrews) regretted not having received any papers on the intersection of transnational elites and public opinion in the late-nineteenth century. This important desideratum might have served as a valuable hinge between the nineteenth century focus and the papers located in the early-twentieth century.

In her conclusion, SANDRINE KOTT (University of Genève) pointed out that elite networks came into existence in the nineteenth century and were the basis of institutions acting inter- and transnationally. She strongly recommended taking into account the social history of the actors as well, enabling for instance a comparison between bourgeois and aristocratic networks. Furthermore, congresses should not only be regarded as a gathering of experts, but also as a place where they defined themselves as such, thus producing a common identity. Moreover, as Kott commented, the objects of internationalisation could be further stressed, exploring the methods by which local, regional and national problems were turned into international issues.

JAKOB VOGEL (University of Köln) finally pointed at the problems in defining the terms experts and expertise. Another field which would deserve more work is the space in which these networks emerged or acted, since there were several spaces, such as Germany or the Habsburg Empire, which could not be put on a par with nations. The complex case of Habsburg especially could provide new perspectives on transnationalism, leading to a new assessment of how the empire and the nation state related to each other, but also comprising the chance to reassess the validity of transnationalism as a concept. Taking space into account would also bear the opportunity of investigating the core or periphery of networks, as Vogel argued, widening the scope towards countries like Russia or the Ottoman Empire for example, which have been left out in this workshop. And taking into account the politics and mechanics, as well as the interests which were pursued by the networks, the still prevailing idea of a generally positive transnationalism should finally be abolished, Vogel concluded.

Conference Overview:

Panel I: Scientific Communities and the Transnationalisation of the Social and Political

Chris Leonards (University of Maastricht): The Transnationalisation of Social Reforms, 1840-1880

Christian Müller (University of Cambridge/Münster): ‘No one will keep us from founding the United States of Europe.’ The Association Internationale pour le Progrès des Sciences Sociales and its concept to legislate Peace in Europe, 1858-1873

Martina Henze (University of Copenhagen): Transnational cooperation, nation states and politics in the field of criminal policy: The prison reform movement 1770-1935/51

Leonida Tedoldi (University of Verona): At origins of International Judicial Organizations: the Construction of Transnational Jurisdiction

Panel II: National Rivalries and Transnational Exchanges

Damiano Matasci (University of Geneva): International Congresses of Education: school reforms and the circulation of knowledge in Western Europe, 1880-1900

Jan Surman (University of Vienna): ‘Scientific Community’ in nationalistic turmoil: the mobility of academics within the Habsburg Monarchy 1848-1918 in light of national conflicts

Christian Lotz (Institute of European History Mainz): Between National Rivalry and Transnational Exchange: German, British and Norwegian Struggle for Sustainable Timber Resources 1802-1880

Tobias Brinkmann (University of Southampton/Penn State University): Transnational Jewish Philanthropic Organizations and the Jewish Mass Migration from Eastern Europe 1860-1914

Panel III: Transnational Connections in the Early Twentieth Century

Frank Beyersdorf (University of Mannheim): Internationalising the ‘Fourth Estate’? The Press and the League of Nations during the Interwar Period

Jean Michel Chaumont (University of Louvain-la-Neuve): Supranational ideology and nationalistic practices: The Special Body of Experts on the Question of Trafficking in Women and Children (League of Nations, 1924-1927)

Stéphane Frioux (University of Lyon II): Networking Cities and Urban Environmental improvements in France (19th century 1950s)

Katharina Rietzler (University College London): Transatlantic Networks and the Quest for World Peace, 1900-1930

Neill Busse, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture, Giessen