Emory Report
October 4, 2004
Volume 57, Number 7


Emory Report homepage   >   Current issue front page

October 4 , 2004
Emory to host four-day World War I conference

BY ERic Rangus

North America’s largest conference on World War I this year—the 90th anniversary of its outbreak—will be held at Emory, Oct. 13–16.

More than 40 academics from five countries will participate in “An Improbable War?: The Outbreak of World War I and the European Political Culture Before 1914.” The conference will feature several panel discussions, roundtables and a screening of World War I documentary made for British television.

“World War I has been called ‘the forgotten war’ in the United States,” said conference organizer Holger Afflerbach. “If you look to Americanist historians, when they refect about war, they generally go from the Civil War to the Second World War. But World War I was extremely decisive for the United States. It was a world power at the end of World War I. America was the major world industrial power in 1914, but only because of the self-mutilation of the Europeans were they able to be such a superpower in international relations from 1917–18 onwards.”

A native of Germany and a faculty member at Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, Afflerbach is Emory’s DAAD Professor of History (the acronym DAAD, translated from German, stands for “German Academic Exchange Service”). He is in the third year of a five-year stay on campus.

Knowing the 90th anniversary of the June 28, 1914, assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand—the spark that led to World War I—was approaching, Afflerbach began planning the conference in March 2003. He contacted several historians he knew, as well as a few he didn’t, and eventually put together the largest World War I-themed conference of 2004. Europe, the continent where the majority of the war was fought, is hosting several academic conferences on the war, but Afflerbach said the one he attended last month in Glasgow, Scotland, was considerably smaller than the upcoming Emory event.

For many years, most historians have agreed that because of a variety of intertwining factors—imperialism and an arms race among them—World War I was inevitable. Looking at the title of the upcoming conference, though, gives hints that some historians’ opinions may be changing.

“We have a saying in Germany—schoolbook wisdom,” Afflerbach said. “Europe was much more stable [in 1914] than has been acknowledged. This inevitability of war is a historical construct. If Austria had not attacked Serbia after the assassination, nothing would have happened.”

Former President Jimmy Carter will deliver opening remarks in Cannon Chapel at 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 13. The conference itself will begin at 3:30 p.m. in Woodruff Library’s Jones Room with the first panel, “War and Peace: Long-Term Developments in European Statecraft.” Afflerbach will be one of the participants, and German studies Chair James Melton with moderate. In all, eight current or emeritus Emory faculty will be taking part.

Following the Cannon Chapel opening, conference events will be held in three locations: the Jones Room, where the majority of the conference will take place; the Emory Conference Center, the location of the roundtables on Friday, Oct. 15; and the Goethe-Institut Atlanta, a German cultural exchange organization located at 1197 N. Peachtree Street. The Goethe-Institut will host a screening of one part of a 10-part documentary film on World War I produced by Oxford University Professor Hew Strachan for British television.

The author of three World War I-themed books over the last four years, Strachan will introduce the documentary, Oct. 15 at 7:15 p.m. He also will deliver the conference’s final paper at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16.

Attending the conference is free. To preregister, send e-mail to history graduate student Chad Fulwider at cfulwid@emory.edu. For further information including a complete program and participant list, visit the history department website at www.emory.edu/HISTORY and follow the links to the conference website.