CFP: Conference "Acts of justice, public events: World War II criminals on trial" - call for papers

Audrey Kichelewski's picture

Your network editor has reposted this from H-Announce. The byline reflects the original authorship.

Call for Papers
March 30, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Contemporary History, Eastern Europe History / Studies, Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Russian or Soviet History / Studies

Call for papers


Prague, 12–14 October 2017



The social history of trials of war crimes and of crimes against humanity,1 which took place in
the aftermath of WWII and its following decades, opens up two new investigation fields. First,
taking into account the legal, political and social dimensions of these trials calls forth the inclusion
of the various actors who co-produced the legal action. Recent historiography has indeed started to
investigate the practices and discourses of the professionals working in the justice system, as well as
of the political authorities and of the witnesses who somehow shaped the trials. Second, the
diversity of the media mobilized to cover the trials, along with the diversity and temporalities of
their hybrid usages, are still a brand new field of exploration. Therefore, the studies focusing on the
platforms disseminating the information about these trials cast a new light on the frictions between
the ‘legal dramaturgy’ and those provided by journalistic, literary, and visual narratives.
The aim of this conference is to join these two fields of investigation focusing on the trials
which were designed as public events. By including the many professional and social actors who
got involved and shaped such public, or publicized, trials, we endeavour to question the notion of
publicization. The political and institutional choices not to have closed hearings had an impact on
the ways such trials were made public. A specific policy accompanied the distribution of the
information in order to channel their perception by the population as well as the interactions
between the authorities and the latter. On an epistemological level, putting at a distance the notions
of communication and mediatization allows for a reappraisal of these actors, who were more than
those implementing political decisions. It also enables to consider the press, written or filmed, the
radio and the theatre, not only as sheer channels of political information through other media.
Analysing the forms of involvement of these various actors (magistrates and police force, whistleblowers,
witnesses, defendants…) should therefore be crossed with a study of the part played by the
media supports in the organization, the development and the reception of the trials. The conference
will thus highlight the specificity of these publicized trials within the procedures conducted against
criminals against humanity.


The tensions between the legal and historical nature of such trials shall not only be studied

through the intents and practices of the political and legal authorities, but also through the part

played by the other co-makers of the event. Special emphasis will be put for instance on the search

for perpetrators by former victims who called on investigative bodies to bring them to justice, on

the involvement of commemorative associations in organizing the trials, on the reactions of the

public, on the media coverage of the trials. Sometimes, the readers of the newspapers which

published such promotional materials, demanded heavier sentences and a large coverage of the

prosecutions of war criminals. Was such public participation only organized from the top?

Moreover, legal and media actors, witnesses and memory communities took part in the shaping of

WWII narratives promoted in the public space in part by legal action.


If we consider these trials as social facts, another challenge must be met that concerns more

specifically the trials taking place in the East of Europe, in the states undergoing Soviet

satellization. An analytical method seeks to understand how public space was thought up in socialist

regimes. Benefiting from the outcomes of the research led on the forms of autonomy of social

actors under socialism, we strive to intertwine this perspective with a comparative approach as we

investigate the trials taking place in Eastern and Western Europe. Such approach will enable to deal

both with the political dimension of public trials and with the forms of mobilization of professional

and social actors in the context of the Cold War.


The political time frame pertaining to each country will be taken into consideration. For

instance, the legacy of the Soviet trials of the 1930s shall not be overlooked, although the

transformations introduced in the after-war should not be underestimated. How were such trials of

crimes against humanity employed in order to consolidate the internal legitimacy of the various

regimes, to unfold political pedagogy and stir popular participation within the societal project aimed

at? Did individual requests or popular unrest influence the choice to make these trials public or not?

The proposed method should enable to position them in connection with the national narratives on

WWII cast after the war and to give a sense of the responses according to the various types of

political regimes.



The conference will be built around three research topics. Which professional, institutional and

individual actors got involved as these trials unfolded within the different historical and national

contexts, and what was the extent of their autonomy? To what political and social aims did the

publicization practices of these trials answer to? How did the arts and the press media shape the

reception of these trials?


I. The first research topic of this conference shall be devoted to identifying of the involved actors,

and to understanding the forms and extent of their involvement, and the mutual interactions of such

actors with uneven political and symbolic assets. It shall follow the steps of the publicization of the

trials: the mobilization of actors (broadly speaking, e.g. including close and distant audiences of the

trials); the making of media (films, photography exhibitions, etc.); the reception.

Papers dealing with the following topics will be especially welcome: what relationships did political

makers engage with the population? What could prompt new actors (institutional, associative…) to

get involved as the trials were set up? What interactions can be observed during the reception of

these trials? In socialist regimes, could the political pedagogy conducted by political authorities

during the trials stir social initiatives? According to which criteria, the degrees of the autonomy of

the bottom up legal elaboration can be determined for different national contexts?


II. The second research topic shall investigate the aims granted by the State to such public trials and

their political consequences. The reinterpretation of WWII during the trials stands out within the

range of legitimacy strategies followed by the State. Was the public nature of these trials connected

with commemorative endeavours, even with small-scaled investigations? More broadly, how were

such decisions to make these trials public received? In this wake, what practices were unfolded by

legal and professional actors or by witnesses? What spaces of autonomy were at stake as knowledge

and expertises met? What pedagogy of power can be disclosed as the work of the legal system

received such emphasis?


III. Special focus shall be put in a third topic area on the communication tools used to cover the

trials and on their content. Connecting studies on cinema, the written press, the radio, leaflets, and

the arts, can help understanding the specificity and temporality of the usages of each medium.

Media professionals, who put into words and images the portraits of the victims, the perpetrators

and the witnesses, shall be put under scrutiny, along with the processes they resorted to. How did

they interact with the know-how and the documentation that were provided by other professional

actors implied in setting up the legal procedures? In which social, political and professional

contexts did the visual and textual representations get shaped? How did the media impact the trial

dramaturgy, the attorneys, judges, defendants and witnesses?2 What portraits of the public did they

sketch? Observing the possible correlations, or even confrontations, between the ‘legal dramaturgy’

elaborated by legal actors and the police, on the one hand, by the media on the other, shall be at the

core of this topic.

Papers can consist in case studies of trials or approach transversal dynamics can focus on types of

involved actors, forms of public engagement and of mediatization of the trials. The analysis of

international dimensions of such trials is particularly welcome, both in terms of aims sought by a

large-scale media coverage and in terms of international exchange of information, legal know-how,

witnesses, exhibits.


The language of the conference and its proceedings will be English.


Please send by the 30 of March 2017 a 300 word proposal in English including a title, along with a

selective bibliography and a short resume to:


Submission of proposals: 30 March 2017

Notification of acceptance/refusal: 1 June 2017

Dates of the colloquium: 12–14 October 2017


Travel and accommodation costs will be covered by the organizers in priority for researchers

without tenure.

Contact Info: 


Deadline for applications: 30 March 2017

Notification: 1 June 2017

Time and Venue: 12–14 October 2017, Prague


This conference originates from the encounter of three projects: a Russian-French project on trials

in the USSR (FMSH/RGNF), the micro-project of the Labex Création, Arts, Patrimoines ‘Images de

la justice”, and the WW2CRIMESONTRIAL1943-1991 project supported by the French National

Research Agency, whose first step it is.


Partners: Centre Marc Bloch, CERCEC, CEFR, CERHEC, GDR Europe médiane, and CEFRES.

Scientific Committee: D. Astashkin, A. Blum, A. Kichelewski, S. Lindeperg, F. Mayer, G.

Mouralis, M. Steinle, I. Tcherneva



Audrey Kichelewski :

Irina Tcherneva:

Contact Email: