Textual Turning Point: The Futures of 1944

John Munro's picture
Call for Papers
October 6, 2017 to October 7, 2017
Nova Scotia, Canada
Subject Fields: 
Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Diplomacy and International Relations, Intellectual History, World History / Studies

The eventual outcome of World War II was coming into view by the beginning of 1944. Allied victories at places like Midway, Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, and Kursk meant that although there would still be much fighting, suffering, and dying to come, the corner had been turned by the end of 1943. Possible postwar futures therefore became something that politicians, writers, artists, and activists could begin to envision and hope to influence, and so 1944 was a year of future-oriented intellectual and artistic production. A transnational conversation began in earnest about such issues as the fate of empire, the shape of national revitalization, the reciprocity between market and state, the relationship between gender and citizenship, and the prospects for racial equality. Textually, the year marked a turning point not in the war but, perhaps more significantly, in the broader arc of the twentieth century’s economic, intellectual, and imperial history.


We invite scholars in the humanities and social sciences to submit workshop proposals that focus on a particular text from 1944. With a capacious conception of “texts” (including books, plays, photographs, films, essays, speeches, artistic objects, etc.), we aim to convene a workshop comprised of about 10 sessions over two days, with each session dedicated to one paper on one text. While the dueling economic visions of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, the radical pessimism of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and the liberal optimism of Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma, or the complex fatalism projected in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and the ruthless expediency scrawled into Churchill and Stalin’s “percentages” agreement (all produced in 1944) make these much-studied texts appropriate and compelling candidates for proposals, this workshop also hopes to broaden the frame beyond a North Atlantic focus. We are particularly curious as to how visions of decolonization were being anticipated concurrently with the ideas presented in 1944’s most conspicuous works. We are interested in the unwavering articulations of postwar goals being put forward beyond Europe and North America in a year when Mao Zedong, in his “Serve the People” speech, was telling his growing ranks of followers that “when we die for the people it is a worthy death.” From Brazzaville to Bretton Woods, there was a globally shared awareness of the momentousness of what was at stake in what would follow the collapse of Germany and Japan’s empire-building gambits.


In order to explore these and other related issues in some detail, once we have selected the participants for this workshop, we will request papers of approximately 10,000 words for pre-circulation. In order to ensure an in-depth discussion of every paper, we will also ask participants to engage with the primary texts before the workshop. Each 70-minute session will be dedicated to one workshop paper and its corresponding text. Our ultimate aim is to produce one or possibly two special journal issues during 2019, which will mark the 75th anniversary of 1944.


While it is unlikely that we will be able to cover all costs for conference participants, there will be no registration fee for this workshop, meals will be included, and we expect to have sufficient funding to cover a portion of transportation to and from Halifax and/or accommodation expenses. Initial proposals of a single pdf containing an abstract of no more than 500 words and a one-page CV, should be sent to textualturningpoint@gmail.com by 01 January 2017. Accepted participants will be notified by 01 February 2017, and asked to submit full papers by 01 August 2017.

Kirrily Freeman, John Munro, and Xiaoping Sun, Department of History, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada