Ongoing Projects

Ongoing Projects

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World wars and world views. Arabic and Indian experiences of the World Wars between local interpretations and propaganda

Ravi Ahuja
Katharina Lange
Heike Liebau

This joint project is concerned with both Arabic and Indian perception and experience of the two World Wars. How were multiple and divergent perceptions consolidated into common experience in a field of competing patterns of meaning and practice? How did this experience shape the self-image, world views and orientation of agents in the various societies concerned? These are the main questions to be explored by the project.
In a continuation of earlier research at the CMO on ‘World Wars and world views. Arab perceptions of World War I and World War II’, the present project aims at transcending the Eurocentric boundaries in current writings on the cultural history of the ‘Age of World Wars’. It focuses on the translocal and transterritorial context of non-European World War experience, where conflicting propagandist interventions met with self-willed, local efforts to confer meaning on experiences and perceptions. Extending the regional and social scope of the investigation also opens up new and complementary perspectives: whereas the earlier project examined the perceptions of Arabic combatants and intellectuals, we now extend our view to include Arabic civilians and Indian intellectuals and prisoners of war.

Images of war. Arab civilian experience of the World Wars

Dr. Katharina Lange

Building on the previous project Images of War. Arab participants’ experiences [i.e.: the experiences of Arab participants in the two world wars] of World War I and World War II, but now focusing on the civilian population in Syria and Jordan, this project looks at Arabic experiences and perceptions of the two World Wars. The research concentrates on the effects of the Second World War on everyday life in Syria and Jordan. By evaluating written and oral sources, it investigates individual perceptions, strategies and spaces of action, and the resultant experiences of war. Local perceptions of and interactions with European actors, as well as European norms and interpretations of the World Wars and their consequences are another focus of the project.

Contested Meanings of World War I. The Case of South Asian Prisoners of War in Germany

Dr. Ravi Ahuja

This part of the project focuses on the experiences of Indian PoWs interned in German prison camps during World War I. It examines how World War experience was endowed with meaning, translated into patterns of social agency, and transported back to South Asia. Meaning was generated in a transterritorial production process that was both structured and conflictual as a result of the various and disparate interests involved. Military, government and academic circles of the warring states, as well as exiled intellectuals from South Asia found themselves confronted in their efforts with flexible and often countervailing patterns of interpretation – patterns that were derived by prisoners of war from their mainly rural context of origin. The project aims at identifying the categories (such as religion, ethnicity, nation, Empire, and class), topoi, and contradictions pertaining to this process of making sense of World War I.

The First World War in Indian public spheres: from perception of war to the reconfiguration of identities, world views and world orders

Dr. Heike Liebau

Concentrating on the Indian perception and experience of World War I, the project investigates their representation and interpretation in different public spheres. It focuses on the two central aspects of how the implications of war events influenced Indian views of the British Empire world order and “Western Civilization”; and how these processes changed religious, cultural and political self-perceptions among a wide spectrum of educated Indians. The position of Indian intellectuals from different social and political backgrounds is the key research interest. The project aims to contrast the debate among the English-speaking elite with the treatment of war events in the Hindi-speaking public sphere, which was shaped by “secondary elites” from middle and lower-class social groups. Another revealing perspective is the analysis of the war discourse among Indians in North America and Europe. The research is based on documents produced by the anglicized political elite as well as on the English mainstream press. Hindi media used by “secondary elites” and publications by Indian nationalists exiled in Europe and North America are also investigated.