Round Tables

Medieval History and the Great War: Historiography and Politics
Session code
Date Time
Tuesday, August 23rd / 14.00-17.30
Alexandru Simon
Collegium Novum, C1

Ernst Jünger’s Copse 125 acclaims the mechanized and industrial warfare of the First World War; his more famous Storm of Steel celebrates the qualities of endurance and courage shown by the ordinary German soldier. It was the second of these that provided the entry-point for medievalist interpretations of the war’s purpose and character—hence, the Gothic-style images of St George lancing the dragon, or of a German St Michael with sword aloft, or of a French (and oddly American too) Joan of Arc in armour, all of which were intended to excite the sort of personal commitment that Storm of Steel describes. The medieval or Gegenmoderne imagery (as Lars Koch has called it) spilled over into the ways in which the Great War was remembered and memorialized. Yet the medievalism of the First World War was apparent in more than just propaganda and funerary monuments. Processions and celebrations on the eve of the conflict, intended for purposes of popular mobilization, often drew on a romanticized vision of a medieval past of valiant knights and dutiful vassals. The most spectacular of these was the ‘festival of homage’ to Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna in 1908. But medievalism could also work to build bridges. ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ in England stressed the racial community which united Englishmen to ‘Teutons’. By suggesting that the war was being fought against the ‘wrong enemy’ (it should of course have been against the French), Anglo-Saxonism prompted pro-war publicists to distinguish between ordinary Germans and belligerent Prussians. The roundtable will review recent literature on the Great War and medievalism (Jay Winter, Stefan Goebel) while also proposing new links and additional avenues for investigation (Martyn Rady).