Interwar Crisis Book Talks

During the Spring 2021 quarter at UC Los Angeles, I taught a survey course titled “Interwar Crisis: Europe, 1918-1939.” In addition to offering my lectures and assigned readings, I hosted a series of book talks that, in one way or another, impinged upon the history of Europe’s interwar crisis. Below are the titles and descriptions for the research monographs in the book talks series, along with the streamable video recordings from each of the virtual meetings I hosted. Enjoy.

 

Dominique Kirchner Reill, The Fiume Crisis: Life in the Wake of the Habsburg Empire (Harvard, 2020)

The Fiume Crisis recasts what we know about the birth of fascism, the rise of nationalism, and the fall of empire after World War I by telling the story of the three-year period when the Adriatic city of Fiume (today Rijeka, in Croatia) generated an international crisis.

In 1919 the multicultural former Habsburg city was occupied by the paramilitary forces of the flamboyant poet-soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio, who aimed to annex the territory to Italy and became an inspiration to Mussolini. Many local Italians supported the effort, nurturing a standard tale of nationalist fanaticism. However, Dominique Kirchner Reill shows that practical realities, not nationalist ideals, were in the driver’s seat. Support for annexation was largely a result of the daily frustrations of life in a “ghost state” set adrift by the fall of the empire. D’Annunzio’s ideology and proto-fascist charisma notwithstanding, what the people of Fiume wanted was prosperity, which they associated with the autonomy they had enjoyed under Habsburg sovereignty. In these twilight years between the world that was and the world that would be, many across the former empire sought to restore the familiar forms of governance that once supported them. To the extent that they turned to nation-states, it was not out of zeal for nationalist self-determination but in the hope that these states would restore the benefits of cosmopolitan empire.

Against the too-smooth narrative of postwar nationalism, The Fiume Crisis demonstrates the endurance of the imperial imagination and carves out an essential place for history from below.”

Watch the Recorded Book Talk Here:

 


 

Stephen Bittner, Whites and Reds: A History of Wine in the Lands of Tsar and Commisar (Oxford, 2021)

Whites and Reds: A History of Wine in the Lands of Tsar and Commissar tells the story of Russia’s encounter with viniculture and winemaking. Rooted in the early-seventeenth century, embraced by Peter the Great, and then magnified many times over by the annexation of the indigenous wine economies and cultures of Georgia, Crimea, and Moldova in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, viniculture and winemaking became an important indicator of Russia’s place at the European table. While the Russian Revolution in 1917 left many of the empire’s vineyards and wineries in ruins, it did not alter the political and cultural meanings attached to wine. Stalin himself embraced champagne as part of the good life of socialism, and the Soviet Union became a winemaking superpower in its own right, trailing only Spain, Italy, and France in the volume of its production. Whites and Reds illuminates the ideas, controversies, political alliances, technologies, business practices, international networks, and, of course, the growers, vintners, connoisseurs, and consumers who shaped the history of wine in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union over more than two centuries. Because wine was domesticated by virtue of imperialism, its history reveals many of the instabilities and peculiarities of the Russian and Soviet empires. Over two centuries, the production and consumption patterns of peripheral territories near the Black Sea and in the Caucasus became a hallmark of Russian and Soviet civilizational identity and cultural refinement. Wine in Russia was always more than something to drink.”

Watch the Recorded Book Talk Here:

 


 

Claudio Fogu, The Fishing Net and the Spider Web: Mediterranean Imaginaries and the Making of Italians (Palgrave, 2021)

“This book explores the role of Mediterranean imaginaries in one of the preeminent tropes of Italian history: the formation or ‘making of’ Italians. While previous scholarship on the construction of Italian identity has often focused too narrowly on the territorial notion of the nation-state, and over-identified Italy with its capital, Rome, this book highlights the importance of the Mediterranean Sea to the development of Italian collective imaginaries. From this perspective, this book re-interprets key historical processes and actors in the history of modern Italy, and thereby challenges mainstream interpretations of Italian collective identity as weak or incomplete. Ultimately, it argues that Mediterranean imaginaries acted as counterweights to the solidification of a ‘national’ Italian identity, and still constitute alternative but equally viable modes of collective belonging.”

Watch the Recorded Book Talk Here:

 


 

Edward B. Westermann, Drunk on Genocide: Alcohol and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany (Cornell University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2021)

“In Drunk on Genocide, Edward B. Westermann reveals how, over the course of the Third Reich, scenes involving alcohol consumption and revelry among the SS and police became a routine part of rituals of humiliation in the camps, ghettos, and killing fields of Eastern Europe.

Westermann draws on a vast range of newly unearthed material to explore how alcohol consumption served as a literal and metaphorical lubricant for mass murder. It facilitated “performative masculinity,” expressly linked to physical or sexual violence. Such inebriated exhibitions extended from meetings of top Nazi officials to the rank and file, celebrating at the grave sites of their victims. Westermann argues that, contrary to the common misconception of the SS and police as stone-cold killers, they were, in fact, intoxicated with the act of murder itself.

Drunk on Genocide highlights the intersections of masculinity, drinking ritual, sexual violence, and mass murder to expose the role of alcohol and celebratory ritual in the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Its surprising and disturbing findings offer a new perspective on the mindset, motivation, and mentality of killers as they prepared for, and participated in, mass extermination.”

Watch the Recorded Book Talk Here:

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