Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe after the Second World War

Jan 27, 2021

Lecture (virtual) | 10am -11am PT | Speaker: Paul Betts (St Antony’s College, Oxford)

Co-sponsored by Institute of European Studies and Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington

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In this presentation, Paul Betts will discuss his new book on Europe after 1945, which explores how changing understandings of civilization underpinned a new politics of identity in an era of defeat and division across the Cold War divide. It traces how this long-reviled term of European superiority enjoyed a popular comeback in many circles, variously used to imagine Europe as a whole as well as to justify its political differences. The new mission to re-civilize Europe was by no means confined to conservatives, and was seized upon by a surprising array of competing causes and interest groups from across the political spectrum and Iron Curtain. In the aftermath of war, civilization served as a favorite point of reference to grasp Europe’s new postwar condition beyond the nation-state and Cold division, and to reconsider its relationship to the past, the future, and the rest of the world. 

Paul Betts teaches Modern European History at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and is the author of several books, most recently Ruin and Renewal: Civilising Europe after the Second World War (Basic Books US/ Profile Books UK, 2020). He has co-edited seven books, including (with Jennifer Evans and Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann) The Ethics of Seeing: Photography and 20th Century German History (Berghahn, 2018) and (with Steve Smith), Religion, Science and Communism in Cold War Europe (London: Palgrave, 2016). From 2014 to 2018 he was Co-Investigator of a 4-year AHRC-funded collaborative project on “Socialism Goes Global: Connecting the Second and Third Worlds,” from which a co-edited volume (with James Mark) on Red Globalism will appear with OUP in 2021.