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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s

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Edited By Charlotte Ashby, Grace Brockington, Daniel Laqua and Sarah Victoria Turner

The period from the 1870s to the 1920s was marked by an interplay between nationalisms and internationalisms, culminating in the First World War, on the one hand, and the creation of the League of Nations, on the other. The arts were central to this debate, contributing both to the creation of national traditions and to the emergence of ideas, objects and networks that forged connections between nations or that enabled internationalists to imagine a different world order altogether. The essays presented here explore the ways in which the arts operated internationally during this crucial period of nation-making, and how they helped to challenge national conceptions of citizenship, society, homeland and native tongue. The collection arises from the AHRC-funded research network Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870–1920 (ICE; 2009–2014) and its enquiry into the histories of cultural internationalism and their historiographical implications.

This collection has been edited by members of the ICE network convened by Grace Brockington and Sarah Victoria Turner.

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14. World Capital Cities in the Belle Époque: Claiming Centrality through Cosmopolitanism (Wouter Van Acker)

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WOUTER VAN ACKER

14   World Capital Cities in the Belle Époque: Claiming Centrality through Cosmopolitanism

In the prelude to and aftermath of the First World War – moments when internationalism gathered momentum in different ways – intellectuals, activists and political leaders engaged in the quest to locate or create a ‘centre’ for internationalism. Several promotional strategies tried to weave the formation of such centres around nodes in the existing network of world cities. The choice of location for international associations, international congresses, world exhibitions and Olympic Games was influenced by campaigns that sought to demonstrate the juridical, infrastructural and economic advantages of particular cities and disadvantages of their rivals.

In the Belle Époque, several internationalists argued that the uncoordinated proliferation of networks of international organizations slowed down the movement of internationalism. The American political scientist Paul Reinsch, for example, thought that there would only be a chance to establish a new peaceful order if the forces of internationalism were integrated:

A great work may be done at the present time in correlating these mutually independent efforts and institutions, in ascertaining which may co-operate more directly and in elaborating an organization which could mediate between them or include them all, giving to each its proper sphere.1

To some extent, this centralization did indeed occur, as many international organizations installed their seats mostly in the capital or close to the centre of national politics. But when considered on a world...

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