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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s


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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16. Introduction: The Expanded Universal Language Movement (Grace Brockington)


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16  Introduction: The Expanded Universal Language Movement

The central problem of internationalism is communication. Everything promised – peace through negotiation, prosperity in trade, scientific excellence, freedom of movement, class solidarity, religious understanding, humanitarian collaboration – depends on it. Moreover, the technology of internationalism which, at the turn of the twentieth century, included a state-of-the-art postal service, a mechanized transport system, and the electronic miracle that was telegraphy, only made the problem more acute.1 The means of rapid travel and communication that it offered demanded an adequate mode, and this was not necessarily to hand. To be sure, some existing languages were widely used as lingua francas – French as the language of diplomacy, English as that of the British Empire, Latin for Roman Catholicism – and we now know that English became dominant during the twentieth century, propelled by the rise of the USA to economic and political supremacy. In the early 1900s, however, the question was still open, and the solutions which it inspired were variously brilliant and bizarre, ingenious and impractical, or sometimes even convincing, and, briefly or otherwise, successful in attracting a community of users.

Much has been written about the universal (verbal) language movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and about its most ← 351 | 352 → successful manifestation, Esperanto.2 This part of Imagined Cosmopolis seeks to broaden the scope of the debate by drawing attention to a phenomenon that was prominent at the time, but which...

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