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Zero Hours

Conceptual Insecurities and New Beginnings in the Interwar Period


Edited By Hagen Schulz-Forberg

To cut off time and seal away the past, to proclaim a new beginning in the present and project a better future onto tomorrow – and thus to make history – is a key signature of modern social, political and cultural discourses. In this book, this practice is represented through the metaphor of the Zero Hour, which alludes to the wish to rebuild the past in the face of a crisis-ridden present characterised by growing conceptual insecurity, hoping for a more stable future. Indeed, the ever-new construction of our past, sequenced and ordered in explanatory narratives, bears witness to a future that ‘ought to be’. As the case studies in this volume show, this is a global phenomenon.
Against the backdrop of a confluence of experiences which unsettled conceptual norms after the First World War, this volume presents a novel approach to global history as it examines ways of breaking with the past and the way in which societies, as well as transnational historical actors, employ key concepts to compose arguments for a better tomorrow.


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The preparation of this book brought together researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds and different countries, even continents. The meetings and discussions were brimming with intensity and curiosity. One of the participants joining our multilingual crowd was James Kaye, who originally came from the Unites States, or rather Brooklyn, as he would make sure to point out. He had lived for the last fifteen years mainly in Florence, Italy, however. I got to know James in 1998 when I joined the European University Institute for my PhD research. James arrived a year before me and already had the air of an authentic Tuscan, so immersed was he in the beauty and culture – especially the culinary one – of Florence and her hills. Over the years we became friends and I got to know James as a truly independent and creative intellectual and individual. Continuously, James had developed a fascination with alternative forms of narrating history, especially visual ones. I had the opportunity to collaborate with him again within the framework of an international research project on the European public sphere which we coordinated with Anna Triandafyllidou under the direction of Bo Stråth. James created a visual archive of iconic European images for the project. His continuous interest in art and images inspired him to embrace a new topic on international art fairs within the context of the Zero Hours project. He joined us in Aarhus for meetings and our common inter- national conference on the subject. James’ personality always added warmth...

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