Panagiotis Karagkounis recalls the highlights from this summer’s workshop on “The Global 1922”.

Panagiotis is a PhD Student in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response at the University of Manchester.

As the working title of my thesis is ‘Forced Resettlement, Humanitarianism and the “Logic of Development”: The Greek case and the Near East, 1920s-1950s’, the workshop held this past August on Samos was a great opportunity to define my topic, present some preliminary results of my archival research, and reflect on my methodological tools. As part of my thesis I examine the routes refugees followed, and how refugee camps shaped their experiences and identity. My presentation focused on the Save the Children Fund, which helped distribute aid within the camps, and sparked a vivid dialogue challenging my perceptions of refugee camps.

This feedback suggested I may have underestimated the role of camps as ‘sites of governance’, and might consider widening my current focus on humanitarian activities. The discussion nonetheless confirmed a conviction that we cannot understand the ‘local’ and ‘regional’ without the ‘international’ and vice versa. Localities such as the one which hosted our discussion can be internationalised, and be considered as lines or threads making the network of international societies thicker.

“The Global 1922” gathered twenty-five scholars – mostly historians, social anthropologists, and a professor of human rights – hailing from more than twenty institutions ranging from the USA to Greece, Ireland to Turkey. Most participants are well-established researchers in the fields of International History, Military History, and Social History. Papers considered topics from war and mobilisation to materiality and humanitarianism.

The most important – and surprising – element of the workshop was the interaction between Balkan/Greek historians and Ottomanists/historians of the Middle East. Being a Greek first-year PhD student, educated in both Greece and the UK, I was glad to see the other side of the coin, a side blurred by the nation-centric lens of official histories. The bulk of the literature does not cover Greco-Turkish story as a single, whole story, tightly interwoven and dynamically interactive with other entities, such as the Empires and the League of Nations. I am not yet persuaded that this is solely due to historiographical demarcation. The increasingly polarised rhetoric on foreign policy found in Greece and Turkey tends to normalise nationalistic, ahistorical interpretations of the Greco-Turkish War and the Treaty of Lausanne. I hope that the momentum created by this workshop is only a beginning, bridging these two different historiographical communities and furnishing an essential counterbalance to the instrumentalization of the historical past.

Why do we speak about the “global” when our papers are focused only on the broader European continent?

The two big questions which hovered over two days of lively discussion focused on the scale of analysis (“why Global?”) and the timeframe (“why 1922?”). The geographical coverage of the workshop seemingly stood in contradiction with its title: Why do we speak about the “global”, when our papers are focused only on the broader European continent? Was this workshop an endeavour to comply with the trends of the ‘global turn’, or was it a stepping-stone towards a new understanding of this turbulent era, one free of nation-centred narratives?

The response is not simple. In my understanding, the notion ‘global’ does not imply a connected story of each country in a comparative perspective à la histoire croisée. It is not a reference to geographical range, an inspiration to write a universal history, but instead a methodological approach, carefully chosen to shed light on the big transformations which occurred in the aftermath of the Great War. Seen from this viewpoint the workshop attempted to trace the known and lesser known economic connections, set of practices, transnational networks, imperial interests, conflicts, local peculiarities, and international cooperation which shaped the emerging globalised world. The conundrum of multiscale analysis, namely the connection between the local and the global, arguably remained unresolved.

The centenary of the end of the Greco-Turkish War (1922) was the starting point of this workshop. Needless to say each presenter stretched this point, but all highlighted the significance of 1922. Since each nation has its own temporalities and the end of the Great War was not the same in every state, how is the selection of 1922 justified? This rhetorical question overlaps with the problem of scale. In contrast to older narratives with their nationalistic claims on the historical past, the workshop did not frame the Near East as the centre of the world. Instead, it utilised the broader region as a springboard to understand larger modifications in the emerging global regime.

Similarly, in my eyes, 1922 is neither a turning point, nor a discontinuity, but mostly a period of acceleration. As one participant noted, ‘1922 was not a kind of Wilsonian moment.’ [1] The end of the Greco-Turkish War was the last praxis of the Great War. Yet the Lausanne Conference and the population exchange normalised older imperial policies and social engineering practices, such as massive displacement and humanitarian solutions as development avant la lettre. [2] In this sense, 1922 accelerated globalisation, homogenised nation-states, and altered humanitarian activities. With hindsight 1922 can be seen as the starting point of the ‘interwar depression,’ as Jay Winter pointed out during his concluding remarks.

A large Greek island covered with forest, closer to İzmir (Smyrna) than Athens, Samos was an ideal venue.  The ‘Global 1922’ does not propose a history of the present, but I do believe that it proves that history matters during times of humanitarian crises and geopolitical shifts. As a PhD student, I look forward to future ‘Global 1922’ events, considering the perspectives of neglected actors who were also agents of change: refugees, mostly Muslims, transferred from Greece to Turkey, humanitarians, civilians, soldiers, and policymakers. There lies the key to connecting local with global.



[1] Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[2] Davide Rodogno, Night on Earth: A History of International Humanitarianism in the Near East (1918-1930) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

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