Martin Kohlrausch, Deutsches Historisches Institut Warschau, Katrin Steffen, Nordost-Institut, Lüneburg-Hamburg, Stefan Wiederkehr, Deutsches Historisches Institut Warschau
Held at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw (GHI) and funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the GHI, the exploratory workshop “The International Community of Experts and the Transformation of the Fatherland. Central Eastern Europe in the European Context since World War I” explored the remarkable activities of experts, institutions, and companies that operated transnationally mainly in the region of Central Eastern Europe (CEE) after the year 1918. However, since the history of the region cannot be analyzed in isolation, the conference also included examples from Western Europe and the United States. Bringing together 27 mainly young scholars from 12 European countries as well as Canada and the United States, the workshop explored the relationship between the evolution of an “international community of experts” and the formation of states in CEE, which was marked by many breaks, during the “short” twentieth century – that is to say the developments that began to take hold after World War I. The workshop’s aim was to integrate the until now often neglected eastern part of the continent into a comprehensive European history and to analyze the phenomenon of the transfer of knowledge and technological expertise in Europe after World War I. In accordance with this focus, the workshop explored the following topics: experts and the media of knowledge communication, the role of the state, and, finally, the relationship between expertise and power. Thus, the workshop analyzed the relations CEE established and maintained with its eastern as well as western neighbors during the interwar and postwar years.
In their outline of the workshop’s conception, the convenors pointed out that despite the great incursions of World War I, the interwar period was marked by a tremendous increase in professional communication. Forums developed in existing and specially created organizations which were driven by the need to keep up with the accelerating pace of technological development. For this time period, we can observe a tense interrelationship between nation states and expert knowledge which persisted, albeit under radically changed circumstances, until after the end of World War II. On the one hand, this expert knowledge was developed in the framework of a universal understanding of knowledge. On the other, it was intended to serve the progress-oriented development of the respective national societies. Especially in the case of the newly founded states of CEE, these issues are of high relevance for understanding the history of the 20th century. The analysis of the relationship between technological innovation and transnational communication of knowledge has long been neglected by historiography. These questions were rarely addressed prior to 1989 due to the general political situation. Such an analysis would also require linking Eastern and Western narratives to develop a new synthesis of the history of technology and science and its transfer in Europe.
EVA HORN (Basel) gave the introductory lecture “Experts or Impostors? Blindness and Insight in Secret Intelligence”. Secret intelligence is in many ways an extreme case of expert knowledge. Therefore it is a good example to illustrate the specific characteristics of experts and expertise. According to Horn’s definition, expertise is highly exclusive. The expert status is awarded by other experts, i.e. peers. Double-checking in secret intelligence does not follow the pattern of falsification in Karl Popper’s sense. What is questioned is not the information itself, but rather its source. The institutionalized knowledge management in secret services leads to epistemological pathologies, i.e. to a blindness that consists in asking the wrong questions or looking for answers in the wrong direction. In his comment, Johannes Paulmann (Mannheim) stressed the role of the secret agent as a “self-proclaimed expert”. He pointed out that, when analyzing if states are willing and able to learn from experts, we should make a distinction between democratic states and dictatorships. On the one hand, due to public debate in democracies, expert knowledge is not always translated into decision-making. On the other, knowledge does not have the same epistemological quality in authoritarian societies as it does in democracies.
The second session focused on examples from CEE, although questions of general importance remained at the center of attention. PAUL WEINDLING (Oxford) commenced the section with a paper on “Public Health in Central Europe. National and International Expertise”. The paper dealt with the example of eugenics and showed to what a striking extent discourse on this topic not only abounded in CEE and can thus not be described as following a simple pattern of transfer from West to East. The respective states were rather subjects than – as is commonly assumed – objects in this discourse.
Weindling interpreted this as part of the extremely important role public health played in the region’s newly established states. Ministries charged with this matter and profiting from the lack of established structures were set up almost a decade before their counterparts in Western Europe. It goes without saying that this development offered considerable chances for the experts in the field, in most cases exceeding those of their Western counterparts. They could build on growing legitimacy, which helped them to successfully challenge both old values and old elites. Weindling presented public health as an extremely dynamic area and in doing so hinted at continuities between the interwar period and the communist era. Moreover, he stressed the importance of the international transfer of organization models.
Taking up this matter, ERIK INGEBRIGTSEN (Trondheim) examined an intriguing example of such a transfer in his paper on “The Agency of Knowledge Transfer: Hungarian Fellows of the Rockefeller Foundation, 1922-1939”, which offered much more than a case study. Ingebrigtsen demonstrated the tremendous influence Hungarian Rockefeller fellows were able to exert at home due to the reputation of their international research and the reputation of the Foundation, but also against the background Weindling highlighted before, i.e. the general importance of public health. Ingebrigtsen also pointed out, however, that the Rockefeller Foundation had very clear ideas on what to expect from its fellows and where to send them, and was very strict in obliging fellows to return home in order to prevent a brain drain from the respective countries. On the other hand, the influence of the scholars in their home countries was much greater than could be expected given the comparatively small number of fellows taking part in the programs.
Among many other points addressing general problems of knowledge transfer during the interwar period, this example clearly demonstrated the symbolic dimension of expert communication in its international dimension. This aspect also loomed large in MICHAL PULLMANN’s (Prague) paper on “The Economic Debates in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s: Between Affirmation of Facticity and Critical Approach”. Pullmann directed the workshop’s attention to specific languages and codes employed by Czechoslovakian experts in a deeply hierarchical discourse with the Soviet Union. Preferably, mathematical or prognostic models served as a mode of communication. Information was often communicated in the form of natural demands. Thus, Pullmann touched upon a central question of expert cultures: How can the system effectively be criticized from within?
In his comment, KARL HALL (Budapest) stressed the intentional use of prestige for example by referring to the United States or – in the case of Pullmann’s examples – to the Soviet Union. Moreover, Hall stressed the role of utopian concepts, of “Zukunftsmusik”, as a driving force in the communication between experts. Experts always also have to be regarded in their public capacity and in their need to strive for funds that allow them to pursue their goals. As Eva Horn had put it earlier: Experts have a cause. However, as was stressed in the discussion, we should not forget that experts were always also involved in reproducing the existing order, even if they sometimes adopted a critical stance.
The third session considered examples that go beyond the region in order to avoid describing certain developments and phenomena as typical for CEE without further contextualization. MARCUS FUNCK (Toronto) began with a paper on “The Role of the League of Nations in the Internationalisation of Aviation during the Interwar Period”. As recent studies have stressed, the League was one of the major agents of technical standardization and scientific exchange during the interwar period. Broadening this point, Funck presented aviation as a highly significant arena of interplay between national and international factors. One reason for this was technical development, which led to the international expansion of air traffic and therefore necessitated international exchange between experts. This was particularly the case in the important area of security standards, but also for many aspects touching upon issues of national sovereignty. However, the significance of the example of aviation in CEE went beyond technical aspects. Against the backdrop of international relations, the Eastern routes were of political importance (e.g. for French aviation politics) and were thus subsidized. In turn, the new states of CEE regarded aviation as a matter of both strategic and symbolic significance well suited to demonstrate their claims to a prominent place on the international stage.
ALBERT PRESAS I PUIG (Berlin) forged connections to these topics in a number of ways with his paper on “Technical Relations between Germany and Spain: Technological Transfer and International Policy in the 20th Century”. Presas demonstrated how mechanisms of exclusion – in this case of Germany after World War I – brought about new forms of exchange. Spain served as a testing ground and place of experimentation for technologies prohibited in Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. The Spanish government in turn hoped to obtain key technologies. Thus, particularly the most problematic – and illegal – forms of technology like poison gas led to very strong exchange between the two countries in which figures like the German officer Max Bauer functioned as “brokers of evil”. The networks that emerged here were highly dependent on personal relations and even friendships. Therefore, they would outlive numerous regime changes in both Spain and Germany and persist well into the postwar period.
In his comment, ROLAND POHORYLES (Vienna) pointed out the importance of national innovation cultures. In the discussion, participants stressed the importance of the self-perception of experts, but also the significance of different expert styles, which goes beyond the phenomenon of tacit knowledge and national innovation cultures. Moreover, in reference to Paul Weindling’s paper, it was pointed out that international exchange does not necessarily – as is often assumed – have a positive character.
The following two sections considered “The Role of the State” for the mobilization of expert knowledge, also taking into account the tensions between the newly evolving international expert cultures and the framework of the nation state within which the experts acted as well as the self-understandings of the experts in question. Moreover, since nation states had high expectations of the academic institutions and experts they funded, these sections also addressed the states’ management of knowledge and experts in various areas. STEFAN ROHDEWALD (Passau), who opened the sections with his contribution on “Networks of Technocracy and Scientific Management in Poland between the Wars?”, took up these topics. Introducing the concept of technocracy to the workshop, Rohdewald showed how this concept, which implies governing by technical decision-making in numerous variations, made its way from the Czechoslovakian Republic, where in 1924 the First World Congress of Management had been organized in Prague, to Poland. Polish concepts of combining science, government, and new means of communication bore a very close relationship to the earlier American and Czechoslovakian examples. The transfer of knowledge thus functioned by adjusting foreign concepts to the local conditions of the Second Republic of Poland. Carrying on the example of Poland during the interwar period, INGO LOOSE (Berlin) took a closer look at “How to Run a State: The Question of Know-How in Public Administration in the First Years after Poland’s Rebirth in 1918”. Examining the experts of the Wielkopolska region, Loose developed an innovative perspective on the history of the newly evolving Polish administration after the long period of partition. Instead of perceiving this period as a clash of nations and a period of Polish-German hostility, Loose was able to show that the process of exchange of elites and groups of experts was gradual and accompanied by intense German-Polish communication, as the functional systems had to avoid the loss of their functionality and self-organization. Loose chose a vantage point that demonstrates how fruitful the focus on experts in a micro-perspective can be in challenging established historical narratives. The next speaker, KENNETH BERTRAMS (Brussels), focused on the transnational circulation of ideas that took place in the two postwar eras between Western Europe and the United States in the fields of economic policy, social regulation, and planning. Specifically, he addressed the emergence of a “corporate liberalism” in Belgium, France, and the United States in the 1920s and its reappropriation after 1945 as a key instrument in fostering stable and concerted growth. This example from Western Europe demonstrated the state’s eagerness for more efficient administration and the ways in which the “expert” was implicated in state policies. Bertrams also showed a dialectic legitimacy: The state offers social recognition to the experts and the experts in turn legitimize the state. And as GEORG WAGNER-KYORA (Hanover) stressed in his comment to the section, these are examples for a broadening of perspective in European history – a perspective that takes into account different forms of state modernization. He also pointed to the intertwining of domestic processes with national models of knowledge. The tension between national objectives and more international, European ways of thinking among experts was the central issue of the following talk by DAGMARA JAJEŚNIAK-QUAST (Erfurt). In her paper “Polish Economic Circles and the Question of the Common European Market after World War I”, she outlined the fate of the Pan-European idea in Poland – the universal idea of giving up the nation state in favor of a European union and a common European market. Jajeśniak-Quast made clear that the tension between national interests and the intended European union were too radical: the Pan-Europeanists, a group of various experts often from economic circles and often high-ranking freemasons, were accused of being traitors to the Polish nation. Moreover, the economic crisis gave rise to economic nationalism. So this time, and this underlines the assumption that the success or failure of an expertise and an expert is highly dependent on the environment and the circumstances in which he is able to act, the state turned out to be an obstacle for expert ideas.
In her talk on “Knowledge through the Iron Curtain. Transferring Knowledge and Technology in Cold War Europe”, the following speaker, SARI AUTIO-SARASMO (Helsinki), advocated a new perspective on the history of the Cold War and a reevaluation of the Iron Curtain as a strict and impermeable dividing line splitting Europe into two blocs. Again, focusing on actors and experts mainly from small states and from a micro-perspective, Autio-Sarasmo emphasized the dynamics of a continuously changing interaction between East and West. This emphasis is particularly convincing with regard to the transfer of ideas, knowledge, and technology, as it focuses not only on transfer from the West to the East but also vice versa and reevaluates center-periphery relations.
Concentrating on the topic consumerism, MAŁGORZATA MAZUREK (Potsdam) raised yet another challenge to the state of the art in research on these questions in her paper “Between the International Community of Experts and National ‘Carnival of Revolution’: Consumerism and the Decline of the Communist System in Poland”. Research mainly focuses on the politics of consumption in the capitalist world. In contrast, Mazurek pointed out state-consumer relations in Poland using the example of “The Federation of Consumers” in Poland, which emerged in 1981 and, due to the existence of the Solidarity movement, evolved into a quite unique phenomenon: a semi-autonomous consumer movement that manifested itself in a political consumer consciousness in all branches of the economy where items of consumption attained particular relevance and political importance. Mazurek characterized the consumption experts not as state agents but plausibly as an intermediary organization concerned with the condition of society and the economy, influenced by international ideas of consumerist thought. Again, a micro-perspective on the experts allowed for an insight into the functioning not only of state-expert-relations, but also of civil society, as CATHERINE GOUSSEFF (Berlin-Paris) pointed out in her comment to this section. She also stressed the importance of considering the countertendencies in history that often deconstruct the master- or established narratives.
The sections on “Communication and Transfer of Knowledge” explored communication and translation structures that enabled knowledge transfer across state borders. In her paper “People’s Cars and People’s Technologies: Škoda and Fiat Experts face the American Challenge (1918-1948)”, VALENTINA FAVA (Florence) showed that studying and promoting Taylorism, Czechoslovakian and Italian engineers were aware of the fact that the American model of production had to be adapted to local conditions in order to be effective. Therefore, they actively appropriated only selected components of this production model. Whereas the loyalty of Fiat’s experts was to their company, Czechoslovakian engineers regarded Americanization and “Scientific Management” as a means of nation-building. Following a similar line of argumentation in her paper on “Engineers without Borders? Scientific Management in Interwar East Central Europe”, ELISABETH VAN MEER (Charleston) stressed the anti-German impetus of the idea of “Scientific Management” and its character as a strategy to develop the whole region of CEE. In comparison to this, PÁL GERMUSKA (Budapest) argued in his paper “Copy-paste in Technologies? Soviet Advisers in the Hungarian Military Industry in the 1950s” that the Hungarian case of “copy-paste” of Soviet military technology reflects a development imposed from the outside. The Soviet Union tried to establish power relations with its new satellite by means of the forced export of second-rank technology and the reproduction of its own production model without taking into account the existing structures. What is to be considered a success in terms of colonization and Stalinization was a complete failure in terms of technical progress. As CHRISTOPH MICK (Warwick) remarked in his comment, (Stalinist) Soviet science was organized in a very specific manner: Whereas Western engineers experimented extensively and progressed by “trial and error”, in Soviet science failed experiments and a “waste” of raw materials could be deadly for the researcher. Soviet scientists (and advisers in Hungary) therefore strictly followed existing patterns of thinking and orders from above instead of taking the risk of innovation.
The Soviet-Hungarian case also reflects the problem of lingua franca in international exchange of expertise. The Sovietization of CEE after World War II implied the enforcement of Russian as a lingua franca in the new satellites. Three decades earlier, the outcome of World War I also led to important changes in the usage of languages in the multinational scientific community. The boycott of German science at the beginning of the interwar period went hand in hand with the decline of German as a means of transnational scientific communication. As ROSWITHA REINBOTHE (Duisburg-Essen) pointed out in her talk on “Languages of International Scientific Communication in Central Eastern Europe after World War I”, this was a result of the policy pursued by the winning coalition and the newly formed states in CEE.
JUSTYNA GÓRNY (Berlin) introduced the topic “The Life and Thinking of Ludwik Fleck in and outside Poland (1896-1961)”, whereas GUIDO HAUSMANN (Dublin) presented a case study entitled “Political Geography Travels East: Stepan Rudnytsky and the Emergence of an Ukrainian Political Geography, 1914-1926”. Scrutinizing the biographies and analyzing the scholarly work of these two figures – a Polish-Jewish microbiologist and philosopher of science and a Ukrainian geographer – again allows us to explore the micro-level of knowledge transfer and transnational networks during a period of war, the redrawing of borders, and the formation of new states. Rudnycky’s reputation at home clearly depended on the fact that he successfully addressed an international community of peers. On the other hand, his Ukrainian origin was too great of an obstacle for him to become a geographer of European renown.
The final discussion of the workshop stressed that researching the phenomenon of the expert – particularly in the region CEE – leads directly to essential problems of Europe’s age of extremes. There was also a common understanding that the term expert – with all its various meanings and strong normative connotation – serves as an extremely useful tool of investigation, especially when starting from micro-level case studies in the region CEE and embedding the results into a larger European framework. Examining experts in action implies challenging historical master narratives such as the dominant role of the nation state or the impermeable border between East and West during the so called Cold War. The various perspectives adopted by the conference participants allowed for an innovative, comparative history of transfer and intertwining between East and West, which facilitated new approaches. The workshop was highly committed to contriving new outlooks on the history of the region (and beyond).
However, a number of questions that deserve to be mentioned here are in need of further elaboration and research:
1. Does the region CEE require special treatment or are the phenomena and developments addressed at the workshop of a more general nature and can also be encountered in other parts of Europe in similar ways? This seems particularly relevant for the paradigm of planning, for planning as a tool and as an end. Beyond that – and the conception of the workshop took this question into account – we should examine if it makes sense to look at the long-term perspective or if the changes World War II and the rise of communism brought about were so substantial that we should rather look at both periods separately. On the one hand, there certainly exist continuities from the prewar to the postwar period in people’s personal biographies. Even if the Soviet Union and its satellites constitute a previously unknown state form, those states could only function by retaining certain functional systems from former times in the areas of politics, the economy, and the sciences. On the other hand, differences between the prewar period and the communist era, mainly regarding the role of the state, need to be clearly defined and researched. As far as the region is concerned, it is also important to look at (actual or imagined) borderlines further east of CEE and to include countries like the Ukraine – in former times with centers like L’viv culturally part of Central Europe but today, due to political borders, not fully included.
2. The two aspects that repeatedly came up in the course of the workshop in favor of emphasizing the special character of the region were the deep and numerous breaks in the political systems – with the most radical form being occupation – and the legacy of the empires. These questions also require further research since it is not always clear where this legacy begins and where it ends. In any case, the imperial heritage produced multiple loyalties, but also a strong nexus between a seemingly neutral technological rationale and political convictions.
3. Participants also stressed that the state played a relatively prominent role in the region, and we face the problem of the significance and the implications of nation states that – on a European scale – came into being rather late in the sense of territorialization. The state as an agent of modernization processes offered chances for experts to attain a higher status, but also entailed manifold politics of force. The complex power relations between the state and the expert as well as the bargaining position of experts are yet to be thoroughly researched. Not least of all due to their international contacts, experts were able to provide the state with legitimacy. The question arises if internationalism in the region might have been comparatively more attractive than in the “established” countries since international expert knowledge was in such high demand in the context of the greatly desired “modernization” of the state. (These new states were of course keen to not fall behind in comparison the predecessor states.) An interesting problem that came up at the workshop was the connection between industrial modernity and a state’s existence, including the question of the degree to which a state identifies with the companies on its soil – a question that is again highly relevant for states all over the world today.
We can thus formulate questions regarding the limits of exchange and striking ambivalences that would certainly constitute interesting research topics for the future: It is extremely important to examine more closely the tensions between an emerging international scene of experts and the national frameworks in which these experts acted. In doing so, we should analyze the loyalties of experts vis-à-vis the state and/or the nation and attempts by the state or the nation to exploit the experts for its purposes; or whether or not there even existed such a dichotomy at all.
4. Regarding methodology among other things, the question arose how expert styles could be researched, how perhaps a typology of experts could be contrived and how different “thought-styles” are to be classified and interpreted. For this purpose, it would be necessary to include more explicitly questions of gender, ethnicity, and also of age and generation. Biographies or collective biographies appear to be useful in order to refine the analysis in this respect. Helpful impulses to grasp the figure of the “Expert” could also come from postcolonial studies. A further question, and this could also be researched on the basis of biographies, concerns the assessment of failure and success: Whether an expert was successful or whether he has failed is not always easy to define and there is always the question of who defines this. Again, the circumstances in which an expert is able to make his or her expertise broadly or even universally accepted must be looked at very carefully. It also makes a difference from where the expert attains his or her knowledge.
5. Another area of research to be explored in the future is the system of expert transfer itself and the systems in which expert transfer occurred, the communication strategies that lay behind these processes and the different societal layers and spheres that were affected and involved such as the public, civil society, private initiatives, or the state. The system “Rockefeller Foundation” on the one hand and the Soviet system on the other seem to be extremely different, but perhaps they have more in common than is apparent at first glance, as their basic functions and characteristics also exhibit similarities. For example, both systems were in one way or another involved in influencing and facilitating knowledge transfer. Of course there are many more systems of knowledge transfer to be taken into account, be it freemasonry as in the case of Poland during the interwar period, be it something like a “Czechoslovak model” for incorporating Taylorism or Fordism. However, we should also be careful in framing and labeling these and similar processes.
6. We intend to follow up the questions outlined above with further research, organized in workshops and possibly a network on questions concerning the “expert” and “expertise”, including the speakers of this conference but also further scientists/scholars, with a focus on the region CEE. As a first step, a publication of the conference papers is planned.
Eduard Mühle (Director of the German Historical Institute)
Presentation of the European Science Foundation (ESF)
Jacques Dubucs (Standing Committee for the Humanities)
Introduction by the Convenors
Transnationalism and Knowledge-Transfer – A Theoretical Approach
Experts or Impostors? Blindness and Insight in Secret Intelligence
Eva Horn (University of Basel, CH)
Comment: Johannes Paulmann (University of Mannheim, DE)
Experts and Expert Groups I
Public Health in Central Europe: National and International Expertise
Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes University, UK)
The Agency of Knowledge Transfer: Hungarian Fellows of the Rockefeller Foundation, 1922-1939
Erik Ingebrigtsen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology Trondheim, NO)
The Economic Debates in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s: Between Affirmation of Facticity and Critical Approach
Michal Pullmann (University of Prague, CZ)
Comment: Karl Hall (Central University of Budapest, HU)
Experts and Expert Groups II
The Role of the League of Nations in the Internationalisation of Aviation during the Interwar Period
Marcus Funck (York University, Toronto, CA)
Technical Relations between Germany and Spain: Technological Transfer and International Policy in the 20th Century
Albert Presas i Puig (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science Berlin, DE)
Comment: Ronald J. Pohoryles (ICCR Vienna, AT)
The Role of the State I
Networks of Technocracy and Scientific Management in Poland between the Wars?
Stefan Rohdewald (University of Passau, DE)
How to Run a State: The Question of Know-how in Public Administration in the First Years after Poland’s Rebirth in 1918
Ingo Loose (HU Berlin, DE)
The 'Techno-Corporatist Bargain' in Western Europe and the United States, 1914-1944. A Case for a Transnational Transfer of Knowledge?
Kenneth Bertrams (University of Brussels, BE)
Comment: Georg Wagner-Kyora (University of Hannover, DE)
The Role of the State II
Polish Economic Circles and the Question of European Common Market after WWI
Dagmara Jajeśniak-Quast (University of Erfurt, DE)
Knowledge through the Iron Curtain. Transferring Knowledge and Technology in Cold War Europe
Sari Autio-Sarasmo (University of Helsinki, FI)
Between the International Community of Experts and the National 'Carnival of Revolution': Consumerism and Decline of the Communist System in Poland
Małgorzata Mazurek (Center for Research on Contemporary History Potsdam, DE)
Comment: Catherine Gousseff (Centre Marc Bloch Berlin, DE)
Communication and the Transfer of Knowledge I
Languages of International Scientific Communication in Central Eastern Europe after World War I
Roswitha Reinbothe (University of Duisburg-Essen, DE)
Copy-paste in Technologies? Soviet Advisers in the Hungarian Military Industry in the 1950s
Pál Germuska (Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Budapest, HU)
People’s Cars and People’s Technologies: Škoda and Fiat Experts face the American Challenge (1918-1948)
Valentina Fava (European University Institute Florence, IT)
Comment: Christoph Mick (University of Warwick, UK)
Communication and the Transfer of Knowledge II
The Life and Thinking of Ludwik Fleck in and outside Poland (1896-1961)
Justyna Górny (Independent Scholar Berlin, DE)
Political Geography Travels East: Stepan Rudnytsky and the Emergence of an Ukrainian Political Geography, 1914-1926
Guido Hausmann (University of Dublin, IE)
Engineers without Borders? Scientific Management in Interwar East Central Europe
Elisabeth van Meer (College of Charleston, US)