Header Colloquium Kruizinga

Occupied. Towards a Comparative and Entangled History of Occupation in the Age of Total War

KNIR Colloquium
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Occupations are a key feature of the war waged by Russia in Ukraine and Israel’s military incursion in Gaza. But many other territories also are subject to forms of military occupation and foreign rule. What happens in these occupied areas and to its peoples, and how occupation impacts both the current war and the futures of those who are impacted by it is, as of yet, largely unknown.

This KNIR Colloquium focuses on occupations from the 1910s to the 1950s. In these years, violent occupations seemed the rule rather than the exception in large parts of the globe, and occupations were considered part and parcel of both warfare and post-war reconstruction periods. The histories of these occupations currently form part of either essentially national narratives of war and liberation, of total warfare in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, of the apex and nadir of European Empires, or of genocide and Holocaust. Scholars from different disciplines, studying different wars or atrocities, time periods or territories, rarely come together. The Colloquium proposed here, by contrast, focuses on comparisons and entanglements between occupations in the age of total warfare, in order to better understand occupations in a very formative period of the past, whose echoes continue to reverberate in our present. It does so by setting itself two, related, objectives.

The first objective of the workshop is to show that the experiences of occupation were linked through both expectations and ideas of other occupations, and by actors moving between different occupations, allowing for direct transfers of policies and practices. These transfers of “occupational knowledge” between different instances of occupation and/or through time have not been studied systematically. What is more, expectations and ideas could and did shift over time. Fortunes of war, in particular a decisive victory by the occupier’s forces against those who sought to reclaim the occupied territories, also affected the lived realities of occupation, forcing a reset from shorter-term into longer-term expectations and their relevant analogies.

The second objective of the workshop is to show that “occupational relations” were significantly more complex than a simple binary opposition between powerful occupiers and powerless occupied suggests. Of course, there were power asymmetries, which intersected with racial or gendered hierarchies. But focusing merely on force negates the day-to-day realities in which forms of reciprocity were required. Occupational regimes needed a certain level of consent, if not actual legitimacy, to function. In turn, those occupied had little choice but to rely on occupational authorities for access to (redirected) flows of resources, markets and supplies, and to take over essential governmental duties. Such reciprocity by necessity informed and circumscribed forms of cooperation or consent, but also forms of reprisals or resistance.

Convenor: Samuël Kruizinga, University of Amsterdam, s.f.kruizinga@uva.nl


© Square image: German Wehrmacht units parading past the Royal Palace in Brussels in 1940 heralding the beginning of a second occupation of Belgium, 22 years after the end of the previous one. [Bundesarchiv 146-1975-021-20, 24 June 1940, https://www.bild.bundesarchiv.de/dba/de/search/?query=Bild+146-1975-021-20]

© Header image: German camel caverly in current-day Namibia, 1904, actively engaged in suppressing the Herero and Nama risings against imperial rule and their subsequent genocide. Historians continue to debate the linkages between African atrocities, the killing of civilians by the German army during the First World War, and the holocaust. [Bundesarchiv 183-R24738, 1904, https://www.bild.bundesarchiv.de/dba/de/search/?query=Bild+183-R24738]