Internment during the First World War: A Mass Global Phenomenon - Conference 13-14 May 2015

Organised by the History Research Group at De Montfort University in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum North.

Although civilian internment has become associated with the Second World War in popular memory, it has a longer history. The turning point in this history occurred during the First World War when, in the interests of ‘security’ in a situation of total war, the internment of ‘enemy aliens’ became part of state policy for the belligerent states, resulting in the incarceration, displacement and, even murder, of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world. This pioneering international Conference on internment during the First World War brings together experts from throughout the world to investigate the importance of the conflict for the history of civilian incarceration. The speakers will tackle three questions in particular:

1. Did the Great War transform the nature of internment from a limited policy driven by local military circumstances to one which became an internationally accepted and legitimised procedure used by governments to incarcerate enemy aliens, ‘internal enemies’ and ethnic outsiders? To what extent did it set precedents for events that took place later in the twentieth century?

2. Did governments already have long-term plans for mass incarceration and to what extent did they implement these plans? Were governments guided by public opinion? Did they simply implement policies which mimicked those of their enemies?

3. What impact did interment have upon individuals, both men and women, whether they or their families experienced life behind barbed wire?

The conference has been planned to coincide with the centenary of the decision of the British government to introduce wholesale internment of German males of military age in Britain, announced in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith on 13 May 1915.

The conference is open all those interested in this neglected aspect of the history of the Great War on a global scale.


Provisional programme
  13 May 2015
9.00-9.30 Registration and Welcome: Panikos Panayi (De Montfort University)

The End of Empire: The Ottomans and the Habsburgs

Khatchig Mouradian (Rutgers), ‘Internment and Destruction: Armenian Deportees in Ottoman Syria 1915-1917’

Matthew Stibbe (Sheffield Hallam), ‘Harsh or Moderate? Austro-Hungarian Policies towards Enemy Aliens, 1914-1918’.

11.00-11.30 Coffee

African Imperialism

Mahon Murphy (LSE) 'Caught between Three Empires: German Colonial settlers in West Africa in British, French and Spanish Internment'

Daniel Steinbach (King's College London), ‘Colonial Conundrums: Ordering Life in the Internment Camps of German East Africa’.

13.00-14.00 Lunch


Christoph Jahr (Berlin), ‘The Internment of “Enemy Aliens” in First World War Germany’

Jens Thiel (Berlin), ‘A Forced and Unexplained Status: The Belgian Deportees during World War One’.

15.30-16.00 Coffee

North America

Bohdan Kordan (Saskatchewan), ‘We Beg You to Come and See Us: Canada, Enemy Aliens and the Diplomacy of the Protective Powers, 1914-1920’.

Jörg Nagler (Jena), 'Surveillance and Internment on the American Home Front during the First World War’.


Film Showing

Kevin Kennedy (Appalachian State)
German Enemy Aliens in the Land of the Sky

A Documentary on the World War I German Internment Camp in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

20.00  Supper
  14 May 2015

Southern and Eastern Europe

Daniela Caglioti (Naples), ‘Colonial Subjects, Internal Enemies and Enemy Aliens: Confinement and Internment in Liberal Italy’.

Andrei Siperco (Bucharest University), ‘On the Brink of Collapse: Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees from the Perspective of a Small Belligerent Country (1916-1919)’.

10.30-10.45 Coffee

Internment and Imperial Zenith: The British Empire

Sandra Berkhof (Plymouth), ‘The Internment of Germans from New Guinea and Samoa in Australia and New Zealand’.

Stefan Manz (Aston), ‘After the Boers: The Internment of German “Enemy Aliens” in South Africa during World War 1’

Panikos Panayi (De Montfort), ‘India’.

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Western Europe

Simon Giuseppi (Ajaccio), ‘Internment and Human Rights: The French Approach’.

Anja Huber (Bern), ‘The Internment of Prisoners of War in Switzerland during the First World War: Humanitarian Aid versus Economic Interests?’.
15.30-16.00 Coffee
16.00-17.00 Conclusion

This two day conference will take place on 13-14 May 2015 at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. 


£40 for day one

£40 for day two

£80 for two days

£120 for two days including Conference Dinner on 13 May 2015

Accommodation for the conference will be in the Copthorne Hotel

Registration for this event has now closed.

For further details please email Panikos Panayi

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