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CFP: Adolescent Ambassadors: 20th Century Youth Organizations and International Relations
March 23 – 24, 2012
Workshop at the GHI
Conveners: Mischa Honeck (German Historical Institute) and Gabriel Rosenberg (Duke University)

This workshop seeks to add to the burgeoning historiography on non-state actors in international relations by focusing on youth and youth organizations. Parallel to the proliferation of inter- and transnational organizations around the turn of the century, Western scientists invented the concept of adolescence to demarcate an intermediate period between childhood and adulthood. The contention that adolescence was an unstable life phase, a developmental stage marked by extreme vitality and insecurity, persuaded policymakers across borders to establish domestic institutions designed to shape, educate, and improve an allegedly erratic youth. But the scientific and social construction of adolescence did not have implications for national reform alone. Innovations in transportation and communication allowed young people to journey across nations and continents as never before. Moreover, characterizations and self-characterizations of youth as adventurous, transgressive, and idealistic molded their image as vanguards of a new generation of globally connected citizens.

Nowhere did the anxieties and aspirations related to growing up in a modern world become more palpable than in the spread of adult-led youth organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the Red Cross Youth, 4-H, or the Communist Pioneers. Although most of these organizations pledged allegiance to distinct ideologies and national communities, they were enmeshed in webs of global and intercultural exchange. Their “diplomatic” activities not only overlapped increasingly with those of national foreign policy elites. Major international institutions such as the League of Nations and the United Nations also forged ties with prominent youth organizations that proved mutually beneficial. Political education, leisure, labor, citizenship training, mobility, national regeneration, and international politics converged in these border-crossing youth movements, with profound ramifications for how young people from different societies viewed themselves, each other, and the world they would both help make and inherit.

We invite contributions that address the nexus of youth and international relations from western as well as non-western viewpoints. Chronologically, the workshop stretches from the high tides of Euro-American imperialism to the end of the Cold War. Methodologically, it wants to spawn a productive dialogue among historians of international relations and of youth and childhood. We are particularly interested in proposals that trace the impact of youth organizations on the modern international order by employing analytical categories as diverse as gender, race, empire, class, ethnicity, sexuality, leisure, education, state politics, cultural diplomacy, and age.

Possible workshop topics should connect youth and youth organizations to foreign policy, international institutions, political ideologies, totalitarianism, the Cold War, decolonization, capitalism, religion, popular culture, tourism, environmentalism, consumption, sports, student exchange, and transnational biographies.

Please send a proposal of no more than 500 words and a brief CV to Bärbel Thomas (

The deadline for submission is October 31, 2011. Participants will be notified by the end of November.

The workshop, held in English, will focus on discussing 6,000-8,000-word, pre-circulated papers (due February 15, 2011). We intend to publish the contributions. Expenses for travel and accommodation will be covered.

CFP – Adolescent Ambassadors: 20th Century Youth Organizations and International Relations