The Paris/Geneva Divide. A Network Analysis of the Archives of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations


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The Paris/Geneva Divide. A Network Analysis of the Archives of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations
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Culture as Soft Power: Bridging Cultural Relations, Intellectual Cooperation, and Cultural Diplomacy
Grandjean Martin
De Gruyter
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The International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (ICIC) is often framed as a step in the constitution of a “League of Minds” – a place where scientists and writers reign, and a necessary part of a successful and harmonious “League of Nations” – but the fact that it was created in the context of a bureaucratic and politicised international administration leaves little room for such creativity. In reality, intellectual cooperation is one of the technical elements of the impressive but imperfect machinery that is the inter-war League of Nations (LoN from now on). However, the ICIC’s universal aspect and its sympathy capital, fuelled by the appointment of leading scientific and cultural personalities, including Albert Einstein, Marie Skłodowska Curie, Hendrik Lorentz, Henri Bergson, and Jagadish Chandra Bose, make it an organ of the League that en- joys high visibility in proportion to its modest size. This explains why the recovery of the symbolic benefits of intellectual cooperation is at the heart of a power game between the Geneva administration and the main powers of the LoN Assembly. On the one hand, Great Britain and its dominions are fighting to prevent these secondary, strictly national or private issues from hampering the fundamental missions – political, financial, and technical – of the League of Nations. France and most of the Latin countries, on the other hand, see an excellent opportunity to globalise cultural issues and impose the vision of a civilising and universal League. In between, with an independent political agenda that prevents it from being a totally impartial arbiter, is the Geneva secretariat, which tries, despite lacking means, to make this small technical organisation work and legitimise it. This dynamic originates in Geneva, a city chosen by the nations participating in the Paris Peace Conference because of the neutrality of its territory, be- cause of the fact that it has international status without being the capital of a state, and certainly also because of William Rappart’s lobbying of President Woodrow Wilson (Fleury 1981). As the capital of a belligerent country, Paris was excluded de facto from being the seat of the League (Geneva’s competitors were Brussels and The Hague). However, it is in Paris that intellectual cooperation finds its most powerful and effective echo. The French government’s offer to house an institute dedicated to helping to the Geneva Committee just a stone’s throw from the Louvre, made only a few years after the ICIC’s first efforts, introduces a key piece to the chessboard of cultural relations in the 1920s – a small step for scientific and intellectual coordination, but a giant step for France’s influence and its cultural diplomacy. Indeed, from 1926 onward, France’s International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC) proves to be a significant counterweight to the Secretariat of the League of Nations – so much so that the latter tries unceasingly to regulate the Institute’s activities to keep it under its supervision. It is this balance of power, this pendulum swing between Geneva and Paris, that lies at the heart of our study. Like the field of LoN historiography, where global and institutional political studies eventually gave way to approaches focused on local mechanisms and technical achievements (Pedersen 2015), the study of intellectual cooperation in the post-war decades (Bennet 1950; Northedge 1953; Pham 1962) was invigorated by a “Parisian” period, which often highlighted the continuity with UNESCO (Bekri 1990, but more importantly Renoliet 1992 and Renoliet 1999). This period was followed by a tendency toward a more transnational approach (Laqua 2011) that questions the very concept of intellectual cooperation (Wilson 2011; Saikawa 2014; and Millet 2015, e.g.) and addresses thematic issues (Laqua 2018; Riondet 2020; Roig-Sanz 2021). Compared to the French historiography of the late twentieth century, these new perspectives give a greater place to Geneva, since the concepts that were later embodied by the Parisian institute were developed within the League of Nations and the ICIC. Beyond the importance of a quarrel over symbolic heritage between two hubs of internationalism in the first half of the 20th century, understanding the nature of intellectual cooperation’s “centre” (and, on the contrary, its “periphery”) is a way of interrogating this complex, two-sided situation. We therefore propose to explore the problematic relationship between Geneva and Paris around the activities of the ICIC and the IIIC. To identify this pendulum swing’s crucial moments, it will be necessary to outline the institutional history of intellectual cooperation, but we will also demonstrate that a serial analysis of the archives from the Committee’s first years and the pivotal moment of the Institute’s creation gives a good account of the tensions and competition between the two and the IIIC’s eventual takeover. Concretely, we will conduct a network analysis of the metadata of more than 30,000 ICIC documents from 1919 to 1927 in order to map the relationships of more than 3,000 protagonists of intellectual cooperation. Network analysis enables new hypotheses on the notions of centrality or scale, and metrics from graph theory such as the notion of between- ness centrality allow us to highlight the structurally minor role played by ICIC experts in the rivalry between the Secretariat of the League of Nations and the IIIC’s management.
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