What is it about?
The PREWArAs project is a comparative historical study which examines the role played by militias, paramilitary movements, armed organisations, and vigilante groups before the First World War...Read more
PREWArAs aims at testing the conviction, common to many historians, that political and paramilitary violence was essentially the product of the Great War. The Europe of the so-called Belle Époque was already a continent in which the practice of violence was a daily experience for thousands of civilians. The practice of violence, as experienced by armed associations, was able to fuel forms of political mobilisation and even nationalisation and to shape new political cultures, while influencing existing ones. PREWArAs studies this complex phenomenon while bridging certain gaps and innovating the current state-of-the-art in several ways
The PREWArAs project is a comparative historical study which examines the role played by militias, paramilitary movements, armed organisations, and vigilante groups before the First World War (from the late 19th century to 1914). It investigates how and to what extent organized political violence permeated European societies even before the outbreak of the Great War.
The practice of organised violence represents a mass transnational experience in an era – the so-called Belle Époque – which is generally seen as characterised by peace and progress. Hundreds of thousands of male Europeans engaged in various violent practices as members of these groups.
Examples include the Spanish militia Somatén (44,000 members in 1909); the Ulster Volunteer Force, a paramilitary group which fought against the Irish nationalists (100,000 men, at least); and the myriads of shooting clubs and military training societies which characterised the daily life of European citizens all over the continent.
The project seeks to compare the practices, social backgrounds and political cultures of Armed Associations, and their connections with more external contexts (state, political and religious institutions, political cultures, other social groups, etc.), in all major states of pre-WWI Europe: Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.
Although political violence and the First World War are topics currently high in historians’ agenda, the study of organised political violence and armed associations before the Great War has been largely understudied.
This is mainly the result of an underestimation of the role played by organised violence in pre-war Europe. The Europe of the so-called Belle Époque was actually a continent in which the practice of organised violence was a daily experience for thousands of civilians. These forms of violent militancy created experiences that strongly influenced politics as well as individual outlooks and sensibilities.
These elements are worth taking into account in an attempt to understand the enduring support given to the First World War by wide sections of European societies, as well as the radicalisation of the post-war period. PREWArAs, however, has no teleological purpose: it does not underestimate the importance of the First World War and the disruption that it produced on European society. The project will shed new light on a long understudied phenomenon in order to outline complex, intertwined and even conflicting patterns of experiences, and determine to what extent these exerted an influence on European politics
The PREWArAs Project aims at understanding how and to what extent organised political violence became a legitimate course of action already before WWI; how armed militancy was able to forge political cultures and outlooks which had an enduring influence on narratives, fears, projections and interests; how armed associations acted as agents of mass mobilisation and of the radicalisation of social conflicts.
At the same time, the project promises to bring about a paradigm shift in the study of other related historical subjects, starting from the Great War and its aftermath. The project analyses how the First World War can be perceived as a response to social conflicts in terms of authoritarian control of the masses and the strengthening of national cohesion; how militancy in armed associations influenced the process of militarisation of civil societies, mobilising people and (economic, symbolic, political) resources; how this mobilisation affected mass participation and support to the First World War; how pre-WWI violent experiences acted as precedents which help to explain the emerge of organised political violence also in those countries which remained neutral or won the War.
The project pursues three main aims;
1) it examines many armed associations that are currently still understudied (e.g. the Italian case);
2) more importantly, it carries out an extensive and comparative research on armed associations and organised forms of political violence in pre-WWI Europe, something which has never been carried out so far;
3) the project develops interpretative frameworks and new knowledge which promise to deepen and innovate our comprehension of crucial subjects, such as the origin of mass politics, the nationalisation of the masses and even the causes and effects of the First World War.