UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


R.W.Seton-Watson and the ‘New Europeans’

25 January 2022, 5:00 pm–6:30 pm

A collage of R.W. Seton Watson and a map of Austria-Hungary 1919

Yugoslavs, Czechoslovaks and the Limits of ‘Popular Internationalism’, 1906-1921. A SSEES Study of Central Europe Seminar with Dr Samuel Foster (University of East Anglia)

This event is free.

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Over seventy years after his death, the historian and political activist R.W. Seton-Watson (1879-1951) remains a divisive figure. Having written extensively on ethnic tensions in Austria-Hungary since 1906, he gradually established a reputation as Britain’s leading authority on Central and Eastern European affairs and advocate for the rights of ‘small nations’. The First World War saw him channel these energies into anti-Habsburg secessionist causes, specifically the Czechoslovak and Yugoslavian movements. This has subsequently seen him characterized as a political ‘dilettante’ and unwitting pawn of regional nationalists, or a partisan non-state actor who leveraged his connections and influence to shape British policy in favour of his preferred national groups. This session seeks to readdress these assertions by situating the figure of Seton-Watson within the domestic context of early-twentieth century Britain and the cultural vagaries of ‘British identity’. Besides genuine belief in a humanitarian rationale for Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, Seton-Watsons’s views converged with his vision of Britain as arbiter of a reconstituted Liberal European order. However, these efforts to formulate a doctrine of ‘popular internationalism’, rooted in the political and cultural impact of the Great War, proved unsustainable in its reliance on an ever-fickle British ‘public opinion’.

Keywords: Public Intellectuals, Central and Eastern Europe, First World War, British Identity, Internationalism

Left image credit: Photograph of Robert William Seton-Watson, Wikimedia
Right image credit: Partition of Austria-Hungary 1919 map, Wikimedia