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The Cultural Industries in the Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Britain and Germany Compared

20-21 November 2009

Venue: German Historical Institute London

Conveners: Christiane Eisenberg (Centre for British Studies at the Humboldt University, Berlin) and Andreas Gestrich (GHIL)

Increasingly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, patrons, associations, courts and the other public purveyors of culture were joined by private enterprises that approached the organisation of cultural events as a business, using professional methods such as targeted advertising and cooperation with the mass press, and employing professional artists and managers. These methods were applied not only to new cultural forms such as film, cinema and sport, but also to such traditional ones as theatre, concerts, choral performances and variety shows. The growing popularity of commercial culture irritated social reformers and politicians, and stimulated discussion of political interventions and new opportunities for social engineerin

As cultural industries of this sort had a long history in Britain, going back as far as the early modern period, they had become an accepted part of modern society by the late nineteenth century, like industrial production or the consumption of goods, and legal copyright was established early. By contrast, the literature on the cultural industries in Germany gives the impression that the breakthrough came later there, not until the end of the nineteenth century. It suggests that socially and politically, commercial culture was regarded in a highly critical way, some aspects of it being strongly rejected, and that the legal basis of commercialization was established with some delay. On the other hand, from the start political parties, churches and other ideological interests seem to have been readier to intervene politically and to nurture the cultural industries in Germany than in Britain—an aspect that is of interest in relation to the formulation and political instrumentalisation of mass culture during the interwar period.

A conference organized jointly by the German Historical Institute London and the Centre for British Studies at the Humboldt University, Berlin, to be held on 20–21 November 2009 in London, will investigate the context within which the cultural industries were created in Britain and Germany, and ask whether the paths of development and modes of reaction were really as different as the literature suggests. In addition, it will analyse perceptions and mutual cooperation between the actors.

Call for Papers (PDF file)
Conference report (PDF file), published in: GHIL Bulletin 32 (2010), Vol 2