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The University of Southampton

Leading experts from across Europe debate the 'spark' of the First World War

Published: 23 June 2014

The University of Southampton is playing host to some of the foremost experts on the origins of the First World War and the events which sparked its outbreak.

Mark Cornwall, Professor of Modern European History at Southampton, has organised an international conference Sarajevo 1914: Spark and Impact to study how the murders of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife had a destabilising effect on the Habsburg Empire and Europe as a whole in the early 20th century. It brings together two dozen historians from across Europe, including experts from Croatia, Serbia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Professor Cornwall , himself Britain’s leading authority on Austria-Hungary during the First World War, comments: “Our conference will contrast with most other British events marking the 1914 anniversary because it specifically examines the causes and results of the key event we all know about: the murders in Sarajevo in June 1914.

“This is a unique opportunity to hear historians discussing a subject which is crucial to understanding why the First World War erupted and why the Habsburg Empire collapsed in 1918, transforming Eastern Europe for the rest of the 20th century.

“The regional Balkan context in which the murders occurred remains controversial. Some aspects have been closely studied by historians over the past century, but many are completely unresearched and we aim to open up radical new perspectives.”

The conference will be opened by Dr Emil Brix, the Austrian Ambassador to the UK. The keynote speakers are Professor Christopher Clark from the University of Cambridge, who will present Did Sarajevo Matter?: 28 June and the Outbreak of the First World War and Professor Lothar Höbelt from the University of Vienna, who will ask Why Fight a Third Balkan War?: The ‘Habsburg Mindset’ before 1914.

Other notable speakers include: Andrej Rahten (Slovenian ambassador to Austria), Dominic Lieven (University of Cambridge), Iskra Iveljic (University of Zagreb), Robin Okey (University of Warwick), Alma Hannig (University of Bonn), Roy Bridge (University of Leeds), Dagmar Hajkova (Masaryk Institute, Prague) and Thomas Otte (University of East Anglia).

Professor Cornwall says: “We are deliberately bringing together older and younger historians in order to study the Sarajevo murders from different angles. A key question is to ask why a single dramatic event could be so explosive, but also why so many historians interpret it differently a century later. Sparks may fly in the discussion!”

The conference Sarajevo 1914: Spark and Impact takes place on 26-28 June 2014 at the University of Southampton Highfield Campus. For more information and to register, please visit the conference information pages at the University of Southampton’s Great War website .

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