Denis Clark

  • Posted on: 13 September 2015
  • By: marijke
About the participant: 

University of OxfordHistoryGraduate Student


University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom (2011/01- present)

Doctor of Philosophy in History

Thesis title* : ‘British, French, and American attitudes and policies towards the rebirth of Poland, 1914-1921’

Supervisor: Professor Margaret MacMillan


with Margaret O. MacMillan, ‘Diplomacy of the First World War’, in Oxford Bibliographies Online: International Relations, 2015 (commissioned).

‘Wartime loyalties: British Foreign Office sympathy for Poland’s independence in the First World War’, Studia Historyczne [Historical Studies] (forthcoming in spring 2015 edition)


(2015/06) Annual Meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Washington, DC (forthcoming) ‘Passion and Romance at the Paris Peace Conference: Emotional Language in American Descriptions of Poles and Poland, 1919’


International history, 19th and 20th centuries; culture (esp. racial and gendered stereotypes) in international relations; European history, 19th and 20th centuries; Paris Peace Conference, 1919- 1923; First World War

Title of lecture: 
Diplomacy in the ‘apogee of nationalism’: Britain, France, the United States, and appeals to the Polish public, 1917-18

John Maynard Keynes famously claimed that at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had been ‘ill-informed as to European conditions’ with ‘no plan, no scheme, no constructive ideas whatever for … the commandments which he had thundered from the White House’.1 Historians like Paul Latawski and M.B. Biskupski have argued that before and during the First World War, western knowledge of Poland in particular was characterised by ignorance. Yet during the later stages of the First World War, Allied and American foreign policy makers demonstrated considerable interest in appealing to Polish public opinion. In 1917, the British government concluded that it was necessary to win over the populace of occupied Russian Poland so that they would not to aid the Central Powers’ war effort by joining a proposed Polish army. Later deliberations also considered whether a public declaration of support for an independent Poland could counter the spread of Bolshevik ideology. American, British, and French declarations in 1918 that the independence of Poland was a war aim should thus be considered in this context. Based on an examination of state archives and private papers in Britain, France, and the United States, the proposed presentation will outline how Allied and American policy-makers learned about the Polish public during the First World War and how that knowledge influenced these public appeals. In particular, much information came from the Polish émigré networks that lobbied western governments and stressed the importance of independence to the Polish people. The presentation thus intends to contextualise allegations of western ignorance. It will also elaborate upon assertions by historians like Eric Weitz and Glenda Sluga that in the era of the Great War, the rights of populations – such as the Polish people – assumed greater prominence in the international system.


1. John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920), p. 39.