Tomorrow Belongs to Me: Coming-of-Age in the Other Europe, 1890-1968

"United for a Democratic Parliament: Farmers, Youth, Workers, Intellectuals, Women, Artisans. A poster of the Progressive Party of Working People, Cyprus, the 1970s. Source: Εθνικό Ιστορικό Μουσείο Ε.Ι.Μ.

My dissertation, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me: Coming-of-Age in the Other Europe, 1890-1968,” explores how ordinary Europeans transitioned to adulthood in the twentieth century. The twentieth century witnessed two significant changes that warrant such a study. For life-course sociologists, it was a period of standardization: young adults worldwide began to live remarkably similar lives. More children went to school, where they stayed for a more extended period, and more teenagers entered the labor market only after this period of schooling. Politically and culturally, the twentieth century saw a remarkable increase in the visibility of youth. Youth was a social problem to solve, a political force to mobilize, and an identity around which people rallied. Both processes culminated in 1968, after which the life course grew increasingly de-standardized in the West while youth politics lost much of its radical potential. Perhaps only temporarily.

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” uses youth to write a new history of modern Europe in three parts. Its first section traces socioeconomic change, as Europe’s societies became more urbanized and industrialized and as its states increased their effect over their citizens’ lives. It shows how young adults navigated a life course that necessitated more choices than ever before. Often unable to inherit the life of their parents, young Europeans had greater opportunities – and risks. The second section focuses on culture. It explores the representation of youth and young people in discourse and literature. In other words, this section shifts our gaze from looking at actual young adults to looking at youth as discursive constructs and literary representations. Finally, the last section considered young people as sociopolitical actors. By juxtaposing representation and social conditions, it analyzes the unprecedented mobilization of youth into political projects from Mazzini’s “Young Europe” in the 1820s through Hitler’s SA to the making of communism and postwar democracy.

“The Other Europe” – a shorthand for Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe – upends conventional narratives focused on Western Europe and the United States. The changes treated in classical works like John R. Gillis’ Youth and History (1974) unfolded over a shorter period of time in the Other Europe. While Gillis starts his narrative with “the consequences of modernization” between 1770 and 1870, “modernization” has hardly begun east of the Rhein before 1870. A century later, as Gillis’ narrative approaches “the End of Adolescence,” youth in Other Europe’s state-socialist states launched a rebellion against their regime’s orchestration of the life course. This story, too, is missing from conventional narratives. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” tells how the largely predictable life courses of pre-industrial Europe collapsed around the turn of the century and how European societies, states, families, and young people came to terms with it.

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is a comparative and transnational study. The juxtaposition of social change and cultural change invites a reconsideration of how the categories we use to understand our own lives result from material change and cultural exchange. By 1914, youth problems and politics engendered much international discussion. Discourses of youth often flowed from the Anglophone, Francophone, and German-speaking sphere onward. A range of internationalist projects – from the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization to transnational exchanges between fascist and communist regimes – made the history of youth highly entangled. By considering both changes and exchanges, this dissertation gauges the extent to which European modernity was shaped by similar conditions (i.e., comparatively) and by deliberate conversations (transnationally).

My dissertation is a contribution towards a new synthesis of twentieth-century European history. It does so by bringing together histories of education and labor, political parties and youth organizations, the social sciences and literature, military conscription and urban development, as well as other historiographical fields that open up once we focus on the transition to adulthood. Many of these topics have been the bread and butter of national historiographies in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Considering them in tandem and comparatively invites a social and cultural history of modern Europe that accounts for the lives of more Europeans: not only those who lived in the cities of the industrialized West.

Young office workers in Hungary, 1936. Women's work and the prevalence of salaried work are two major changes in the emergence of modern adulthood. Source: Fortepan / Orbán György.