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The Call of the Human: The Cosmopolitan Club Movement and Early Twentieth-Century Internationalism
In the early twentieth century, American higher education made an effort to internationalize. Propelled by awareness of a shrinking globe, the needs of scientific research, and the US military taking to the world stage, universities actively recruited and welcomed international visiting students, who joined an increasing number of foreign-born immigrant students. Starting in 1904, these students joined with sympathetic Americans to form local cosmopolitan clubs, and in 1907, they formed the Association of Cosmopolitan Clubs. At a time when a variety of internationalist thinkers were active, the cosmopolitan students remained distinct. They were neither universalist nor pluralist. They did not seek to transcend nationalism. And they maintained focus on local conditions and identities even as they sought a common humanity. This study traces the idea and activities of the cosmopolitan clubs from their founding in 1904 through the First World War. The first chapters discuss the largely imperialistic motivations behind foreign student recruitment, and how the club members turned this on its head by promoting a cosmopolitan provincialism. The culture of the clubs furthered their ideas by providing a platform to promote nationalism alongside other forms of loyalty while seeking a mutual transformation of societies. The middle section of this study focuses on the clubs’ encounter with the international peace and arbitration movement—the clubs have often been described as part of this movement, but they ultimately rejected its motives and aims. The final chapters cover the cosmopolitans’ reaction to the First World War as a form of engaged neutrality, and an attack on imperialism in both word and deed. The study concludes with a look at how the postwar political climate undermined support for the clubs, which lived on but in a more anodyne form. The cosmopolitan clubs—one of the earliest campus-based student organizations—are interesting on their own, but they are also a rare example of an explicit group attempt to work out the problems of an interconnected world and ethically respond to the demands of globalization. History is full of cosmopolitans, but the club members under discussion here are doubtless among those who spoke most clearly.