Academic series to explore how best we can commemorate war

Academic series to explore how best we can commemorate war

A new seminar series will bring together leading figures in the arts and politics to discuss how best we can commemorate war.

The new seminar series, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in honour of John E. Sawyer, will be called ‘Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation’.

It will be led by Professor Kate McLoughlin, Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, and Dr Niall Munro, Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Oxford Brookes University.

Over the academic year 2017-18, a number of seminars will be held involving academics from many different fields, politicians, diplomats and others who have played a role in peace negotiations and commemoration events.  They will be joined by novelists, poets, artists and musicians whose work has marked war in some way.

Some of the questions to be explored in the series include:

  • What roles do cultural practices of commemoration play in the work of post-war reconstruction and reconciliation?
  • Can commemoration help to reintegrate military veterans into civilian society?
  • What impact do the internet and social media have upon commemoration, reconstruction and reconciliation?
  • How do different cultures use commemoration?

Based on discussions in the series, a report will be delivered to the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport. There will also be a website with podcasts of the events. The series will concluded with a concert to which war veterans will be invited.

Professor Kate McLoughlin says: 'Our series is a great example of the value of the humanities. At a time when the public’s attention is focused on a number of major anniversaries, we have a real opportunity to bring together creative practitioners, academics and leaders in the cultural sector, the charitable sector and government, to think about how we can do commemoration better.

'We will discuss what works and doesn’t work, and how we can ensure that commemoration and anniversaries have a positive impact, such as reconciliation between different communities or promoting peace.'

Dr Niall Munro says that this is the perfect time for the series, given the recent large-scale commemorations of the First World War and the American Civil War. The researchers will study events like the ceramic poppy installation at the Tower of London, and discuss how they were received and what they mean.

'The anniversary activities in the UK, Europe, the United States and across the world have demonstrated that war remembrance resonates with human needs and inspires imaginations,' says Dr Munro.

'We have an unprecedented opportunity to consider what was experienced in the various anniversary events, and what they can tell us about how war is remembered—and forgotten.'