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Remembering War

Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the 20th Century

Jay Winter
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Remembering War
    Book Description:

    This is a masterful volume on remembrance and war in the twentieth century. Jay Winter locates the fascination with the subject of memory within a long-term trajectory that focuses on the Great War. Images, languages, and practices that appeared during and after the two world wars focused on the need to acknowledge the victims of war and shaped the ways in which future conflicts were imagined and remembered. At the core of the "memory boom" is an array of collective meditations on war and the victims of war, Winter says.

    The book begins by tracing the origins of contemporary interest in memory, then describes practices of remembrance that have linked history and memory, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. The author also considers "theaters of memory"-film, television, museums, and war crimes trials in which the past is seen through public representations of memories. The book concludes with reflections on the significance of these practices for the cultural history of the twentieth century as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12752-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: War, Memory, Remembrance
    (pp. 1-14)

    In this book, I offer an interpretation of what I call the ‘‘memory boom’’ of the twentieth century—the efflorescence of interest in the subject of memory inside the academy and beyond it—in terms of a wide array of collective meditations on war and on the victims of war. This is a partial account of a subject whose sources are very disparate, but many of them, I believe, return time and again to the theme of warfare and its consequences. The initial impulse behind this varied and ubiquitous cultural project emerged during the 1914–18 war. The images, languages,...

  5. Part One: War and Remembrance

    • CHAPTER 1 The Setting: The Great War in the Memory Boom of the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 17-51)

      Memory is in the ascendancy these days. In virtually every corner of intellectual life, there is evidence of a major change in focus, a movement toward the analysis of memory as the organizing principle of scholarly or artistic work. Whereas race, gender, and social class were foci of early waves of scholarship in cultural studies, now the emphasis is on a set of issues at the intersection of cultural history, literary studies, architecture, cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis, and many other disciplines besides. What they have in common is a focus on memory.

      Part of the force and logic of this cultural...

    • CHAPTER 2 Shell Shock, Memory, and Identity
      (pp. 52-76)

      In one particular way, the Great War reconfigured popular and medical notions about memory. In 1915, the British psychiatrist Charles Myers introduced the term ‘‘shell shock’’ to describe a set of disabling injuries suffered by men at the front. The medical history of this term has been ably explored; less well documented is the way the appearance of thousands of men with psychological injuries has come to frame what we now term ‘‘traumatic memory.’’ Shellshocked soldiers were the first carriers of post-traumatic stress disorder in the twentieth century. To appreciate how we, nearly a century later, understand the memories of...

  6. Part Two: Practices of Remembrance

    • CHAPTER 3 All Quiet on the Eastern Front: Photography and Remembrance
      (pp. 79-102)

      The power of photography to act as a trigger of memory is familiar to us all. Family albums are filled with scenes enabling us to conjure up a now-vanished world of encounters and gestures, which, taken together, describe the stories families tell about themselves. Much of this rhetoric is nostalgic, and tends to offer a sepia-tinged view of the past.

      But what of photography of another kind, that produced by soldiers in wartime? Here too the camera captures incidents in life histories, though the moments preserved form part of a highly unusual set of personal encounters. In many cases, the...

    • CHAPTER 4 War Letters: Cultural Memory and the ‘‘Soldiers’ Tale’’ of the Great War
      (pp. 103-117)

      There has been a burst of interest in recent years in ‘‘war literature,’’ understood as a genre of writing in which soldiers display the authority of direct experience in telling their ‘‘truth’’ about war and combat. In the process, they offer reflections on much else besides—on comradeship and masculinity, on the image of the enemy, on national sentiment, on the burden of survival when so many others failed to come back, and on the ‘‘lies’’ that those who were not there told about those who were.

      Much of this discussion centers on memoirs written long after the Armistice of...

    • CHAPTER 5 Ironies of War: Intellectual Styles and Responses to the Great War in Britain and France
      (pp. 118-134)

      Irony, Paul Fussell tells us, is a complex trope of remembrance. It is, among other things, a style of thinking and writing in which those trapped in a world threatening to destroy them convey a sense of who they were then and, having managed to survive, who they are now. Irony, he argues, is at the core of war literature, described in his terms as the carrier of ‘‘modern memory.’’ In a book on the multiple intersections of history and memory, this approach is of great interest.

      In this chapter, I want to interrogate the claim Fussell has made in...

    • CHAPTER 6 War Memorials: A Social Agency Interpretation
      (pp. 135-153)

      Historical remembrance is a process which occurs in space and time. So far we have had a look at photographs, war letters, plays, and novels. But the locus classicus of remembrance in the interwar years and beyond are war memorials. These sites, statues, and sculptures have been subject to a vast literature. To add a different perspective, I would like to offer a modest proposal that we notde-construct,but rathershrinkthe framework of discussions of commemorative forms in the twentieth century. I want to argue that shifting the scale of vision from the national and grandiose to the...

    • CHAPTER 7 War, Migration, and Remembrance: Britain and Her Dominions
      (pp. 154-180)

      One of the central premises of the work of Maurice Halbwachs is that social groups frame the memories they share. That is, when collectives come together to recall significant events, events which tell them who they are as a group, then they create something he termed ‘‘collective memory.’’ And when they no longer form a group, or when other life events intervene, and people age or move away or simply find other things to do, then the collective changes or disintegrates, and with it goes ‘‘collective memory.’’ This sense of the socially constructed nature of ‘‘collective memory’’ is vital to...

  7. Part Three: Theaters of Memory

    • CHAPTER 8 Grand Illusions: War, Film, and Collective Memory
      (pp. 183-200)

      One of the unfortunate features of the memory boom is the tendency of commentators to term any and every narrative of past events as constituents of national memory or collective memory, understood as the shared property of the citizenry of a state. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of film. Time and again the claim is made that the way cinema presents the past somehow passes in an unmediated manner into something termed memory. A straight line is drawn linking imagery and memory on the national scale.¹

      To be sure, cinema and other visual images have been...

    • CHAPTER 9 Between History and Memory: Television, Public History, and Historical Scholarship
      (pp. 201-221)

      Over the past two decades, the field of historical work has expanded rapidly toward what is termed public history, history outside the academy, linking historians to the broad population interested—sometimes passionately—in historical inquiry.¹ I want to suggest that this development has created spaces in which the overlap and differences between history and memory are visualized. In this chapter, I want to discuss television history. In the following chapter, the focus shifts to the field of museum work.

      In both chapters the question arises as to how to visualize war. And because the visual dimension is so powerful, and...

    • CHAPTER 10 War Museums: The Historial and Historical Scholarship
      (pp. 222-237)

      In recent years, museums dealing with contemporary history have succeeded in attracting very substantial populations. Why do they come? In part, because it is in these sites that family history and world history come together. Nowhere is this more evident than in museums of the two world wars. These pillars of public history have been essential vectors of the memory boom.

      War museums mediate between history and memory in particular ways. I want to discuss how this happens in a particular instance, that of a museum I helped design, and in whose research center I have worked since 1989. The...

    • CHAPTER 11 ‘‘Witness to a Time’’: Authority, Experience, and the Two World Wars
      (pp. 238-272)

      In the aftermath of war, there is a tendency for those who create representations of the conflict to wear the mantle of consolation. Tolerable or sanitized images of combat and violence against civilians are seductive and politically useful, since they present observers with elements of hope. They make war thinkable, even in the aftermath of terrible carnage. At times these positive narratives become intolerable to some of those who lived through these events. Such men and women then decide to take a stand. They speak with what Joan Scott has termed ‘‘the authority of direct experience,’’¹ and aim to strip...

  8. Part Four: The Memory Boom and the Twentieth Century

    • CHAPTER 12 Controversies and Conclusions
      (pp. 275-290)

      ‘‘Language,’’ wrote Walter Benjamin, ‘‘shows clearly that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past, but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred.’’¹ In this book, I have followed Benjamin’s lead and have explored multiple facets of memory as theater, memory as a medium of both personal and collective experience. In doing so, in exploring this overarching subject, this vast arcade of remembrance, I have focused on one particular historical setting. That setting is war and the effort of survivors to defer or to defy...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 291-312)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-330)
  11. Index
    (pp. 331-340)