Why Remember? Memory and Forgetting in Times of War and its Aftermath 

Remember Me Co-investigator, Dr Michael S. Drake, reports on a recent conference he attended.

From 30 June to 2 July 2017, the conference Why Remember? Memory and Forgetting in Times of War and its Aftermath took place in Sarajevo. Organized by Dr Stephenie Young (Salem State University) Dr Paul Lowe (London College of Communication, University of Arts London) and Admir Jugo (Durham University), the conference was closely linked with the WARM Festival and supported by the Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Salem State University and London College of Communication, University of Arts London.

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Attendees listen to a presentation at the Why Remember? Memory and Forgetting in Times of War and Its Aftermath conference in Sarajevo. Photograph by Michael S. Drake.

This genuinely interdisciplinary conference combined perspectives from across the arts, humanities and social sciences, with many papers presenting work at the cutting edge of memory studies. Contributors spanned the full range of research academics and practitioners, from doctoral research students to established professors. The standard of presentation and research was consistently high. Themes addressed included landscape, music, gender, nationalisms, film, art and others. Common issues arising from many of the papers were the tension between justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of war, conflict or genocide, and between public representation and private experience in their remembrance.

One highlight for me was to see how the award-winning war-zone photographer Simon Norfolk worked visual techniques together with a cultural history of his theme to produce new insights, perspectives and questions on the much-documented monuments and First World War battlefields of Flanders. Some of the material presented at the conference was sombre and shocking, such as Ron Haviv’s account of his work as a photojournalist during the Balkan Wars of 1992-95 and elsewhere.

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Street art on a wall in a Sarajevo side street. Artist unknown. Photograph by Michael S. Drake.

The conference above all brought a deep sense of the responsibility of anyone involved in representing war and its associated traumas to be alert to the implications of representation, whether literary, musical, visual or as social science, for the construction of memory and narrative. Telling a truth, putting events together as remembering, always bears both a public and a personal political responsibility.

Michael Drake AHRC_m

Co-Investigator, Dr Michael S. Drake is leading the Remember Me project case study Heroes and Loved Ones, exploring the memorialisation of death arising from military conflict.

Dr Drake presented a paper at the Why Remember? Memory and Forgetting in Times of War and Its Aftermath conference entitled ‘The ends of commemoration: Centenary remembrance of the British First World War Dead’, which focussed on the affective dimension generating emotion and moralised imperatives in the discourse around public commemorations.

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