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Huizinga Institute Conference – Narratives of War

Amsterdam, 24-26 February 2016

The Huizinga Institute is celebrating its twentieth birthday. As part of the celebrations it will host an international conference in Amsterdam, partly in commemoration of 1914-18, on ‘Narratives of War’. War has been set down, recorded, and narrated for thousands of years, from Thucydides to Tolstoy, in fiction, non-fiction, museums and in the private sphere of the family. War narratives form a key component in historiography, from classic historism to post-modern narrativism. This conference sets out to map out this rich range of insights, and to do so by means of highlighting certain core themes.

The distinguished war historian John Horne, Professor of Modern European History and Director of the Centre for War Studies at Trinity College Dublin, has agreed to deliver our keynote lecture, ‘Narrating Battle in the Great War’. The organizers have welcomed papers and panels from all disciplines within the humanities, addressing one or more of the following topics:

1. War as a (good) story

Does the war story have a special narrative structure? Can war be recounted as simply a story of triumph or of loss? What are the other possible story lines? What are some of the overarching themes? Which narrative strategies can be identified? What is the influence of performance, and of different media on the representation of war?

2. War narratives and the politics of remembering and forgetting

Every war has its own post-war working-out and representation, and a politics of memory and forgetting. Issues of guilt and responsibility can lead to denial and Schuldabwehr. The urge to normalize the situation can lead to a desire to put aside memories of war, and to effect closure on the past as a sealed and finished period.

3. War Narratives and Transitional Justice

What is the role of the war story and of the witness in processing the past and in legal restitution? What is the function of the search for shared narratives in post-conflict societies? Is such a shared narrative necessary, and if so, how might it be achieved? Can any patterns be identified in the stories of perpetrators and of victims? And how to reconcile in this context the tension between the desire to remember in order to achieve closure, and the desire not to remember so as not to open old wounds?

4. Collective and individual war narratives

How does the personal story interact with collective forms of storytelling, whether by the state or by other interest groups? For example, how should we evaluate the substantial influence of war veterans on the national narrative of war? And how should we approach the narratives of collaborators – or those of their children?

5. War narratives in the museum

As Jay Winter once asked rhetorically, ‘Does war belong in the museums?’ The museum is the site par excellence where conflicting war stories compete for recognition. How do museum war storylines materialize, and what has been the effect on those lines of recent historiographical insights? How has the narrative of war as represented in museums affected views of war at large held by the state, and by groups and individuals?

6. Changing concepts of war, changing narratives of war

Do war stories alter in kind or form with new modes in the conduct of war in which friend and foe, front line and hinterland, are less clearly distinguished from each other, or where the enemy is hidden behind a drone? Do guerrilla warfare and jihad generate their own narratives?

Further information

For more information on the programme, attendance and speakers, please visit our Narratives of War website.

WOII Europe map