Impact Case Study – Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation

On Commemoration: Global Reflections Upon Remembering War book cover

We are always looking for new ways to share the benefits of our research with a wide audience and we employ a variety of channels and innovative methods to assist its social impact, from theatrical productions to films, books, school workshops, games, apps, public engagement events, art, and more! We've asked a selection of our researchers to explain the different ways they are sharing their research. In the Impact Case Study below, Professor Kate McLoughlin introduces Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation, a year-long International Seminar Series featuring a wide range of contributors, including novelist Aminatta Forna, architect Daniel Libeskind, and composer Jonathan Dove. You will be able to browse all the case studies in the Research section of the website.

An International Seminar Series Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in Memory of John E. Sawyer 2017-18  

On 2 June 2018, I stood on a bench in Balliol Fellows’ Garden to thank all the people who had contributed to Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation, the year-long international seminar series funded by the Mellon Foundation that was about to come to its climactic conclusion in the Sheldonian Theatre. A former TLS-editor who witnessed the proceedings said later that he thought possibly more people had been involved in the project than in the evacuation of Dunkirk.   

It was certainly a mighty communal effort. Two co-convenors: Dr Niall Munro of Oxford Brookes and myself. One post-doctoral and three post-graduate fellows: Dr Catherine Gilbert (now of Newcastle University), Alex Donnelly, Rita Phillips (now of Robert Gordon University) and Johana Wyss (now of King’s College, London). Five poets-in-residence: Susie Campbell, Sue Zatland, Mariah Whelan, Dahmicca Wright, and Patrick Toland. Three In-Conversation events featuring the novelist Aminatta Forna, the architect Daniel Libeskind and the composer Jonathan Dove. Six panel-led symposia with academic delegates from a range of disciplines, policy-makers, figures from NGOs and the heritage and charitable sectors, military veterans and a bevy of creative practitioners—poets, novelists, memoirists, dramaturges, architects, architects, sculptors and musicians. One session at the Pitt Rivers Museum handling commemorative objects. One post-graduate conference. A reading of all the poetry the series had inspired.  

Three questions guided us. Who is post-war commemoration for, and why? How does commemoration lead to post-war reconstruction and reconciliation? What is the future of post-war commemoration? We arrived at no definitive answers—we didn’t expect to—but contributors spoke again and again about the meaningfulness of commemoration that grows out of local communities rather than being imposed upon them.  

Moments stand out. Listening to the Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail reading her haunting poem ‘Bag of Bones’ in Arabic. To the oud-player Rihab Azar playing achingly beautiful Syrian melodies. Hearing the human rights lawyer Philippe Sands QC point out that, even if you don't win the case, it's a form of memorialization simply to have the evidence heard. Making scented candles and reflecting on the smell of remembrance (rosemary, according to Ophelia). The grand finale: the UK Parliament Choir, the City Choir of Dunedin, New Zealand, and the Southbank Sinfonia giving the European première of Anthony Ritchie’s oratorio From Gallipoli to the Somme. And the much lower-key but no less illuminating evening devoted to the works of our poets-in-residence.   

You can find out more about the series, watch extracts from the concert, listen to interviews with participants and read our blog here.         

Kate McLoughlin, Professor of English Literature