Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series 2017-18 - Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation

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This Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series will explore and compare the ways in which cultural commemorative practices both contribute to and challenge post-war reconstruction and reconciliation. In the three Oxford eight-week terms of Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity 2017-18, we will focus in turn on a different medium of commemoration: textual, monumental and aural.

Given the recent commemorative events surrounding anniversaries of conflicts, such as the American Civil War and the First World War, 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. This Series has been designed to enable participants to identify new trends in anniversary culture and explore their specificity to different communities. Our ability to compare war with war across place and time will enrich these enquiries and lead to genuinely enhanced understanding.

We will focus in turn on a different medium of commemoration: textual, monumental and aural. The events relating to textual and aural commemoration will be hosted by the University of Oxford, while those relating to monumental commemoration will be hosted by Oxford Brookes University. Each term will begin with an event featuring a globally-acclaimed figure from the respective medium in conversation with a senior Oxford or Oxford Brookes academic. Following these opening events, there will be two Panel-Led Workshops per term, featuring experts in the commemorative mode from inside and outside academia, specialists in conflict resolution and creative practitioners.

The fourth and final event of each term will be devoted to postgraduate students. In the first term, we will organise a Postgraduate Training Day, in the second term a ‘Pecha Kucha’ session (in which postgraduates will be invited to present their work in 20 x 20-second slides) and in the third term a one-day Postgraduate Conference. These postgraduate events will also feature keynote talks by leading figures in the study or practice of commemoration. With this mix of formats, we hope to encourage debate between and benefit from the ideas and experience of people at all career stages.

We will bring the Series to a close with a concert to which we will invite war veterans and representatives of veteran charities, as well as members of the public and the Series participants.

We are particularly interested in exploring the following questions:

  • What roles do cultural practices of commemoration – specifically textual, monumental and aural – play in the work of post-war reconstruction and reconciliation, and how have these roles changed through time?
  • In what ways can these roles be compared and contrasted across cultures (including religions)? What scope is there for international collaborative commemoration, reconstruction and reconciliation?
  • What is helpful and healing in commemorative practices? What is harmful? What are the consequences of non-commemoration – of moving on and forgetting? How might political and cultural policy maximise the potential contribution of commemoration to reconstruction and reconciliation in future post-war situations? In particular, how might commemorative practices facilitate the reintegration of military personnel into civilian society post-war?

Our events, speakers and attendees will enable us to make unprecedented multi-dimensional comparisons by expanding our understanding of commemoration as we consider conceptions of memory and memorialisation across varied cultures. We will also benefit from the crucial contribution of experts in conflict resolution, primarily drawn from the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. Alongside academics and experts in conflict resolution, we have also included novelists, poets, cartoonists, architects, artists, sculptors, composers and musicians. We believe that their contributions will not only enhance the debates but require other participants – and audience-members – to listen, look and think in new ways.