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Cfp: Revisiting Commemoration Practices, uses and appropriations of the Centenary of the Great War!

Call for papers 
Deadline: January, 5, 2016

International conference
24-25 mars 2016

Revisiting Commemoration
Practices, uses and appropriations of the Centenary of the Great War

The Centenary of the Great War has become a major commemorative event. In France, through the range of events it has inspired, and their distribution throughout the country, this Centenary has become as significant an event as the Bicentenary of the French Revolution was in 1989. At the time, the Bicentenary was a significant contribution to the development of original landmark studies, on the staging of history (Martin, Suaud, 1996), and on commemorative social practices (Garcia, 2000), on memory politics (Davallon, Dujardin, Sabatier, 1993) and their transformations over the long term (Ory, 1989), on “commemorative mania” (Johnston, 1992) or the erasing of the national “commemorative superego” (Nora, 1992). The Centenary of the Great War thus provides the opportunity to pursue this reflection by emphasising, not so much who is commemorating but what the commemoration is doing: the practices, the uses and the social appropriations that arise from this. Unlike in 1989, the Commemoration of the First World War is taking place simultaneously in different countries (Gilles, Offenstadt, 2014). It therefore allows us to immediately incorporate a comparative perspective. 

The year 2014 corresponds to the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Lieux de mémoire (Nora, 1984, published in English as Realms of Memory, 1996) which marks the beginning of the explosion of publications and theoretical propositions on memory and commemoration. Over the last thirty years, there has been a “memory boom”, leading up to the recent emergence of a new discipline: memory studies (Gensburger 2011). The institutionalisation of this field of research has its basis in the observation that social sciences actually know quite little of what commemoration does and the ways in which it is used (Kansteiner 2002). This conference thus aims to concretely address this question of practices, uses and appropriations of commemoration, through the study of the Centenary of the Great War, in is various dimensions, at differing levels and through different disciplinary practices.

In the context of the project Labex: The past in the present, the International Contemporary Documentation Library (Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale et Contemporaine) and the Institute for the Social Sciences of Politics have begun two important collective research projects on the forms of social appropriation of the Centenary. One looks at the future of on-line heritage linked with World War One, and the other at the visitors of the Centenary commemorative exhibitions on the other. Other large scale studies have also been conducted by other teams, in France (Observatoire du Centenaire) and overseas (Arts and Humanities Research Council). This conference aims to be a place where the range of work in this area can be brought together to allow a cumulative reflection on the social depth of the Centenary, but also on the concepts and methods that are specific to the study of the place of the past in contemporary society. In this respect, papers that do not directly concern the case of the commemoration of the Great War will be considered if they fall within the heuristic perspective of the conference. 

Research on commemoration is often based on diffuse beliefs that memory policies have an effect on the public. The memory of the Great War is thus believed to concern most people and to be consensual. This conference aims to challenge these self-evidences, and to do so for different national contexts and according to different focus points.  

We know little about what individuals see and do when they attend a historical exhibition, when they participate in a ceremony commemorating November 11, or when they visit a historical site. What meaning do those who visit exhibitions, listen to speeches or attend performances or historical reconstructions give to these practices? What do they do with what they see? Through what kind of prisms do they connect with the past? To what extent do these practices systematically involve a connection with history? If we think of these experiences as heterogeneous, is it possible to construct reasoned typologies that identify key ways of appropriating these events? 

Moreover, who participates in these commemorations? In which contexts, and with who, and in what forms? Who makes up the commemoration’s intended audience, particularly in terms of gender and socio-professional categories? In this context, particular attention should be paid to the school visits, these “young spectators” who are often a captive audience and are considered as indicators of the “success” or “failure” of a particular commemorative event. This conference aims to bring together communications that focus on social practices in the context of commemoration and on their complexity. 

The current research encourages us to go further and to ask what happens to commemoration outside commemorative events. What of the people who never or hardly ever attend commemorative celebrations, exhibitions, conferences or performances? Do they know that the year 2014 was marked by this anniversary of war? How did they encounter this event, in spite of their distance from it? What do they think of the Great War, or the commemoration of history in general? Alongside original empirical research, such as that conducted on the use of the internet for example, the conference organisers are also interested in researchers who would like to (re)visit, material collected in other contexts and for other questions, from this perspective.   

Inversely, other potentially commemorative practices remain difficult for researchers to access. Commemoration also takes the form of films and documentaries shown on television or available online, which often attract significant audiences. We still don’t know much about the people who watch these documentaries or these fictions; just as we know little about the spectators of historical programmes in general. It would be important to have a better knowledge of these practices, the sociography of these populations and to begin to sketch a sociology of the use and reception of these materials.

Finally, there are significant expectations associated with memory policy, whether in terms of the transmission of knowledge and civic values, in terms of education to tolerance, to social cohesion and peace, particularly through the use of “emotions”. The work presented here will be particularly attentive to the way they address these aspects of commemorative practices. How do empirical studies enable us to analyse, and re-analyse questions of “emotion”, transmission and the civic effects of the commemorations of the Centenary of the Great War?

Proposals for papers (in French or English) must be sent before January 5, to:

The proposals must specify the main theme, clearly present the problem they address, and the methodology and sources they mobilise (maximum 1500 words). Proposals may be submitted in French or English. Publication of the conference proceedings is planned for the end of 2016.


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