The First World War in 2014 -15: new commemoration projects, new public narratives?

Here is the abstract for Dr Helen McCartney’s keynote address, which will be delivered on Friday 26th February:

For the last few decades, British public scripts about the First World War have stressed horror and casualties leading to an interpretation that both the objectives of the war and the way in was prosecuted were futile.  Other meanings and interpretations were crowded out and the war was seen through a narrow, national lens.

The paper seeks to examine whether these familiar scripts and their omissions are being challenged or reinforced by new commemorative projects.  By analyzing a range of new projects from 2014 and 2015, including letter to the Unknown Soldier (2014), the Tower of London poppy installation (2014 -15) and British Gallipoli commemorations (2015), the paper will seek to establish how a variety of different local and national interest groups construct commemorative projects and interact with them.  It will argue that alongside the futility script is an opposing sacrificial narrative that stresses the debt owed for ‘freedom’ today. Neither of the public narratives is rooted in a complex understanding of the war and its issues and empathetic and emotional approaches to commemoration help to shape the emerging scripts.

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