Narrating the Spaces of War: Witnessing, Testimony, Evidence, Archives (Workshop, 7th June)


Painting of muddy brown explosions on an urban battlefield

Peter McIntyre, Air raid at Monte Cassino, February 1944, via Archives New Zealand. Reproduced under CC BY 2.0 licence.

This one-day workshop aims to bring together researchers who primarily think about war through the lens of narratives, with geographers who focus on the question of space in conflict zones. The workshop takes place on 7th June 2017, from 12:45 to 18:00, in the Calman Learning Center.

War narratives have long held a pivotal role in forging cultural identities, social bonds and political allegiances, from battle myths in early civilizations to military memoirs and war films in late-modernity. Scholars in the humanities have long sought greater understanding of these narrations of war, their form, genres and the radical transformations they undergo with the emergence of new technologies of violence. Attention has typically been given to the narratology of war, the function(s) of war narratives, their constitutive role in new poetic structures and literary practices. Yet the question of space in this corpus remains largely obscure or underdeveloped. Inversely, while a small group of critical geographers have been at great pains to stress the destructive torsions and eradications of spaces in late-modern wars, emphasizing a spectrum of registers—from the urban [urbicide], the visual [drone warfare], and immediate sensory [corpographies]—almost no attention has been paid to narration as a particular medium that merits more nuanced analysis as it relates to the spaces of war.

Recognising this analytical gap, this workshop aims to bring together these two domains, narratology and space, which have remained largely distinct in the scholarship on war.

Four themes orient this workshop: witnessingtestimonyevidence, and archives. The former two designate well-established narration positions, and their conventionalisation in rhetoric, law, historiography and literature. The latter two themes turn attention to the world of objects, to modes of collection and technologies of dissemination through which narratives of war retain their pivotal status. Our working hypothesis is that each of these has the potential to expand and add nuance to our understanding of the spaces of war.

Keynote speaker

Professor Jay Winter (History, Yale University), 16:30-18:00. “Silence as a Language of Remembrance”. Discussants: TBA

Session I: 12:45-14:15

Craig Jones (Politics, Newcastle University) – “Law and the Spaces of Targeting”

Alice Cree (Geography, Durham University) – “Just because you can see him, doesn’t mean he’s home”: Testimony and Theatricality in Lee Hart’s Boots at the Door.”

Rachel Woodward (Geography, Newcastle University) – “Bringing War to Book: the Social Production of Military Narratives”

Session II: 14:45-16:15

Nayanika Mookherjee (Anthropology, Durham University) – “Aesthetics, Affect, and the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal”

Noam Leshem (Geography, Durham University) – “Archiving War: Conventions and Critical Form”

Oliver Belcher (Geography, Durham University) – “War and the World Viewed: Photography, Databases, and the Capacity to Carry the World’s Presence”

This event is sponsored by the Durham University Geography Department’s Politics-State-Space Research Group and the Centre for Modern Conflicts and Cultures. Please contact oliver.belcher@durham.ac.uk for more information.

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