Conference Reflections on the Commemoration of the First World War

Joanna Szczepanski's picture
November 22, 2018 to November 23, 2018
New Zealand
Subject Fields: 
Australian and New Zealand History / Studies, European History / Studies, Public History, Social History / Studies, World History / Studies

22-23 November 2018 at Tūranga (Central Library) on the corner of Gloucester Street and Colombo Street, Christchurch.

 As we approach the end of the centenary of World War One, it is timely to consider the ways in which this conflict has been commemorated. Galleries, libraries, archives and museums around New Zealand and the world have explored old and new narratives of the war and presented these in exhibitions, public programmes and research. Many of these interpretations have been the result of collaborations that have joined repositories with academia, other institutions and the community. This conference invites museum professionals, historians, librarians, academics, students, film makers, artists, writers, researchers, government sector contributors and others to reflect on the commemoration of the war. 

Registration is now open. To register click here.

$280 Early Bird Registration (available until 1 August 2018) 

$320 Full Registration

$110 Student Registrations (must be currently enrolled in an accredited tertiary institution to qualify)

A publication featuring a selection of papers from the conference will be produced following the conference.

You can contact the conference committe at An alphabetical listing of all the presentation abstracts is available here  and the keynote presentations are also outlined below.

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Tim Cook, C.M.

Entrenched Culture: Soldiers’ Culture in the Aftermath of the First World War

Songs, poetry, slang, trench newspapers, superstitions, theatre, and trench art were all cultural products created by the soldiers for the soldiers, and together they offer insight into questions of identity, camaraderie, and coping with the strain of service and battle. Using a case study of Canadian soldiers, this talk explores a culture that was formed in spaces of violence. Little attention has been paid in the literature to whether this culture found its way back to Canada after the war.  Indeed, this culture mattered during the war and it continued to matter in the postwar years.  A study of this soldiers’ culture and its transformation into a veterans’ culture offers new ways to conceptualize the commemoration of the war experience, with veterans forging different strands of memory and meaning from that of others who had not served in uniform.

Dr. Tim Cook is a historian at the Canadian War Museum. He was the curator for the museum’s First World War permanent gallery, and he has curated numerous temporary, travelling and digital exhibitions. He has also authored 11 books, most of which have been longlisted, shortlisted or awarded prizes. His books have won the C.P. Stacey Prize for Military History (twice), the Ottawa Book Award (twice), the RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, and the J.W. Dafoe Book Prize. His newest book is Vimy: The Battle and the Legend (2017), which was a national best-seller.

In 2012, Dr. Cook was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contributions to Canadian history and in 2013 he received the Governor General’s History Award. Dr. Cook is a Member of the Order of Canada.

Professor Joy Damousi

Blood, Bodies and Bones: Remembering Violence of the First World War in the 21st century

In the early twenty first century, remembering the violence of the First World has increasingly focused on three sites: blood, bodies and bones.  In this keynote address, these three sites form the basis of considering contemporary forms of remembering and forgetting the violence of the First World War. The remembrance of this cataclysmic event more broadly brings into focus forms of commemoration that have recently concentrated exclusively on the body. These involve new technologies such as DNA testing and the retrieval and exhumation of bones of the war victims of violence.  

The aim of this talk is to explore this new wave of commemorative practice and argue that in the 21st century new technologies have ushered in distinctive forms of commemoration surrounding the dead body.  The focus adopted in recent scholarship on the victims of violence has been to consider how human remains have become a distinctive part of commemorative practice. Does this focus on human remains and DNA profiling reflect a new attempt to access the ‘true’ experience of war? Is the appeal of this exercise that it somehow represents a more ‘accurate’ representation of the infliction of violent acts during the First World War and how these should be remembered – that is, through the forensic identification of bodies through DNA testing as a form of remembrance of violence. 

This paper will consider these developments as a contested commemorative space, for while there has been controversy and debate about the uses of this technologies by nations, families and descendants have been active in supporting this form of commemorative practice to honour the dead by identifying them and providing a full reburial and ceremony.

Joy Damousi is Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely on aspects of political history, women’s history and feminist history, memory and war, history of emotions, sound and war, and the history of post-war migration and refugees. She is the author of numerous books which include The Labour of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia (Cambridge, 1999); Living with the Aftermath: Trauma, Nostalgia and Grief in Post-war Australia (Cambridge, 2001); Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia (University of New South Wales Press, 2005: Winner of the Ernest Scott Prize); Colonial Voices: A Cultural History of English in Australia 1840-1940 (Cambridge 2010) and Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War: Australia’s Greek Immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War (Cambridge, 2015). She had edited several books including (with Marilyn Lake) Gender and War: Australians At War in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 1995) and (with Robyn Archer, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer), The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, (Monash University Publishing, 2016). With Philip Dwyer she is the general editor of a four volume Cambridge World History of Violence due to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.

Her latest project is a history of child refugees, humanitarianism and internationalism from 1920 to the present for which she was awarded an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship. This research seeks to examine the history of child refugees displaced by the wars of the twentieth century.

Dr. Santanu Das

The Colours of Memory: the racial politics of the centennial commemoration


One of the important legacies of the centennial commemoration will be the greater recognition of the contribution of non-white colonial troops. But this much-needed expansion has been accompanied, I argue, by a process of double sanitisation: the erasure of the ignominies of race and colonialism as well as the cleansing of the brutality and violence of combat. As the war is being reinvented in Europe as the grand stage to play the laudable anthem of multiculturalism, the responses from the former colonies as well as from the ethnic communities abroad have often bordered on triumphant valorisation, as if the only way to recover the non-white soldier is by turning him into a war hero. My talk will examine the poetics and politics of this process: whose memory are we talking about, what is at stake politically, and is it in the sphere of colonial war remembrance that the tension between celebration and commemoration - or for that matter, between ethical and instrumental uses of memory - is at its most intense? What level of complexity could or should commemoration accommodate: how do we, for example, remember a Turkish soldier killed by an Indian Muslim sepoy recruited by his own people at the behest of the British colonial government? I shall here look at a range of material - from official centennial events to commemorative art work, video installations, dance-theatre and literary imaginings - with reference to South Asia and South Africa to examine the contradictions of colonial memory and the meaning of commemoration itself, and reflect on how and what we remember. 


Educated in Kolkata and Cambridge, Santanu Das is a literary and cultural historian based at King’s College London. He is the author of the award-winning monograph Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge, 2006) and Indian Troops in Europe, 1914-1918 (Paris, 2014) and the editor of Race, Empire and First World War Writing (2006) and the Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War (2014). His latest book South Asia and First World War Culture: Literature, Images and Music is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press in 2018 and he is currently editing the Oxford Book of Empire Writing of the First World War. From 2013-2016, he directed a large pan-European research project on 'Cultural Encounters During Global Conflict: Neutrals, Colonials and Belligerents in the First World War'. He has been involved in a number of centennial commemorative projects on the war, from radio and television programmes with the BBC to advising on concerts, exhibitions, and, most recently, dance-theatre. 


Thank you to our sponsors, Canterbury History Foundation  and New Zealand Micrographic Services