Uneasy balance: reflection­s of a First World War historian on scholarshi­p and memory

This was the rather grandiloquent title of a short paper I gave last June before the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Graduate Discussion Group at St Anne’s College, Oxford.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be posting my presentation in an abridged version. In the meantime, here is the summary of this paper.

The history of the First World War has, in the last two decades, been profoundly renewed. The internationalization of the academic debate has spurred a comparative turn in a field where conventional academic boundaries – between the military, cultural and social histories of the war – have successfully been challenged by scholars committed to interdisciplinary approaches. In the meantime, growing popular interest in the experience of the Great War has, across former belligerent nations, accompanied this academic renewal. While collective memory has become a topic of choice for many historians, First World War specialists can attest that their object of study has lost none of its contemporary relevance. The Centenary of the outbreak of the conflict in 2014 now looms large in the mind of historians increasingly preoccupied, in a challenging financial and institutional context, with the wider impact of their scholarship. This seminar explored some aspects of the perennially problematic relationship between history and memory. This talk addressed the continuing significance of the conflict in contemporary Britain and in Europe; it  highlighted the tensions between the historian’s intellectual agenda and the social demand formulated by the State, pressure groups, and the lay audience; it finally invited a collective discussion on the place of historical scholarship in the public sphere.

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