The Memory of Catastrophe



CONFERENCE REPORT

On April 14-17, the Department of History hosted an interdisciplinary conference on the Memory of Catastrophe. The conference was attended by over ninety scholars from all around the world, with representatives from a wide variety of disciplines including anthropology, art history, geography, history, literary and film studies, psychology, sociology, information management and disaster management studies. Amongst the catastrophes examined were the fall of Jerusalem, the English Civil War, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the 1746 Lima Earthquake, 19th century American mining disasters, the Great Irish Famine, the Titanic, the First World War, the 1918 influenza epidemic, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the war in the Balkans and, most recently, last year's Texas A&M University bonfire tragedy. The conference received financial support from the Wellcome Trust and the Hartley Institute, as well as the British Academy.

Despite the poignant subject matter and the variety of different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives involved, the conference proved a lively and friendly forum for in-depth discussion of recent research in the field, facilitated not least by an experimental structure which allowed speakers to develop their ideas at length in individual paper and question sessions lasting 55 minutes. A number of general critical questions emerged from the proceedings, which were explored in a plenary discussion session at the end of the conference. Is it the scholar's role to intervene in the processes of memories to ensure that they are accurate, or is it sufficient simply to examine the dynamics and poetics of memories without concern for the relationship to historical 'reality'? How useful is language derived from studies of individual trauma in capturing the processes of collective memory after catastrophe? What constitutes a 'traumatized community'? Is the conception of collective memory deployed in western disaster discourses applicable to memories of disasters in non-western societies? What are the key dynamics which ensure that a catastrophe is remembered after the immediate experience of suffering has disappeared from the culture?

A volume of essays derived from contributions to the conference is planned for the near future. The organizers - Dr. Peter Gray and Dr. Kendrick Oliver - have also established an e-mail discussion list and will be converting this web-site into a repository of information about developments in the field. Please contact them for further details: Dr. Peter Gray ( pg2@soton.ac.uk) or Dr. Kendrick Oliver ( ko@soton.ac.uk).

ARTICLE

History Today has just published an article by Peter Gray and Kendrick Oliver examining both the culture of catastrophic memory and the response it has elicted from historians and scholars in other disciplines. The article is currently available online .

ACADEMIC SPECIALISTS

(For the moment, this list principally includes participants in the conference, but we are happy to include all those scholars with specialisms and interests in the field. Please contact Peter Gray or Kendrick Oliver to register.)

The Fall of Jerusalem

Sarah Pearce (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - Jewish memory and the fall of Jerusalem

Nadia Valman (Dept. of English, University of Southampton - Jewish memory and the fall of Jerusalem

Rebellion and Civil War in Early-Modern England

Mark Stoyle (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - popular memories of the English Civil War

Andrew Wood (Dept. of History, University of East Anglia) - memories of rebellions in early-modern England

Slavery, Rebellion and Civil War in the United States

Peter Cramer (Dept. of English, Carnegie Mellon University) - memories of slave 'insurrection' in Charleston, South Carolina

The Great Irish Famine

Peter Gray (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - memory and commemorations of the Great Irish Famine

The Titanic

James Guimond (Dept. of English and American Studies, Rider University) - the Titanic and the commodification of catastrophe

Gerwin Strobl (School of History and Archaeology, University of Wales, Cardiff) - the memory of the Titanic in Nazi propaganda

The First World War

Stefan Goebel (Magdelene College, Cambridge) - commemorations of the Great War in Britain and Germany

Mike Hammond (Dept. of English, University of Southampton) - local memory and British films of the Great War

Paul Lerner (Dept. of History, University of Southern California) - doctors and traumatic narratives of the Great War in Weimar Germany

Andrea McKenzie (Dept. of English, University of Waterloo) - the Great War and the 1918 influenza epidemic: comparative catastrophes

Jane Potter (Wolfson College, Oxford) - the memories of women on active service 1914-1919

The Armenian Genocide

Greg Topalian (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - Holocaust studies and the Armenian Genocide

The Spanish Civil War

Farah Mendleson (Dept. of American Studies, Middlesex University) - Quaker relief workers' memories of the fall of Republican Spain

The Second World War

Bernice Archer (University of Essex) - childhood memories of internment in the Far East

Rüdiger Haum (University of Sussex) - memories of the Second World War in German film

Lisa A. Kirschenbaum (Dept. of History, West Chester University) - commemorations of the siege of Leningrad

Ewout van der Knaap (Dept. of German, University of Utrecht) - the reception of 'Nuit et Brouillard'

James A. Poulos (Dept. of Middle-Eastern Studies, University of Manchester) - rural youths' memories of the war in Greece

Rainer Schulze (Dept. of History, University of Essex) - narratives of German refugees and expellees from Central and Eastern Europe

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Steve Dorney (Dept. of Cultural Studies, University of Southampton New College) - remembering the Manhattan Project: popular fiction and the history of atomic science

Edward Linenthal (Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) - the Smithsonian Enola Gay exhibition


The Holocaust

Donald Bloxham (Holocaust Education Trust) - the post-Second World War war crimes trials and Holocaust memory

Steven Cooke (Dept. of Geography, University of Hull) - British landscapes and Holocaust memory

Curt Germundson (School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa) - The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Kirsten Holtschneider (Dept. of Theology, University of Brimingham) - third generation German perspectives on the Holocaust

Billie J. Jones (Pennsylvania State University - Capital College) - the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Ewout van der Knaap (Dept. of German, University of Utrecht) - the reception of 'Nuit et Brouillard'

Tony Kushner (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - British memories of the Holocaust

Tom Lawson (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - Christian responses to the Holocaust

Edward Linenthal (Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) - the creation of America's Holocaust Museum

Jo Reilly (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - Belsen in history and memory

Andrea Reiter (School of Modern Languages, University of Southampton) - narrating the Holocaust

Mark Roseman (Dept. of History, University of Keele) - analysing the memoirs of a Holocaust survivor

Victoria Stewart (Faculty of Humanities, University of the West of England) - Holocaust autobiography

Greg Topalian (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - Holocaust studies and the Armenian Genocide

Leonie Wagner (Universität Gesamthochschule Kassel) - the Holocaust in East and West German discourses

Indian Partition

Paramjit Rai (School of African and Asian Studies, University of Sussex) - gender, space and memory in Partition narratives

Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff (Asian Development Research Institute), memories of Partition amongst Bengali refugees in Bihar

The Korean War

Ramsey Liem (Dept. of Psychology, Boston College) - Korean-Americans memories of the war

Yuh Ji-Yeon (Dept. of History, Northwestern University) - Korean-Americans memories of the war

The Vietnam War

Carol Acton (Dept. of English, University of Waterloo) - American nurse veterans' memories of the Vietnam war

Subarno Chattarji (St. Stephen's College, Delhi) - memories of the war in American poetry

Jill Dubisch (Dept. of Anthropology, Northern Arizona University) - motorcycle pilgrimages to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

Raymond Michalowski (Dept. of Sociology, Northern Arizona University) - motorcycle pilgrimages to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

Kendrick Oliver (Dept. of History, University of Southampton) - the reception and memory of the massacre at My Lai

David Ryan (Dept. Of Historical Studies, De Montfort University) - national narratives and policy-makers' memories of the Vietnam war

The Gulf War

Andrew Hoskins (School of Cultural Studies, Leeds Metropolitan University) - time, television and memory: representations of the Gulf War

The War in the Balkans

Rose Lindsey (Dept. of Sociology, University of Southampton) - Croatian memories of Vuvokar

Natural Catastrophes

Charles F. Walker (Dept. of History, University of California, Davis) - memories of the 1748 Lima Earthquake in Peru and beyond

Contemporary Catastrophes

Margaret Bruchez (Social Science Faculty, Blinn College) -the aftermath of the Texas A&M University Bonfire Tragedy

Chris Eisenhart (Dept. of English, Carnegie Mellon University) - the U.S. Treasury's Review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at Waco

Anne Eyre (Centre for Disaster Management, Coventry University) - memorials and services in Britain after the disasters of the 1980s

Sylvia Grider (Dept. of Anthropology, Texas A&M University) - the aftermath of the Texas A&M University Bonfire Tragedy

Ann Larabee (Dept. of American Thought and Language, Michigan State University) - memories of disasters of the 1980s

Edward Linenthal (Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) - the Oklahoma City bombing in American memory

Medical Practitioners and Catastrophic Memory

Carol Acton (Dept. of English, University of Waterloo) - American nurse veterans' memories of the Vietnam war

Edgar Jones (Dept. of Psychological Medicine, King's College School of Medicine, London) - war syndromes from the Boer War to the present

Paul Lerner (Dept. of History, University of Southern California) - doctors and traumatic narratives of the Great War in Weimar Germany

Jane Potter (Wolfson College, Oxford) - the war memories of women on active service 1914-1919

Nafsika Thalassis (Salford University) - the psychotherapy of William Sargant

Martyrdoms and Catastrophe

Sujit Sivasundaram (Christ's College, Cambridge) - the deaths of British missionaries in 19th century discourse

Modernity, Technology and Disaster

Bobby H. Johnson (Dept. of History, Stephen F. Austin State University) - the New London School Explosion, 1937

Glen D. Kuecker (Dept. of History, Depauw University) - the Dos Bocas Well Fire of 1908: contesting the meaning of modernity in the oil fields of Mexico

Ann Larabee (Dept. of American Thought and Language, Michigan State University) - memories of disasters of the 1980s

William D. Rowley (Dept. of History, University of Nevada, Reno) - mine fires in Nevada's Comstock Lode: the search for safety

Jack B. Watson (Dept. of Sociology, Stephen F. Austin State University) - the New London School Explosion, 1937

Catastrophes and Archives

Barbara Craig (Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto) - archives in disaster and war

Literature and Catastrophe

Steve Dorney (Dept. of Cultural Studies, University of Southampton New College) - remembering the Manhattan Project: popular fiction and the history of atomic science

Sam Durrant (Dept. of English, Queen's University, Kingston) - catastrophe and agency in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Noel Heather (Dept. of English, Royal Holloway College) - Du Bartas and a carnivalesque response to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

Peter Middleton (Dept. of English, University of Southampton) - how current beliefs about trauma and memory are represented in contemporary fiction

Jane Poyner (Dept. of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick) - truth and reconciliation in J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace

RELATED SITES

'Nights to Remember: Memory, Modernity and the Myth of the Titanic', 20-23 July 2000, a conference organized by the University of Southampton Film and Media Programme. For information contact Tim Bergfelder: tb@lang.soton.ac.uk or visit the conference website at http://www.lang.soton.ac.uk/film/events/titanic.htm

British Disaster Study Group (Coventry University): contact Dr. Anne Eyre: a.eyre@cov.ac.uk

'The Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal', 5th International Conference, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 7-10 September 2000. For information, contact Craig Spence: c.spence@gold.ac.uk or visit the conference website at http://www.gold.ac.uk/deathcon/

The Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London

Last updated 31 January 2001