International conference: At War with Words

At War with Words
Letters, diaries and memoirs of soldiers, women and children in the First World War

Genoa, 26-28 November 2015

Organisational Bodies
University of Genoa – Department of Antiquity, Philosophy, History and Geography (Ligurian Archives for Folk Writing); Archival Superintendency of Liguria; Institut français-Italia (IFI); The Mission Organisation for Anniversaries of National Interest; The Doge’s Palace, Genoa- Foundation for Culture; Fondation d’Alembert; Mission française du Centenaire; Collectif de recherche international et de débat sur la guerre de 1914-1918 (CRID 14-18); Corpus 14; Université de Toulouse II-Laboratoire Framespa; Trinity College Dublin, Historical Office of the Italian Air Force; University of Trento; The Historical Museum Foundation of Trentino- Trento Archive for Folk Writing; Ecole française de Rome.

What were the feelings, the perceptions and the mental attitudes of soldiers and civilians, of women and children, during the war? What strategies of psychological resistance did they employ in response to such destabilising experience? It is possible to answer these questions by consulting the wide variety of writings produced by the combatants and by the civilian population “mobilised” during the conflict. These letters, diaries, and memoirs—some still hidden in old drawers, though many collected in ‘folk writing’ archives—are also of considerable narrative and historical interest, due to their linguistic peculiarities, [and their efficacy as depth-probes and guides into the war.] This conference will address the methodological debates that are still ongoing, while presenting texts of particular significance, as well as the results of European research in historical and linguistic fields.

Section I
This section will investigate the relationship between war and writing. It will focus especially on the processes of increased literacy brought about by the war, and on the context–the time, place, method, textual form (be it letter, postcard, diary, memoir, autobiography) and physical support–of writing. It will also consider the linguistic characteristics and peculiarities of the texts themselves.

Avenues of research:
– The context (time, place and textual form) of writing: when and where one writes.
– The methods, physical supports and materials of writing: how the form of the physical support and the dimension of the graphic space can influence the nature of the text.
– The war as education to writing: learning how to read and write in the trenches.
– Battling with grammar: the characteristics and peculiarities of the language employed by semi-educated individuals—both military and civilian—who were involved in the conflict.

Section II
This section will analyse and evaluate the texts as common tools of communicative resistance connecting the trenches, the rears, and the home front. It will focus on: (1) narrative approaches to, and descriptions of, the ongoing experience of war (heavily inflected by practices of censorship and self-censorship); (2) writing as a form of psychological escape from conflict and imprisonment; and (3) how the war was perceived away from the front. Beginning with the main authorial subjects who were involved in this sundered dialogue—the soldiers and prisoners, the women (wives, mothers, girlfriends, sisters, Red Cross nurses, godmothers) and children—it will investigate issues related to gender roles and relationships, and to the redefinition of the model of masculinity/femininity.

Avenues of research:
– Word bridges: writing as a tool of communicative resistance in the trenches, behind the front lines and at home.
– The intimate war: letter-writing and journal-writing as escapes from horror and as introspective shelters.
– Writing and perception: the sensory stresses of war.
– Censorship and self-censorship in correspondence.
– Feeding on words: food as both a necessity of survival and a symbol of identity in the testimonies of the soldiers.
– The sense of homeland in the writings of the soldiers.
– The vision of the enemy in the words of the soldiers.
– Words to heaven: religiosity in the testimonies of soldiers.
– Words in flight: the writings of airmen as an alternative viewpoint, both physical and psychological, on the war.
– Prison writings: the writings of prisoners of war as a means to: (1) ask for assistance; (2) effect their escape; (3) pass the time; and (4) maintain control of their identity.
– The writings of women: the redefinition of gender roles, the decline of masculinity and the changing model of femininity during the war.
– The writings of children.
– The journey of words: the services of the military mail.
– Images and words: postcards with propagandistic images and the drawings of soldiers.

Section III
This section will investigate the post-war period—the context within which, and the methods through which, the memories of war were reprocessed. It will also focus on the relationship between oral memory and written memory, and the utilisation of written testimonies in the construction of the war myth. Finally, attention will be brought to bear on the cultural and historiographic processes that have transformed these writings from memorials to historical sources, and on the foundation of centers dedicated to the collection and preservation of written testimonies—important custodians of Europe’s collective memory of the Great War.

Avenues of research:
– The contexts and methods of reprocessing memory: writing as an a posteriori reworking of the lived experiences of war.
– The relationship between oral memory and written memory.
– Monuments of words: the utilisation of the letters and diaries of the fallen in the construction of the war myth.
– From monument to document: the reclamation of these writings as historical sources.
– The collection and preservation of the war-time writings of the populace, in both the real and virtual worlds: from physical recovery to textual analysis.

Submission Guidelines:
Proposals (max 300 words) should be accompanied by a brief CV and sent to: (Conference e-mail yet to be created)

Italian, French, English

Registration fee:
80,00 €

– Call for Papers: 15 November 2014
– Conference website goes live: 30 December 2014
– Deadline for proposals: 15 February 2015
– Acceptance of proposals by: 15 May 2015
– Conference: 26-28 November 2015

Scientific Committee:
– Quinto Antonelli The Historical Museum Foundation of Trentino- Trento Archive for Folk Writing)
– Sonia Branca-Rosoff (Paris Sorbonne University)
– Fabio Caffarena (University of Genoa)
– Rémy Cazals (University of Toulouse)
– Gustavo Corni (University of Trento)
– Antonio Gibelli (University of Genoa)
– John Horne (Trinity College Dublin)
– Nancy Murzilli (Università of Genoa/ French Institute Italy)
– Manon Pignot (University of Picardy)
– Frédéric Rousseau (University of Montpellier)
– Agnès Steuckardt (University Paul-Valéry of Montpellier)
– Carlo Stiaccini (University of Genoa)
– Stefano Vicari (University of Genoa)

Organising Committee:
– Maria Teresa Bisso (The Ligurian Archives of Folk Writing, Genova)
– Fabio Caffarena (University of Genoa)
– Nancy Murzilli (Università of Genoa/ French Institute Italy)
– Nella Porqueddu (Trinity College Dublin)
– Carlo Stiaccini (University of Genoa)
– Benoît Tadié (French Institute Italy)
– Stefano Vicari (University of Genoa)

The proceedings will be published by a national-level publisher

Gender, Women and Culture Seminar, Hilary 2015

The Gender, Women and Culture seminar series will run every other Tuesday of Hilary Term 2015 from 12-1.

Week 2: Tuesday 27th January
Rees Davies Room, History Faculty

Arianne Chernock (Boston) – ‘From the Right to Rule to the Right to Reign: Politics of Queenship in Nineteenth-Century Britain’

Week 4: Tuesday 10th February
Rees Davies Room, History Faculty

Reading group on women and wartime led by Eve Worth and Charlotte Bennett. The following texts will be discussed:

Alison S. Fell, ‘Nursing the Other: the representation of colonial troops in French and British First World War nursing memoirs’, in Santanu Das (ed.), Race, empire and First World War writing (Cambridge, 2011), pp.158-174.
James Hinton,’Lilian Rogers: Birmingham flaneuse’, in Nine Wartime Lives: Mass Observation and the Making of the Modern Self (Oxford, 2010), pp.111-135.

Digital copies available from CGIS Co-ordinator Naomi Pullin:

Week 6: Tuesday 24th February
Lodgings Drawing Room, Exeter College

Susan Grayzel (Mississippi) – ‘Did women have a Great War?’

Week 8: Tuesday 10th March
Rees Davies Room, History Faculty

Matthew Stevens (Swansea) – ‘Married Women and the Law in Late Medieval Northern Europe’

BBC News – Viewpoint: Why are so few WW1 heroines remembered?

A very good question! More information here.