On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

by Catherine Gilbert (Volume editor) Kate McLoughlin (Volume editor) Niall Munro (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection XVIII, 346 Pages


How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword (John, Lord Alderdice)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: The Call to Remembrance (Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro)
  • Part I Textual Commemoration
  • Introduction: Words Fail Us (Catherine Gilbert)
  • Now as Then (Jenny Lewis)
  • Memoir and Memory (Aminatta Forna with Elleke Boehmer)
  • The Act of Looking Back (Philippe Sands)
  • Daring to Remember (Rachel Seiffert)
  • Reflections on International Justice as a Commemorative Process (Shea Esterling, Michael John-Hopkins and Christopher Harding)
  • Bearing Witness, Becoming Human: Cultural Memory, ‘Post-Truth’ and the Digital (Daniel O’Gorman)
  • Encountering Commemoration (Jane Potter with Kate McLoughlin)
  • My History, Our History (Robert Eaglestone)
  • Sacred Memory/Prosaic History: Rivesaltes Memorial Camp (Lyndsey Stonebridge)
  • Commemoration, Collective Loss and Social Cohesion (Harvey Whitehouse)
  • Open Wounds: Commemorating the Colombian Conflict (Cherilyn Elston)
  • What Is It All About? (Frank Ledwidge)
  • Lacrimae Rerum : Building a Bridge between Literary and Monumental Commemoration (Alex Donnelly)
  • Uruk’s Anthem (Extracts) (Adnan al-Sayegh)
  • Part II Monumental Commemoration
  • Introduction: More than Stone – Finding Ourselves in Our Monuments (Niall Munro)
  • Articulating History: Architecture and Memory (Daniel Libeskind)
  • From Brokenness to Reconciliation (The Very Reverend John Witcombe)
  • Reconciliation and a Responsibility to the Past (Cornelia Kulawik with Kate McLoughlin)
  • Memorials that Lurk and Pounce (Gabriel Moshenska)
  • Three Poems (Sue Zatland)
  • Community through Creativity: Empowering Veteran Artists (Mark Johnston with Alex Donnelly)
  • The Paradoxes of Commemoration (Emma Login)
  • Commemoration and the Limits of Empathy (Silke Arnold-de Simine with Catherine Gilbert)
  • Four Poems (Mariah Whelan)
  • The Knowledge (Jeremy Treglown)
  • A Concretisation of Meaning: Making Memorials (Charles Gurrey with Niall Munro)
  • When Is the Focus on Memory Just Too Much? The Challenges of Commemoration and Cultural Memory (Marita Sturken with Niall Munro)
  • Memoration (Susie Campbell)
  • The Scent of Commemoration (Justine Shaw)
  • Stones Do Not Forget: Forgetting and Being Forgotten in Czech Silesia (Johana Wyss)
  • Lose the Dudes, Keep the Horses: On Civil War Monuments in the United States (Tony Horwitz)
  • Part III Aural Commemoration
  • Introduction: Music, Voices, Absence, Silence (Kate McLoughlin)
  • Mourning and Music (Juliana M. Pistorius)
  • Music and Memory (Jonathan Dove with Kate Kennedy)
  • Classical to Dub-Reggae: The First World War and Musical Memory (Peter Grant)
  • Bag of Bones (Dunya Mikhail)
  • Interviewing as a Commemorative Practice (Rita Phillips)
  • Hearing the Dead (Annabel Williams)
  • Listening to the Past, Sound (Paul Whitty)
  • Hush (Susie Campbell)
  • Returning from Europe, Reflections on Post-War Commemoration (John Dunston)
  • From ‘Daniel’ (Patrick Toland)
  • Remembering the Lebanese Civil War (Lydia Wilson)
  • Monumental Silences (Noreen Masud)
  • Re-valuing Silence (Férdia J. Stone-Davis)
  • The Costliness of Commemoration (Maggie Ross)
  • Traces (Susie Campbell)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

←x | xi→


Figure 1. Memorial pebble at the National Holocaust Monument, Ottawa (© Niall Munro).

Figure 2. The July 1919 Peace Day celebration procession at Penistone in the historical West Riding of Yorkshire, now South Yorkshire, England.

Figure 3. Aminatta Forna in conversation with Elleke Boehmer (© John Cairns).

Figure 4. The Forester’s House (La Maison Forestière), Ors, France (© Jane Potter).

Figure 5. Rivesaltes Memorial Camp – ‘SACRE’ (© Lyndsey Stonebridge).

Figure 6. Rivesaltes Memorial Camp – ‘No oblidem ni la història ni els nostres enemics…’ (© Lyndsey Stonebridge).

Figure 7. Portraits of civilians-turned-fighters in Libya’s revolution are commemorated in a public memorial in Misrata in the autumn of 2011 (© Harvey Whitehouse).

Figure 8. March organised by ‘Defendamos la Paz’ [Let’s Defend Peace] movement in support of the peace process and in protest against the assassination of social leaders in Colombia. Bogotá, Colombia, 26 July 2019 (© Cherilyn Elston).

Figure 9. Star Plan for the Jewish Museum, Berlin (© Studio Libeskind).

←xi | xii→

Figure 10. Daniel Libeskind in front of a page of names from the Gedenkbuch, or Memorial Book, that lists all the German Jews murdered in the Holocaust (© John Cairns).

Figure 11. Jüdisches Museum [Jewish Museum, Berlin] (© Guenter Schneider).

Figure 12. Vector drawing for the design of the Military History Museum, Dresden (© Daniel Libeskind).

Figure 13. Model of the Military History Museum, Dresden (© Studio Libeskind).

Figure 14. ‘Memory Foundations’: Concept Sketches for the Ground Zero Masterplan, New York City (© Daniel Libeskind).

Figure 15. Memorial to those killed at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market, Berlin by Pablo von Frankenberg and mm+ (© Gabriel Moshenska).

Figure 16. Boy running through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman, Berlin (© Sue Zatland).

Figure 17. The Armed Forces Memorial, The National Memorial Arboretum by Liam O’Connor and Ian Rank-Broadley (Jarrett Kinson from Pixabay).

Figure 18. Dunorlan Park Victoria Cross Memorial, Royal Tunbridge Wells by Charles Gurrey, with text by Andrew Motion (© Charles Gurrey).

Figure 19. Statue of Robert E. Lee and Traveller by Henry Shrady and Leo Lentelli, Charlottesville, Virginia (JamesDeMers from Pixabay).

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Figure 20. The Hebrew word for ‘East’, indicating where the Ark of the Synagogue once stood in Neupfarrplatz, Regensburg, Germany (© John Dunston).

Figure 21. Jonathan Dove in conversation with Kate Kennedy (© John Cairns).

Figure 22. Close Season on the Village Green, Stadhampton (© Paul Whitty).

Figure 23. Hastings Battlefield (black and white) (Nilfanion, 1964, Wikimedia Commons).

Figure 24. The Holiday Inn, Beirut, after the Lebanese Civil War (djedj from Pixabay).

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john, lord alderdice


The spate of centenaries of First World War events, and the anniversaries of other major violent conflicts of the past century, may have tempted you to glaze over when the subject of commemoration is raised. Maybe you have regarded it as a relatively straightforward matter of individuals or communities calling to mind experiences of the past by way of celebration of chosen victories, or in the hope that recalling sacrifices and trauma may enable us to find a way of ensuring that we do not have to repeat them. This book recounts a journey into the subject in much greater depth and variety during a year of exploration at Oxford.

As the last survivors of those terrible events of 100 years ago slip into history, we may rightly wonder for whom we engage in such commemorations, and why. In the early and even medium term it may have been assumed that it would contribute to post-war reconstruction and reconciliation. Was this really the case, and can it possibly mean the same thing as time goes on and later generations, who never directly experienced the conflict, participate in commemorations? We now understand that psychological time and chronological time do not have similar schedules. Our experience in Northern Ireland, in the Balkans and in many other places has helped us to learn that what is past for outsiders may remain very current for those who live in communities that have experienced trauma and violent conflict. Irish-Americans have continued to be influenced in their attitude to Britain, right up to the present, by the dreadful events of the Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s. In other cases what appeared to have been consigned to history can be summoned up by demagogues and existential threats, not as ghosts of the past, but as experiences that are perceived as real and present dangers, or even future threats.

What elements of commemoration assist in turning the past into history and what mechanisms can be used to collapse time and recreate old divides? It is obvious that, when we touch on such matters, we are talking not merely of intellectual but of profoundly emotional drivers, both for ←xv | xvi→individuals and for whole communities. This book explores not just the textual, monumental and aural aspects of commemoration, but identifies how various cultural elements of our communal engagement are employed to process the terrible, and indeed the ‘unspeakable’ experiences of war and other violent political conflicts.

So, as you begin to leaf through the pages, you will be enabled to see things from perspectives you had not imagined before and to feel, with a greater emotional imperative than you might have expected, the impossibility of forgetting about commemoration. You will be caused to wonder, with all of us who have participated in this journey, where commemoration will take us and what its future might be in a digital age where what we do, and what is done to us, is recorded as never before. Such material may be retained for the future, but not necessarily with the emotional power or nuance that gives it meaning and allows us to make it into memory, as individuals, and into history, as communities.

←xvi | xvii→


Our first thanks go to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for funding the Post-War seminar series of which this book is an out-growth and for allowing us to use some of the funds towards publication costs. Martha Sullivan at Mellon has been a source of great encouragement throughout. Kate McLoughlin would also like to thank the Faculty of English and Humanities Division at the University of Oxford for funds in support of the volume, and Niall Munro thanks colleagues in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Oxford Brookes University, especially Dr Katharine Craik, for their support for the series and this volume. All three of us would like to thank the Principal, Fellows and staff at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, for their support in hosting our numerous team meetings and events and for creating such a welcoming environment.

Special thanks are also due to Dr Johana Wyss for transcribing the interviews and talks (a herculean task!), to Dr Annabel Williams for inspired and inspiring editorial assistance and for compiling the index and to Dr Ian Finlay for his eagle-eyed copy-editing. We are also extremely grateful to Geraldine Brooks for granting permission for us to use Tony Horwitz’s piece. Professor Jay Winter generously advised us on some historical details (but we remain responsible for any errors that remain). We are also grateful to Dr Alice Kelly and Dr Laura Tradii for their valuable contributions to the series.

We thank Wulfran Press for permission to publish Jenny Lewis’s poem ‘Now as Then’ and Taj Kandoura’s Arabic translation of it; Dancing Girl Press for permission to publish Mariah Whelan’s four poems; Guillemot Press for permission to publish sections from Susie Campbell’s Tenter; and New Directions Publishing and Carcanet Press for permission to publish ‘Bag of Bones’ by Dunya Mikhail in English and Arabic.

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catherine gilbert, kate mcloughlin and niall munro

Introduction: The Call to Remembrance

Commemoration is the call to remembrance, which can be a simple mental act by an individual or a grand collective occasion of pomp and circumstance. Remembrance itself is a measure of what matters to us (and a measure of ‘us’). ‘We’ want this – this person, this thing, this event – to continue to have a trace in the world. We want it to do so because its absence is difficult to bear or because it is an uplifting reminder of what we are capable of at our best or because it is a salutary warning of what we can do at our worst. There are other reasons, too, but commemoration is founded on, and therefore an expression of, our values.

Behind this book is a year of discussion, thought and creativity about commemoration involving people from all over the world. In 2017–18, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in memory of its third President, John E. Sawyer, the co-editors convened a year-long international seminar series at the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University in which we tried better to understand the motivations and consequences of commemoration. Drawing on our scholarly interests in war writing, we focused on a particular kind of commemoration – that which has followed in the wake of armed conflict. Plenty of data was to hand as this was the final year of the First World War centenaries, but we extended our explorations well beyond the wars that have received most attention.1 Participants arrived in Oxford from Australia, Austria, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Czechia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Iraq, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Syria, the United States and from all parts of the UK. We talked about commemorations of armed conflicts ←1 | 2→across the globe and back into history, from the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda to the Spanish Civil War, from the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza to the violence in North East India, from the American Civil War to the Bosnian Genocide.

Our aim was to bring as many points-of-view into the discussions as possible. In particular, we wanted to benefit from the special expertise of creative practitioners – those people whose productions actually constitute various forms of commemoration. So we invited poets, novelists, memoirists, non-fiction writers, play- and film-directors, artists, architects, sculptors and musicians. We brought them into conversation with military veterans, policy-makers, activists, religious leaders, journalists, specialists in conflict resolution, people working for NGOs and in the charitable and heritage sectors, and academics from a wide variety of fields. We listened to presentations, to poetry readings (in Arabic and in English), to a solo performance on the Syrian oud, to a concert with choirs and orchestra, to sound-installations of nothing happening. We made candles and collages. We sat in extended silence. We debated and disagreed and were moved beyond words. Do visit the series website at <http://torch.ox.ac.uk/themes/post-war-commemoration-reconstruction-reconciliation> to see our blog, videos and audio podcasts.


XVIII, 346
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
Post-War Commemoration Reconciliation First World War World War I
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XVIII, 346 pp., 11 fig. col., 14 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Catherine Gilbert (Volume editor) Kate McLoughlin (Volume editor) Niall Munro (Volume editor)

Catherine Gilbert, currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at Ghent University, Belgium, will take up a NUAcT Fellowship at Newcastle University from September 2020. She is the author of From Surviving to Living: Voice, Trauma and Witness in Rwandan Women’s Writing (2018), which received the SAGE Memory Studies Journal and Memory Studies Association Outstanding First Book Award in 2019. Kate McLoughlin is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Harris Manchester College. She is the author, most recently, of Veteran Poetics: British Literature in the Age of Mass Warfare (2018). In 2019, she was awarded a Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust to write a literary history of silence. Niall Munro is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Oxford Brookes University, where he is also Director of the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre and the Centre’s pamphlet press, ignitionpress. He is author of Hart Crane’s Queer Modernist Aesthetic (2015).


Title: On Commemoration
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