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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

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.

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Introduction: The Call to Remembrance (Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro)

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catherine gilbert, kate mcloughlin and niall munro

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...

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