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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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Commemoration, Collective Loss and Social Cohesion (Harvey Whitehouse)

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harvey whitehouse

Anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse reflects on the role of commemoration in expressing shared suffering and generating social cohesion that can be used to motivate peaceful rebuilding but also to fuel ongoing conflict.

As participants in the Post-War seminar series, we were asked to address three questions: Who is commemoration for and why? How does commemoration lead to reconstruction and reconciliation? What is the future of commemoration? I tried to think about ways of addressing those three questions, which I will do briefly here, although they are very big questions. I’m going to do so with reference to research that we have conducted fairly recently in Libya. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution in 2011 I went out to Misrata with the help of one of my students, Brian McQuinn, who was actually holed up in that city throughout the siege. There we saw lots of acts of commemoration. Many of these involved the public display of objects that had been looted from Gaddafi’s mansions. Some of them were testifying to the ingenuity of the revolutionaries in creating out of very little some rather clever devices, for example a radio-controlled vehicle with a mounted gun on it that was used to ambush Gaddafi’s troops. But what I would like to focus on are the banks of photographs, images of young men and boys who laid down their lives in that revolution in 2011 (Figure 7).



Figure 7. Portraits of civilians-turned-fighters in...

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