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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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Interviewing as a Commemorative Practice (Rita Phillips)

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rita phillips

Rita Phillips, an academic psychologist, looks at past and future in the practice of interviewing war survivors, contrasting the traditional interview as a form of data-gathering with the virtual ‘conversations’ aimed at educating those too young to have experienced the wars in question.

Interviewing those who have experienced war has been common practice since the past was first recorded. Well-known examples of interview-informed accounts of armed conflict across three millennia include Thucydides’s fifth-century bce History of the Peloponnesian War, Jules Michelet’s History of the French Revolution (1847) and John William Gordon’s South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History (2003). The oral accounts collected by these authors became data for historiographical observations rather than narratives of individual commemoration. This was the case even when attempts were finally made systematically to investigate veterans’ experiences by using interviews. When the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War conducted interviews of British prisoners who had escaped or had been repatriated before the end of the First World War, the factual information extracted was cited in governmental reports about the treatment of detainees in enemy hands. The veterans’ personal stories did not reach the public sphere.1

It was not until the 1960s that the subjective memories of those who had experienced armed conflict became a point of interest in interviewing. In the following years, several institutions, including the Imperial War Museum, London, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, ←275 | 276→accessed combatants’...

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