Remembering War: The Great War between History and Memory in the 20th Century (review)
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Reviewed by
Jay Winter. Remembering War: The Great War between History and Memory in the 20th Century. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. 352 pp. ISBN 9-7803-0011-0685, $35.00.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, the interaction between war and culture became a major issue of historical interest. Historians of that century's great conflicts are now as likely to study representation and imagination as wartime events themselves. The result has been a more complex understanding of how cultures were mobilized, how wars affected individuals and societies over the long term, and how key cultural artifacts were produced and [End Page 382] preserved. Jay Winter has been a key figure in this historical movement, from his original work on socialism and the First World War, through a groundbreaking study of the war's demographic impact on Britain, through to more recent works on the ways in which it was remembered. His self-evident passion, his breadth of reference, and his intellectual originality, have served to inspire a legion of graduate students (myself amongst them). Rather like, in an earlier age, Basil Liddell Hart, Winter is now at the center of his own world wide web, formed from his interactions with experts, opponents, colleagues, and students. He has also fulfilled a more public role, communicating historical shifts to a broader audience, through his work with Blaine Baggett on the 1996 television series 1914–18: The Great War and the Making of the Twentieth Century and his part in the creation of the Historial de la Grande Guerre at Peronne, France. The variety of those with whom he has come into contact and the eminence he has achieved have given Winter opportunity and time to think extraordinarily deeply about history, memory, and war. His new book, Remembering War: The Great War between History and Memory in the 20th Century, is the result. It focuses on the "memory boom"—the recent exponential growth in interest in memory within and without the academy, which Winter argues is predicated on the need to remember war and its victims. The subtitle has a threefold meaning. The "Great War" is the First World War, from which many trends in "modern memory" emerged; the struggle between the need to remember and the historical inevitability of forgetting; and the battle between the way the past is interpreted by historians and by those who claim possession of it through personal experience or familial connection.

The book consists of four sections. The first discusses the creation of a persistent theme in twentieth century culture. The First World War encouraged a fusion between war and memory: it was the decisive event that turned war into "everybody's business." Yet the breadth of traumatic experience also challenged assumptions about memory and identity: hence the popularity of "shell-shock" as an interpretative metaphor. The second section focuses on how memory and remembrance worked at the level of individuals and communities and across nations. Winter examines specific examples of photographs, published letters, reportage and memoir, and war memorials themselves. This section includes a meditation on the difference between British and French intellectual responses to the war that bears out Winter's later point about comparative cultural history—that in its only realizable form, its function is "to offer insights which enrich rather than displace national histories" (235). Examining responses to the war in parallel bears out Britain's fortune in escaping invasion: an escape that made the ironic mode of many British [End Page 383] writers that much easier. The section closes with a stimulating discussion of the place of remembrance within the former British empire. The physical and cultural legacy of postwar remembrance persists in Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but patterns of immigration and emigration mean that the demography of these countries has profoundly changed. Winter argues that the effect of this has been to decentralize remembrance. The nation that could once remember as one has vanished: the towns, villages, and families that always engaged in remembrance activity have found their role increased. Winter is surely correct that historians of remembrance need to pay much more attention than they sometimes do to changing demographics, but his...