The Great War: From Memory to History. ed. by Kellen Kurschinski, Steve Marti, Alicia Robinet, Matt Symes, and Jonathan F. Vance (review)
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Reviewed by
Kellen Kurschinski, Steve Marti, Alicia Robinet, Matt Symes, and Jonathan F. Vance, eds. The Great War: From Memory to History. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. vi, 434. $38.99

The Great War: From Memory to History is collection of essays derived from a large conference held at Western University in 2011, which was a part of a broader public event in commemoration of the First World War. According to the introduction, the event in London, Ontario included presentations by family members of participants in the war as well as [End Page 195] student-made art projects, and the interdisciplinary conference grouped historians, art and literary scholars, and geneaologists to discuss how the event of the war travelled from the memory of immediate experiences to their documentation in history. The editors of this collection state in the introduction that one of their intentions with this book is to place Canadian history and memory of the war in relation with more international stories. For this reason, essays such as Thomas Hodd's "Too Close to History: Major Charles G.D. Roberts, the Canada in Flanders Series, and the Writing of Wartime Documentary," a study of the stylistic differences between the authors of the Canada in Flanders historical volumes, are placed alongside Veysel S¸ims¸ek's "'Backstabbing Arabs' and 'Shirking Kurds': History, Nationalism, and Turkish Memory of the First World War," an account of the unacknowledged participation of Greek, Armenian, Jewish, and other non-Muslim Ottomans in the Turkish fields of the war. For the most part, it is not the essays themselves that explore how the establishment and maintenance of Canadian cultural memories of the First World War are involved with those in areas such as Turkey, the United States, Germany, or South African countries; however, their presence in the same volume displays how different nations and communities each came to remember the vast effects of the war. While the authors do not always interact with each other, these essays together represent an important recognition of how histories of the war are differently recalled. Through such a combination of perspectives, this book is certainly a useful collection of international viewpoints of the First World War that tend to be left on the shelf in favour of more predominant cultural memories.

What does unite the authors, then, is their collective attention to histories of the war that are not usually given to popular accounts. The book is divided into three sections, the first of which is titled "Memory and Making Narratives" and which focuses on the production of histories of the war and their effect on solidifying the way that the war would be remembered. The second section, "Rediscovering and Rewriting Memory," highlights experiences of the war that have otherwise been obfuscated by official histories. A standout essay in this section is Brian MacDowall's "Loyalty and Submission: Contested Discourses on Aboriginal War Service, 1914–1939." MacDowall examines how "Aboriginal voices were unable to penetrate the matrix of government and media, but continued to propagate alternative memories at the community level." The essays of this section present several intriguing examples of experiences of the war that are frequently covered over by the stories and imagery that more frequently occupy its places in cultural memory. The third section, "Seeing and Feeling Memory," provides examples of mediated commemorations of the war, such as in Michèle Wijegoonaratna's discussion of Otto Dix's painting and sketching, and in Alice Kelly's exploration of women's writing about their experiences in war hospitals. The sections follow a general trajectory, from [End Page 196] how accounts of the war were built, to how their memory was manufactured for certain purposes, to how different experiences and memories have been variously represented in works of art. In addition to its inclusion of international perspectives, this collection usefully tracks how the event of the First World War, though becoming further distant in the past, has multiple meanings that continue to shift over time.

Scott Herder
Department of English, University of Toronto
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