Memory and trauma: narrating the Western Front 1914-1918

Wilson, R. (2009) Memory and trauma: narrating the Western Front 1914-1918. Rethinking History, 13 (2). pp. 251-267. ISSN 1364-2529

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The memory of the Western Front still seems to haunt British society nearly 90 years after the Armistice. The mention of the battlefields of the Somme or Passchendaele, or references to ‘the trenches’ evokes sadness and poignancy as the Western Front represents a traumatic memory within Britain. The image of the soldiers suffering in the trenches as victims of the war appears so deeply ingrained that military historians have lamented the seemingly impossible task of revising the popular memory of the conflict. Attempts to show the tactical advances made by the army, the positive attitudes of the soldiers and the emphasis on the fact that the British Army was victorious in the war, have failed to make an impact on popular perceptions. This paper highlights that this failure stems from the narratives employed by historians of the war, which fail to accommodate or acknowledge the trauma still felt by contemporary society. By exploring alternative narrative styles this paper offers an alternative to the linear narratives, and stresses that through a non-linear narrative historians can begin to engage with the ideas which drive the popular memory. Using recent multi-disciplinary work which has drawn from archaeological and anthropological perspectives this paper describes the British soldiers on the Western Front as arriving at an understanding of a hostile war-landscape. Through an alternative narrative this paper demonstrates a way in which the conflict can be remembered and studied without being hidden within a veil of sentimentality.

Publication Type: Articles
Uncontrolled Keywords: memory, narrative, trauma, conflict, rhizome, postmodernism
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Academic Areas > Institute of Arts and Humanities > History
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Ross Wilson
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2015 12:01
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2018 11:02

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