Dr Bart Ziino Reflects on Melbourne Museum’s War & Emotions Symposium

Dr Bart ZiinoCHRG member Dr Bart Ziino recently co-convened the symposium ‘War and Emotions’, in association with Museum Victoria’s critically acclaimed World War I: Love & Sorrow exhibition (curated by Deborah Tout-Smith), and supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Melbourne.

Held at Melbourne Museum on 17 – 18 September 2015, the symposium brought together key scholars of the emotional history of the First World War in Australia and internationally, including Professor Michael Roper of the University of Essex and Tracey Loughran of Cardiff University, Professors Joy Damousi, Peter Stanley, Alistair Thomson and Andrea Witcomb.

The symposium interrogated the new histories of the First World War, in which private and individual experience and emotion are central to understanding the meanings and legacies of the conflict.

Michael Roper’s keen-eyed assessment of the field identified a delicate juncture in historical consciousness, as personal memories of survivors disappear, and other opportunities for analysis are opening up. Working with individual lives has shifted our understanding of the periodization and chronology of the First World War, allowing us to see much longer legacies, perhaps especially in family history.

In its emphasis on sources, methodologies and ways of story-telling, the symposium opened up the field not only as it stands, but its possibilities for the future. Joy Damousi asked how analysis of sound and hearing might expose new ways of understanding the battlefield; through his own experiences, Alistair Thomson showed how family histories can produce new perspectives on war among Australians who connect themselves to war via their ancestors; Bart Ziino exposed the tempo of the war itself from within those families enduring its strains; and reflecting on the exhibition, Deb Tout-Smith was determined to investigate how we can unsettle an audience and engage them in new and intimate histories.

Tracey Loughran offered a powerful exposition of how doctors sought new ways of telling stories about the psychological illnesses emanating from the war, but struggled to do so, as we continue to struggle to re-tell those stories effectively. Marina Larsson took us inside the experience of family caring for those psychologically affected combatants, while Kerry Neale pursued the social and personal implications of facial disfigurement during and long after the war.

With the centenary of the war now in progress, this symposium not only evidenced the vibrancy of current approaches to understanding the war, but exposed just how much opportunity exists to retell that story in ways that link us intimately to that past.

 

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