War: An Emotional History. British Academy Conference, London, 9-11 July 2014

Lucy Noakes, one of the Co-Investigators of the ‘Gateways ‘ project and Reader in History at the University of Brighton, was co-convenor of the recent conference War: An Emotional History held at the British Academy in London from 9-11 July 2014.

Conference convenors (l to r)Clare Langhamer, Lucy Noakes and Claudia Siebrecht.

Conference convenors (l to r) Professor Claire Langhamer, Dr Lucy Noakes and  Dr Claudia Siebrecht.

The conference bought together historians from around the world to consider the ways that ‘emotional history’ can help us understand the experience and legacies of warfare across a range of different places and times.  Papers given ranged, chronologically, from investigating the emotional history of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in the Netherlands and the 1641 Portadown Massacre to a discussion of the multiple legacies of the Greek Civil War and the Northern Ireland conflict. Keynote addresses from Professor Ute Frevert, of the Max Planck Institute, Berlin, and Professor Martin Francis, of the University of Cincinnatti, examined, respectively, honour, shame and sacrifice in First World War Germany, and the relationship between private lives and public diplomacy in Second World War Cairo.

There was a wealth of discussion of the two world wars of the 20th century, with a variety of papers exploring the emotional history of the First World War.  The conference offered an opportunity to engage with work being carried out on the ongoing legacies of this conflict across the globe: these included Professor Christa Hämmerle talking about her research on love letters in Austria and Germany in the two world wars, Dr Claudia Siebrecht discussing patriotic, religious and maternal love in First World War Germany, Professor Michael Roper debating the impact of the First World War on families and Professor Joy Damousi considering the transnational impact of grief on families during and after the war.

Professor Jay Winter

Professor Jay Winter

A highlight of the conference was Professor Jay Winter’s (Yale) public lecture on shell shock and the emotional history of the First World War. Professor Winter made a compelling case for the under reporting of shell shock cases, arguing that current estimates of the 2-4% of men suffering from the condition during and after the war could, in fact, be increased tenfold.  Professor Winter’s talk can be viewed via this link:


Plans are afoot for the publication of a collection of the talks given at the conference, and details will be posted here once a final decision is made on this.

Photos reproduced with permission from the British Academy.

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