ACUME Conference in Giessen, 24-25 August

I’ve been asked to give a paper at this conference, on ‘Writing and Visualising War: To Bear Witness as a Complex Act’ on 25 August. ACUME is a European wide research and teaching network examining ‘cultural memory’ using an interdisciplinary approach. I have a few problems with using the word ‘memory’ to discuss the combination of personal recollection and cultural constructs that seems to be summed up by ‘cultural memory’, but given the complexities of translation, perhaps its the best/most easily understood term. Certainly it’s a huge privilege and opportunity to be given the chance to discuss my work with a very wide range of European scholars.
I have been told that I have 20 minutes to discuss some of my work, with particular emphasis on the tension between bearing witness and the dynamics of the mode of representation – what I think I would call the structural influence. How much does the fact that you’re producing a TV documentary series affect the eventual output, in addition to whatever your own individual viewpoint is.
Obviously a 20 minute paper is one of the most difficult things to pull off successfully – engaging and informing the audience without being superficial – and since I note that each 3 paper session has been given 3 hours of time, I might end up with 25. On the other hand, this is all useful discipline and training in tight writing and thinking.
It does mean, however, that I will have to choose a single example to talk about. I am going to choose either my work on the 1964 BBC TV series The Great War or on the 1963 ‘musical entertainment’ Oh What a Lovely War. Both, it seems to me, display precisely the sort of tensions that I take this conference to be examining. On The Great War, the eventual form of the series was shaped as much by the severe pressures of time under which the production team operated as by their historical understanding and their hopes of producing a new sort of television history. Oh What a Lovely War reshaped the First World War twice – first as Joan Littlewood and her cast adapted Charles Chilton’s original script to inform a radical 1960s audience about the perils of nuclear war, then a second time as Theatre Workshop met the commercial demand for a more nostalgic singalong (some of which came from veterans of the war themselves). The whole thing was reshaped again when it was made into a film in 1968. When the National Theatre revived Oh What a Lovely War in 1998 (for the first time, nationally, although it had been a rep and am dram favourite in the intervening years) it was reshaped again – since the audience viewed it in terms of nostalgia for the 1960s. Arguably, Chilton’s original radio script The Long Long Trail was itself a re-working of the songs of the war. That makes – what – five reshapings? Plenty to fit ACUME’s ‘fils rouges’ of manipulation, spectacularisation and sellability.
Ah – first evidence of the success of the blogging approach. The process of writing all of that down seems to have clarified my ideas and settled that decision for me. Oh What a Lovely War it is. I’ll put up the paper as I write it. Should be helped by the fact that the new proofs of the book will be here tomorrow, so there’ll be good reason to go through all this again.

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3 Responses to ACUME Conference in Giessen, 24-25 August

  1. Mark G. says:

    Glad the blog approach worked out. Custer would approve. 🙂

    Congratulations on the publication of your book–and thanks for the kind words about my blog in your maiden post.

  2. Dan says:

    Cheers Mark – I am conscious of following an already well blazed trail. Most impressed at the speed with which my post arrived on your site! There are still some issues to sort out – most obviously how/whether to get longer papers online. The Giessen paper is almost ready to go – but even a 20 minute paper is too long to subject readers to in one go. Any thoughts?

  3. Mark G. says:

    If you’ll send it to me, I’ll post it on WarHistorian.org (the web site, not the blog), and you can simply link to it, with a sort of executive summary as your blog entry proper. I’ll do the same at my end. That way readers who want to read the whole thing can do so. Let me know via the “Contact Me” link on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age.

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