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“(Dis)figuring War” Conference: Literature and the Arts 1918-2018


“(Dis)figuring War” Conference: Literature and the Arts 1918-2018

Nov 18, 2018

As the world remembered the centenary of the Armistice of World War I, on Friday and Saturday November 9-10, the Stanford community gathered for a conference to reflect on this “war to end all wars.” The conference, titled “(Dis)figuring War: Literature and the Arts 1918-2018,” was a two-day event centered around discussions of the legacy of World War I. Conference organizers said they hoped the event would allow participants to explore the connection between history and memory, and shed light on how our present culture memorializes war, specifically World War I. The conference also had a strong focus on visual culture, particularly art that emerged from or was influenced by WWI, as indicated in both its title and use of Otto Dix’s gripping painting Evening Sun, Ypres (1918) as the poster image.

Though the event specifically focused on World War I, it posed probing questions of a more universal nature about war, memory, and how we remember traumatic events. Thanks to its broad scope, the event received wide support from many bodies across campus. Sponsors included: Theatre and Performance Studies Department (TAPS); the Department of Art and Art History; the Department of French & Italian; the Department of German Studies; the History Department; Stanford Humanities Center; Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Office; The Europe Center; and the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (DLCL).

The conference featured two keynote speakers, Jay Winter and Alexander Nemerov. Winter is the Charles J. Stille Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University; his talk was titled, “All the Things We Cannot Hear: Silences of the Great War.” Winter has written and published extensively on World War I, and is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his most recent monograph, War Beyond Words: Languages of Remembrance from the Great War to the Present. Nemerov is the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities in the Department of Art History at Stanford; his talk was titled, “A Soldier Killed in the First World War.” Nemerov is a scholar of American art who has written about the presence of art, the recollection of the past, and the importance of the humanities in our lives today.

In addition to these two keynote speakers, conference attendees heard talks from international scholars representing a range of disciplinary backgrounds. Speakers came from institutions both across the U.S., including CUNY, Auburn University, and U. Chicago, and abroad, including Ben Gurion University (Israel), University of Graz (Austria), and Institut national d'histoire de l'art (France).                    

The conference was organized by Stanford faculty member Dr. Laura Wittman (Associate Professor, French and Italian) and a team of graduate students including Daniele Biffanti (French & Italian), Andrea Capra (French & Italian), and Maria Massucco (French & Italian).

The conference was conceived as part of the Veterans in Literature Research Group, founded in Autumn Quarter 2017. The group, spearheaded by Dr. Laura Wittman, holds 6 meetings a year in which they discuss selected secondary literature and host invited guests. Positive reception to the group’s activities led to the inception of the conference, timed to coincide with the Armistice Day anniversary. Participants in the Veterans in Literature Research Group have included faculty and graduate students from many humanities departments, including Philosophy, Modern Thought & Literature, Art History, Classics, and the DLCL. Veterans in Literature will continue their meetings throughout this academic year; click here for more information on future events.
-Cortney Hamilton

           Doctor Laura Wittman (Stanford University)
Doctor Jay Winter
Doctor Russel Berman introducing the first panel