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War, Culture and Humanity: From Ancient to Modern Times - A Report on the conference held in April, 2004 to launch the CCHW

By Peter Gatrell

This was the title of a highly successful international conference that the Centre for the Cultural History of War hosted at the University of Manchester in spring 2004. A report from the British Academy is summarised below:

"An article by a staff writer on the Washington Post (11 January 2004), reporting on the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington DC devoted to 'Thoughts on war in a democratic age', stated that it `had been a classic academic combination of insight and obscurity, thoughtful analysis and mind-numbing delivery¿. Had he attended a conference on War, Culture, Humanity from Ancient to Modern Times at the University of Manchester four months later he would have encountered a series of lively and far from obscure presentations devoted to re-examining state violence and humanitarian responses across five continents and more than two millennia. The conference heard papers on topics ranging from warfare in archaic Ionia to satellite TV and the war in Iraq; from war memorials in New Zealand to the Armenian genocide; from the conceptualisation of state violence in medieval Europe to the conceptualisation of genocide. The emphasis throughout was on a genuine historicisation and comparison of state violence and humanitarianism, in which new work was presented by established and younger scholars from 20 countries."

Report to British Academy on 2004 conference on War, Culture and Humanity

A total of 95 participants attended this conference. They included established scholars and graduate students, from the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Canada, the USA, Nigeria, Kenya, Israel, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. I enclose a copy of the conference programme. As you will see, it acknowledges the generous contribution of the British Academy. The Academy's support was also publicly referred to during the opening and closing addresses.

One of the main purposes of the conference was to bring together younger and more established scholars. In this respect the conference succeeded beyond our expectations. Every session was characterised by a mixture of formal papers and contributions from the floor in which graduate students and staff participated vigorously and effectively.

The British Academy grant enabled us to bring together three distinguished speakers, viz. Jacques Semelin (Paris), Hans van Wees (London) and Jay Winter (Yale), who spoke respectively on 'What is Genocide?', 'State Violence & Personal Violence in Ancient Greece', and 'Dark Utopia: Rene Cassin and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights'. The range of their contributions was very much in the spirit of interdisciplinary and comparative study that the conference aimed to sustain.

The conference was publicised in the Times Higher Education Supplement, where Steve Farrar highlighted in particular the contribution made by Professor Liz Stanley on commemoration issues and the concentration camps created during the South African ('Boer') War.

Our strategy for dissemination is as follows. Participants have been invited to submit revised versions of their paper to the European Review of History/Revue d'histoire européene. A selection was made by the editors and published in 2005.

Further activity

Bertrand Taithe on the European History Review edition.

The European Review of History - revue européenne d'histoire published by Routledge - Taylor and Francis is glad to have an ongoing collaboration with the Centre for the Cultural History of War.

In 2004 the Review and the Centre organised together its international conference: War Culture and Humanity the proceedings of which appeared in Vols 12 and 13 of the Review.

Dr Taithe is editor of the journal and Professor Gatrell is on the editorial board.