Prof. Dr. Michael Roper – University of Essex – November 5th 2013 – The long Great War: Psychological legacies across the century.
The participants have passed from the scene, but as the debates surrounding its centenary indicate, the First World War has lost little of its capacity to grip our emotions. In this address I ask why it is that the war refuses to settle in memory, and explore the ways in which its psychological legacies were carried through the century, within families and across generations, and within cultural forms that include history itself. The established historical narrative of the war’s emotional aftermath in Britain starts with a presumed post-traumatic silence in the early to mid 1920s, followed by a burgeoning of personal narratives in the late 20s and 30s, a slipping from view amidst a second global conflict and its aftermath, and a resurgence from the 1960s sparked by peace movements, the rise of history from below, and most recently by trauma scholarship and the ‘victim culture’. This chronology is based on a conception of historical work and memory of the war as largely impelled by later social changes, and fails to account for the emotions transmitted from the past and the war itself.
I will describe two ongoing projects on the psychological legacy of the First World War in Britain, both of which focus on the child. The first is based on interviews with men and women whose fathers were returned soldiers, and investigates how parents’ experiences of war became – and remain – part of the children’s subjectivities. The second is concerned with the development of psychoanalysis between the wars, and seeks to identify how the aftermath of the war contributed to the post-war focus on mother-child relationships. These cases-studies illuminate different kinds of psychological legacy, the one occurring within family relationships, the other within interwar cultural and social movements concerned with subjectivity. Historians have not sufficiently appreciated the affective force of cultural and personal legacies such as these, which, a century after the conflict, continue to erupt within and animate debates about the war.
This lecture is officially sponsored and supported by: