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Conference Keynote: Joy Damousi 'Blood, Bodies and Bones: Remembering Violence of the First World War in the 21st century '

Date published: 
Wednesday, 21 March, 2018

The abstracts for the keynote speakers for the upcoming Reflections on the commoration of World War One conference are now available on the conference page.

Blood, Bodies and Bones: Remembering Violence of the First World War in the 21st century

In the early twenty first century, remembering the violence of the First World has increasingly focused on three sites: blood, bodies and bones.  In this keynote address, these three sites form the basis of considering contemporary forms of remembering and forgetting the violence of the First World War. The remembrance of this cataclysmic event more broadly brings into focus forms of commemoration that have recently concentrated exclusively on the body. These involve new technologies such as DNA testing and the retrieval and exhumation of bones of the war victims of violence.  

The aim of this talk is to explore this new wave of commemorative practice and argue that in the 21st century new technologies have ushered in distinctive forms of commemoration surrounding the dead body.  The focus adopted in recent scholarship on the victims of violence has been to consider how human remains have become a distinctive part of commemorative practice. Does this focus on human remains and DNA profiling reflect a new attempt to access the ‘true’ experience of war? Is the appeal of this exercise that it somehow represents a more ‘accurate’ representation of the infliction of violent acts during the First World War and how these should be remembered – that is, through the forensic identification of bodies through DNA testing as a form of remembrance of violence. 

This paper will consider these developments as a contested commemorative space, for while there has been controversy and debate about the uses of this technologies by nations, families and descendants have been active in supporting this form of commemorative practice to honour the dead by identifying them and providing a full reburial and ceremony.

Joy Damousi is Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely on aspects of political history, women’s history and feminist history, memory and war, history of emotions, sound and war, and the history of post-war migration and refugees. She is the author of numerous books which include The Labour of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia (Cambridge, 1999); Living with the Aftermath: Trauma, Nostalgia and Grief in Post-war Australia (Cambridge, 2001); Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia (University of New South Wales Press, 2005: Winner of the Ernest Scott Prize); Colonial Voices: A Cultural History of English in Australia 1840-1940 (Cambridge 2010) and Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War: Australia’s Greek Immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War (Cambridge, 2015). She had edited several books including (with Marilyn Lake) Gender and War: Australians At War in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 1995) and (with Robyn Archer, Murray Goot and Sean Scalmer), The Conscription Conflict and the Great War, (Monash University Publishing, 2016). With Philip Dwyer she is the general editor of a four volume Cambridge World History of Violence due to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018.

Her latest project is a history of child refugees, humanitarianism and internationalism from 1920 to the present for which she was awarded an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship. This research seeks to examine the history of child refugees displaced by the wars of the twentieth century.