23rd Jan 2019 5:00pm-7:00pm

Grand Parade, G4


The evidence of afterlives: descendant histories of the Great War

Professor Michael Roper (University of Essex)

All welcome from inside and outside the university, no need to book. Drinks at 5pm for a 5:30 start.

In 2011 I began a study of the First World War’s impact on British children growing up during the 1920s and 30s, based on interviews with women and men in their late eighties and nineties. The project has generated a host of questions about the uses of oral testimony in researching inter-generational relationships with which I am still grappling. After all, my participants were not eye witnesses to the First World War; their war was the Second World War, and I was asking them about the impact of events before their time. Their memories were shaped by ageing and contemporary narratives and commemorations of the First World War, not least those surrounding the Centenary. It seemed impossible to unpick the elements of fantasy, miss-remembering and re-remembering. At the same time, however, when interviewing I sometimes experienced a powerful sense of time being telescoped, of momentarily being pulled back into a past before my own and forming vivid images of my now elderly interviewees as children. As I reflect on the evidence of afterlives, I have tried to consider oral history as a form of communication that takes place not just by word but in gestures, objects and enactments. Revealing present discontents and desires, at the same time the participants resuscitate fragments of emotion-laden experience from the past and introduce them into the present.

Michael Roper is a social and cultural historian of twentieth-century Britain based in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He has published on the histories of war, masculinity and subjectivity, the history of psychoanalysis, and the uses of psychoanalysis in historical research. His book The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War was published in 2009. Supported by a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship, he is writing a book about afterlives of the Great War, based on interviews and reminiscence work with descendants in Britain and Germany, and research on three generations of the Roper family in Australia. He is a Co-investigator in the Arts and Humanities Research Council/Heritage Lottery Fund Engagement Centre, ‘Everyday Lives in War’, which supports community research on the First World War.