New Critical Directions in Memory Studies


M2 Boardroom, Grand Parade (or online)

10th June, 2022



A Collaborative and Celebratory Symposium hosted by the

Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories,

University of Brighton.


In the last decade, researchers across a wide variety of disciplines have begun to explore new critical directions in the theory and practice of memory studies. New conceptual frameworks drawn from the fields of cultural studies, oral history, anthropology, and cultural geography have enlivened our understanding of the political and cultural dynamics of remembering, the local and spatial dimensions of memory, and the affective resonances of the past within the context of the present.

This celebratory symposium hosted by the University of Brighton in June 2022 brings together a range of leading figures from within and across these developing areas of enquiry. Together we will reflect upon new directions in memory studies in light of these new conceptual approaches, consider their implications for our work across a variety of localities, communities and contexts, and think about the prospects, problems and possibilities of research into popular and cultural memory today.


9:00 – 9:30   Arrival and registration

9:30 – 9:45   Welcome by Deborah Madden (Co-Director CMNH)

9:45 – 11:15  PANEL 1  Popular Memory, Composure and Representation. Chair: Annemarie Majlund Jensen


Alistair Thomson – ‘The Popular Memory Group and its Influence’ (Live online).
Sara Dybris McQuaid – ‘The politics of storytelling: memory and policy in post-conflict Northern Ireland’ (Pre-recorded).

11:15 – 11:30. Break

11:30 – 13:00 PANEL 2  Affect, Emotion and Historical Writing. Chair: Sally Alexander

Michael Roper – Afterlives: family transmission and descendant histories of the First World War (In-person)
Lucy Noakes – ‘In Memory of my Great Grandfather and his Infant Son’: Families, Memories and the Legacies of Grief in the First World War Centenary (In-person)
Sean Field – The afterlives of apartheid: working through the Other of trauma (Live online)

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 15:30 PANEL 3 Conflict, Historical Justice & Peacemaking in Northern Ireland. Chair: Michael Roper


Cahal McLaughlin Oral History in Addressing Conflict (Pre- recorded)
Barry Hazley Myth, Memory and the Social History of the Troubles in Britain (In-person)

Stephen Hopkins Using Political Memoir to Study the Conflictual Past in Northern Ireland (In-person)

15:30 – 15:45 Break

15:45 – 16:45 PLENARY This will be an open discussion between Graham Dawson, Lucy Noakes and attendees to reflect on the day.

16:45 – 17:30 Closing remarks from CMNH PGRs and postdocs (with drinks reception).



This panel engages with theories of collective memory and with the politics of representing the past. Drawing on the work of the Popular Memory Group and on later elaborations of its theoretical interventions, as well as on research into the politics of storytelling and testimony in Northern Ireland after the Troubles, speakers will discuss how this approach helps us to make sense of the relationship between individual subjectivities and broader frames of memory and identity.

Chair: Annemarie Majlund

Annemarie Majlund is an anthropologist with a particular interest in how people and collectives remember in contexts of political upheaval and post-conflict transformation. She is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the CMNH.

Alistair Thomson
‘The Popular Memory Group and its Influence’

As a member of the Popular Memory Group in Birmingham in the early 1980s, Graham Dawson developed and applied innovative approaches to individual and collective memory – and, crucially, the connections between individual and collective memory and between social and psychological or psychoanalytic approaches to memory – that would prove to be enormously influential. In this talk Al Thomson will reflect on the innovations and influences of the Popular Memory Group and its intellectual and political significance, not least for the work of oral historians in Britain and abroad.

Alistair Thomson

For many years Al Thomson played squash every week with Graham Dawson, godparent to Al’s daughter Lilli who is having her first child next week! Of much less importance, Al is Professor of History at Monash University in Australia and President of Oral History Australia and was previously Professor of Oral History at the University of Sussex, President of the International Oral History Association and an editor of the British journal Oral History. In 2018 he received the Award for Teaching Excellence (Arts and Humanities) at the Australian Awards for University Teaching. His oral history books include: Anzac Memories:Living with the Legend (1994 and 2013), The Oral History Reader (1998, 2006 and 2015 with Robert Perks), Ten Pound Poms: Australia’s Invisible Migrants (2005, with Jim Hammerton), Moving Stories: an intimate history of four women across two countries (2011), Oral History and Photography (2011, with Alexander Freund), and Australian Lives: An Intimate History (2017, with Anisa Puri). He is currently leading a team writing a history of Australian fathering.

Sara Dybris McQuaid
‘The politics of storytelling: memory and policy in post-conflict Northern Ireland’

This paper discusses how various forms of testimony, witnessing and storytelling have formed part of dealing with the past and building peace in post-conflict Northern Ireland. It considers

a selection of these narratives and their depositories in three ways: 1) in terms of their political contexts of articulation and creation (the 90s, 00s, 10s); 2) in terms of their narrative properties as texts (framing, plots, events, characters, style); 3) in terms of their projected contributions as socio-cultural-political and legal sources of experiences of conflict and peace. Underpinning these lines of analysis is an exploration of how these emerging memoryscapes (Philips and Reyes, 2011) are entangled with emerging policyscapes (Mettler 2016) on dealing with the past and how this superimposition reassembles political and mnemonic communities.

Sara Dybris McQuaid, Associate Professor at Aarhus University, is a contemporary historian and political scientist who works mostly in the interdisciplinary fields of peace and conflict studies and memory studies. Her research pivots around how collectives remember, forget and archive their past, particularly as part of conflict and peacebuilding processes and she has published extensively on this in the context of the ‘post-conflict’ peace process in Northern Ireland. She is currently working on dynamics of ‘multi-level memory governance’ across transnational ‘Administrations of Memory’. Her recent publications include ‘Politics and Narrative in Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations’ (Co-editor Fearghal McGarry) and ‘Administrations of Memory: Transcending the Nation and Bringing Back the State in Memory Studies’ (Co-editor Sarah Gensburger). She teaches in the English Degree Programme; the BA in Conflict and Narrative and the MA in Intercultural Studies at Aarhus University. She is a founding member of the research collective Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts at University of Copenhagen and she is on the MC of the EU COST action Slow Memory: Transformative Practices for Times of Uneven and Accelerating Change, where she also co- directs the working group “Transformation of Conflict”.



This panel addresses the presence of affect, emotion and feeling in historical writing and research. Asking questions about the role of theories of trauma in post-conflict oral history, about the intersections between family memory and national memory, and about private and public forms of grieving and commemoration, it stresses the value both of historicising emotions and of recognising the emotional dynamics of historical work.

Chair: Sally Alexander

Sally Alexander is Emerita Professor of Modern History at Goldsmiths UL and founding editor of History Workshop Journal. She is member of EU funded ‘who cares in Europe’,
at present thinking about Donald Winncott and British social democracy.

Michael Roper
Afterlives: family transmission and descendant histories of the First World War

What impels a descendant to research the war history of a family member, and how do contemporary narratives of war and commemoration bear on the accounts they create? Adopting an autobiographical approach, this paper considers how the First World War past in my family has shaped my identities as a son, grandson, and historian. On the one hand, the study reveals the intimate hold of public narratives over personal memory: for almost forty years I was absorbed in the legacies of my paternal grandfather’s war in Gallipoli and the Middle East. I assumed that there was no war in my mother ’s family because, as she often pointed out, her father was not an Anzac. My maternal grandfather’s stance as aconscientious objector was vaguely known, but set alongside the Gallipoli veteran, was not considered to be a war story. On the other hand, my family study reaches beyond the frames of public remembrance to consider how life-stage, love, loss, separation and family conflict animates historical pursuits. Because they are not eyewitnesses to the wars they relate, descendants tend to lean hard on historical tropes. Yet they also respond to a past that is sensed from a young age, before it is consciously understood, and their research is as much a means of emotional work on the family and themselves, as a response to public historical culture.

Michael Roper is a Professor and social and cultural historian of twentieth-century Britain and Australia, based in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. His research spans the fields of war, subjectivity and psychoanalysis. The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War was published in 2009. He has also published articles on the history of masculinity, subjectivity and emotions in historical research, the history of psychoanalysis in Britain, and the uses of psychoanalysis in research on letters, memoirs, and oral histories. He recently completed a study of family histories of the First World War in Australia, Britain, and Germany. Afterlives of War. A Descendants’ History will be published by Manchester University Press.

Lucy Noakes
‘In Memory of my Great Grandfather and his Infant Son’: Families, Memories and the Legacies of Grief in the First World War Centenary

In November 2018 Britain marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of the First World War. In addition to the events that have become a widely shared part of the national calendar – the two minute silence and ceremonies of remembrance at the Whitehall cenotaph and at war memorials around the country – this centenary day of remembrance include some more unusual activities, designed to involve more members of the public, and wider communities, than those who attend the traditional ceremonies with their focus on military remembrance and ritual. The military parade past the Whitehall cenotaph was followed by a ‘People’s Procession’ in which 10,000 civilians, chosen by public ballot, filed past the cenotaph as part of what the Department for Media, Culture and Sport called ‘a nation’s thank you’. Throughout the day, members of the public visited beaches around the United Kingdom to help create temporary public art works in the form of faces of the war’s dead, drawn in the sand, to be washed away by the incoming tide.

Death in war, and its multiple legacies in the form of grief, loss, bereavement and thanksgiving, was at the heart of all of these activities. This paper explores the motivations that drove so many individuals to participate in these and other public acts of remembrance that marked the centenary of the First World War in Britain, considering the relationship between familial legacies of loss, and the dominant cultural memory of the war which continues to focus on ideas of sacrifice and futility. Drawing on a range of sources, including Mass Observation Directives on the First World War centenary, surveys of participants in centenary activities, interviews and focus groups, the paper utilises work coming out of both the ‘emotional turn’ and cultural memory theory to argue that an often gendered family memory of loss and bereavement in the aftermath of war was central to public participation in the centenary in 21st century Britain.

Lucy Noakes is Professor of Modern History at the University of Essex, where she holds the Rab Butler Chair in History. She worked with Graham Dawson for many years at the University of Brighton, and was Deputy Director of the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories. Her work continues to be shaped by Graham’s pioneering work on cultural memory and identity: her first book, War and the British (1998) is about to be published in a second edition by Bloomsbury, and her latest book Dying for the Nation: Death, Grief and Bereavement in Second World War Britain (2020) won the Social History Book of the Year Prize in 2022. She is currently working on a study of what the First World War centenary tells us about memory and identity in 21st century Britain.

Sean Field
‘The afterlives of apartheid: working through the Other of trauma’

The proliferation of trauma discourses has become an “empire of trauma” (Fassin and Rechtman, 2009). The psychologized conception of “trauma” has its origins in mid-19th century Britain and evolves through psychiatry and psychology disciplines but the global shift into the public domain occurs after the invention of PTSD in 1980. By the turn of the 21st

century, “trauma” had morphed into an umbrella discourse for various forms of pain and suffering. On the one hand, trauma discourses have provided legitimation for marginalized victims groups fighting for recognition, aid, reparations, or justice. On the other hand, it has contributed to an identity politics of victimhood where trauma discourses are problematically constructed as sacred grounds. Oral historians have either avoided trauma theories or have used it as an event centred, referential concept that explains traumatic memories after mass violence (Lacy-Rogers, Leydesdorf and Dawson 1999). But there is an on-going debate about the limits of “trauma theories” and its referential uses across academic and public sectors (Radstone 2007; High 2014). What do the above intersection of socio-political factors and intellectual debates mean for oral historians working in post-conflict contexts across the globe, and more specifically for those working in (post)colonial South Africa?

Sean Field is an oral historian of violence and its aftermath, working at the Historical Studies Department of the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He has published in various international journals and anthologies, as well as a monograph: Oral History, Community and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), which received the US Oral History Association (OHA) book award for 2012/3. His current book writing is an anti-referential critique of trauma theories and their efficacy within oral historiography and fieldwork practises, with particular emphasis on (post)colonial settings.


This panel focus on the specificities of memory studies and memory work in the north of Ireland in the wake of the Troubles. Drawing on a wide range of sources (the oral histories collected and archived by the Prisons Memory Archive; political memoirs; representations of the war as it was narrated in Britain), it will highlight ongoing contestation around the meanings and uses of the past in contemporary Ireland.

Chair: Michael Roper

Cahal McLaughlin
Oral History in Addressing Conflict

This presentation focuses on the challenges in telling stories from a conflicted past in a contested present. Using the Prisons Memory Archive as a case study, it compares bottom- up storytelling projects with more officially sanctioned proposals in the context of the North of Ireland. The recent proposed ‘The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill’ published by the UK government will include an oral history aspect to complement the more controversial elements of amnesty and investigations. The previous Stormont House Agreement, which it has replaced, also proposed an oral history aspect, but both have been met with constructive opposition to any centralised process and structure. The PMA is one of scores of bottom-up and community projects that have argued for a more networked approach that acknowledges both the work already achieved and the variety of participatory methodologies as best practices.

Cahal McLaughlin is chair of Film Studies at Queen’s University Belfast and director of the Prisons Memory Archive. The co-edited collection, The Prisons Memory Archive: a case study in filmed memory of conflict, will be published by Vernon Press this month. His film work includes participatory practices and he has directed films in the last six years with communities in Haiti, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town.

Dr Barry Hazley
Myth, Memory and the Social History of the Troubles in Britain

Alongside his seminal work on the memory of the Troubles within Northern Ireland, Graham Dawson has been one of the few scholars to consider the impacts of the conflict for British society. Since the 1990s, Dawson has led the way, both in drawing attention to the scholarly omission of the British context within research on the Troubles, and in developing a theorisation of its significance in Britain, primarily through recourse to notions of cultural trauma, silence, forgetting, and amnesia. This paper explores the utility of these ideas for understanding the place of the Troubles within historiographical narratives of post-war British history. Presenting preliminary findings from an ongoing 5-year research project addressing the social and cultural history of the Troubles within English society, it suggests that whilst forgetting forms one part of English reactions to the conflict, such processes need to be seen

as both deeply embedded in wider dynamics of social and cultural change in post-war Britain, and as articulating alongside and through generative processes of identity formation. Drawing on Bill Swartz’s ideas concerning the fundamentally ambivalent nature of imperial forgetting in Britain, it suggests that while representations of the Troubles in England often manifested a desire to forget, forgetting was rarely possible, with the result that memory and forgetting emerge as closely linked dynamics within varied public and personal accounts of the conflict in England.

Dr Barry Hazley is Derby Fellow in Transforming Conflict in the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. A social and cultural historian of modern Britain and Ireland and oral history specialist, he is the author of Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England: myth, memory and emotional adaption (MUP, 2020) and co-author, with Lynn Abrams, Valerie Wright and Ade Kearns, of Glasgow: High-Rise Homes, Estates and Communities in Post-war Period (Routledge, 2020). He is currently researching the experiences of Northern Irish migrants in Great Britain during the Irish Troubles as part of the ongoing collaborative AHRC project ‘Conflict, Memory & Migration: Northern Irish Migrants & the Troubles in Great Britain’, alongside developing a new monograph, provisionally entitled The Northern Ireland Troubles and English Society: a social and cultural history.

Stephen Hopkins
Using Political Memoir to Study the Conflictual Past in Northern Ireland

This contribution will reflect on the evolution of the study of political memoir in Northern Ireland since 1998 and examine some of the advantages and pitfalls of using these sources for scholars in the social sciences and humanities. In earlier work on the subject, it was argued that, in the continued absence of an overarching process for ‘contending with the past’, memoir-writing can, on occasion, provide a means for approaching the complex legacy questions of truth, justice and reconciliation. Such writing can often serve to reinforce pre- existing conflict-era narratives, maintaining the integrity of the ‘old’ fight on the battlefield of memory politics. Memoir can be interpreted as part of a ‘rhetorical economy’, a battle for narrative hegemony in the public sphere. Post-conflict memoirists can often appear to be‘remembering at’ each other (in Edna Longley’s phrase), rather than seeking to understand each other.

However, the paper will argue that memoir-writing can sometimes instigate productive interactions between diverse (ex-) protagonists, as part of a process of critical self-reflection regarding the nature of the conflict, and its narrative re-telling. This may be particularly so when the memoirist is emblematic of a broad political constituency, as in the case of political (and perhaps paramilitary) leaders. Those authors who are willing to subject their own personal and communal shibboleths to such scrutiny may be rare, but they can encourage what Paul Arthur referred to as the ‘gentle art of reperceiving’ the conflict.

Stephen Hopkins is Lecturer in Politics in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. His monograph “The Politics of Memoir and the Northern Ireland Conflict” was published in paperback by Liverpool University Press in 2017. He is co-editor and contributor to “The Northern Irish Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories” (Manchester University Press, 2016; with Prof.Graham Dawson and Dr. Jo Dover). He is also the author of several recent articles and book chapters, including co-editing and contributing to a special issue of Irish Political Studies, ‘The Politics of Life-writing and Legacies of Conflict in Northern Ireland’ (with Dr Connal Parr, Vol. 33, No. 2; June 2018). His most recent article analysed the politics of apology and the Irish republican movement (International Journal of Transitional Justice, 2021).


Lucy Noakes will introduce and chair this session and Graham Dawson will respond to the speakers and papers we have heard. This session will take the form of an open discussion amongst all speakers and attendees around the themes of the day and what has emerged from our conversations about new critical directions in memory studies. We hope this will be a space for all attendees to be involved and for us to collectively explore the connections between each panel.


PGRS and postdocs in the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories would like to take a few moments to thank those involved in this special event.