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Semester 1

Cultural Responses to War (ELCC08006)


European Languages and Cultures





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Course Summary

This course examines cultural responses to war, asking how writers, combatants, and civilians have responded to the political and aesthetic challenges of representing war and its impact. We will focus on conflicts since 1900, exploring case studies that cover a range of genres, media, and national contexts. All the texts are in English or in English translation.

Course Description

Cultural responses to war are often driven by a sense of moral responsibility to bear witness: to report and understand what happened, acknowledge trauma, commemorate the dead, and in many cases to warn future generations. Memoirs and oral histories may attempt to articulate the personal experiences behind the facts and statistics of military history, with participants telling 'what it was really like' on the ground. But the mass casualties, geographical scale, and brutality of modern conflicts pose formidable challenges to representation, raising the question of what it is possible to articulate through language and art. These problems are compounded by the fact that culture is always already implicated in discourses of war: even in pacifist writing, attempts to salvage meaning and humanity from war may perpetuate the tropes of comradeship, heroism, and individual sacrifice that are mobilized in support of military action. This course explores how writers, combatants, and civilians have responded to these challenges, focusing on case studies featuring a range of genres, media, and contexts. We will explore questions of voice and perspective: who is speaking, from what position, and on behalf of whom? How do speakers construct their claims to authority and authenticity? How should we treat reported personal experience compared to creative artistic responses, and what might the areas of common ground be between them? How do responses articulate the impact of war, and how do they connect the personal, the local, and the global? What political, aesthetic and rhetorical strategies do they employ, and how do they negotiate the ethics and limits of cultural representation? We will consider our own positions and responsibilities as readers and viewers, and how we respond to different genres, media, and aesthetic strategies.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

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