Troubling Anniversaries – An Excellent Online Conference

On 21 and 22 October I attended an online conference on the theme of ‘Troubling Anniversaries’. The conference was organised through a partnership between the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) within the School of Advanced Study in the University of London and Centre for Public History,(Opens in new window)

The online conference explored the uses of anniversaries in historical research and public interpretation, thinking critically about the politics of commemoration, the wide variety of tools and approaches for public engagement, and the challenges of dealing with contested pasts. 

Speakers from academia and beyond examined a wide range of case studies, from Magna Carta to WW1, with special sessions on ‘Nuclear Memory’ (from Hiroshima to Fukushima), ‘Remembering Partitions’ in Ireland, India and beyond, and a workshop on ‘Remembering Trauma’, using oral histories of Irish Mother and Baby homes as a case study. The conference ended with an ECR lightning talk round, with 8 ECRs presenting on the theme ‘Memory and Commemoration’.

Given my research interests in relation to the JL123 plane crash and the significance of anniversaries that I discuss in both my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan and my article ‘Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials‘, I was interested in the topics that were to be covered. Also, due to my interest in issues relating to atomic weapons (see, for example, my posts on the imagery of ‘the mushroom cloud‘, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Daigo-Fukuryu-maru, Threads, The Day After, Special Bulletin, and The World Set Free), which are likely to feature not only within a future academic book, but also my next novel, I was particularly keen to hear the papers related to nuclear issues. I was also keen to attend as one of my PhD students, Lauren Constance, is conducting research related to some of the themes of the conference.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend every session, but they are all available as videos to watch. A full list can be found here. Further details about the conference can be found online here or via the downloadable programme.

Of the sessions that I attended, I found the discussion revolving around Olivia Dee‘s paper particularly helpful as it (and then we in breakout groups and a further discussion with the attendees together) discussed a variety of the ethical and other issues that face us when conducting research that relates to traumatic events.

In the next session, Robert Jacobs delivered a paper on Nuclear Memory Effects: Remembering Hiroshima and Forgetting Fukushima’ (with Maurizio Cinquegrani responding). I found this paper really helped me to think about some of the issues relating to my own research and how we present our findings to different types of audiences.

The following session had four speakers (Grace Halden, Jonathan Hogg, Egle Rindzeviciute, and Anna Veronika Wendland) covering a range of issues relating to different aspects of ‘nuclear memories’. This was a great session and it is well worth watching the video.

The final session saw eight ECRs present for 5 minutes on a variety of issues related to anniversaries and memory. The styles and contents of the presentations varied greatly, but were all extremely informative.

Overall it was an excellent conference. I was a bit surprised (unless I missed it), that there was not more discussion about anniversaries and how that ties to bereavement theory – but as I discovered when developing my article ‘Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials‘, bereavement theory still seems to be overlooked by many people in memories studies.

It was a shame that I wasn’t able to attend all of the panels or that we could all meet in person, especially as there were certain aspects of the topics covered that are likely to have been much easier to discuss in person. It would also have allowed for more conversations outside of the panels themselves. As much as I have enjoyed the increase in webinars during the COVID-19 pandemic, this conference further emphasised how not only how much can be done online, but how much we need to get back to face-to-face (or hybrid) conferences as soon as possible.

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