The First World War: Commemoration and Memory

  • Jessica Moody (Participant)

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

    Description of Activity

    Although both the practice and the study of remembrance and commemoration have received much recent attention, relatively little detailed work has been done on the meanings attached to commemorative activity by members of the public. Why do people think it is important to remember past events? What meanings do they attach to commemorative occasions, to the historical experiences evoked, and to the process of commemoration itself? What difference do they think commemoration makes to our sense both of history and of our present situation? The research presented in this paper explores these questions in relation to the current wave of First World War centenary commemoration, as manifested particularly in the museum sector. It draws on data gathered through visitor exit interviews (c. 150) at two particular exhibitions in 2014: ‘1914: When the World Changed Forever’ at the Castle Museum, York, and ‘Remember Scarborough’ at the Scarborough Art Gallery. Though sharing certain common themes (and a Yorkshire setting), the two exhibitions differed significantly in scale, location, visitor profiles, and in the balance between local and national/international history. Taking them together allows us to explore a wide range of visitor experiences and attitudes. Though there is a quantitative element to the research, this paper will focus chiefly on qualitative analysis, exploring the complex interplay, and tensions, between different discursive strands in visitor responses – between, for example, the suggestion that we commemorate in order to learn lessons from the past and the feeling that these lessons are never learnt, or between the language of patriotic sacrifice and the language of waste and futility.
    Period27 Feb 2016
    Event typeConference
    LocationManchester, United KingdomShow on map


    • memory
    • museums
    • First World War
    • Great War