Research Projects

This is the web page of research project Witnessing Destruction: The Memory of War and Conflict in American Auto/biographical and Documentary Narratives. The project is supported by grant no. 38/2018, PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2016-0697, offered by UEFISCDI (project coordinator: Mihaela Precup; members: Dragoș Manea, Dana Mihăilescu, Roxana Oltean).

Brief Project Description

This project analyzes narratives that memorialize participation in war and conflict in a variety of auto/biographical and documentary genres (diary, memoir, autobiography, reportage, documentary film, oral testimony etc.) and media (traditional writing and reporting, but also multimodal media such as comics, video, and digital media) in order to explore the complicated mobility of individual and group memory, as well as the complexities of witnessing, recording, and reacting to one another’s suffering.

Our project thus asks questions such as: in the process of memorialization, how are concepts such as grief, trauma, and survival translated across cultures? How can the classification of participants in war and conflict into “victims,” “perpetrators,” “bystanders,” as well as “soldiers” and “civilians” be refined so that it contributes to a better understanding of what makes ordinary people commit evil deeds (Waller 2002)? How do mainstream definitions of concepts such as “genocide,” “heroism,” or “war crime” influence the way people experience and remember war and conflict? What counter memories are produced as a consequence? How do Western tropes of storytelling, suffering, and healing influence the narratives of both American and non-American stories? How do the requirements of a particular genre (such as memoir or documentary film) influence the way certain events are memorialized? What blind spots exist in the memorialization of war and conflict? How does suffering become sellable? Last, but not least, how do gender and sexuality play out in the context of war and conflict?

The limitations of the current approaches can be outlined by drawing attention to the main academic field to which this project belongs, i.e. memory studies. The discipline of memory studies has shifted away from Halbwachs’ concept of collective memory and Pierre Nora’s nation-centric model of memory (1984-1992) and into the study of cultural memory (Jan Assman 1988), the mediation and remediation of cultural memory (Erll and Rigney 2012), postmemory (Hirsch 1997), prosthetic memory (Landsberg 2004), multidirectional memory (Rothberg 2009), postcolonial witnessing (Craps 2013) and is currently preoccupied with transnational and transcultural dialogues created by and during the process of memorialization (Crownshaw 2014), as well as globital memory (Reading 2016). However, despite the evident diversification of perceptions and interests, there are areas that should receive more critical attention in a field that has focused primarily on more traditional genres, such as the novel or the fiction film. Thus, this project proposes that, in the field of memory studies, more critical attention should be paid to autobiographical narratives, more specifically diaries and war memoirs produced by veterans and other direct witnesses to wars. This is an important point, particularly in the United States, where the memorialization of war and conflict through autobiographical and documentary practices is as old as colonization itself. However, the first event that generated the most sustained memorial effort as it was happening was the Civil War (1861-1865), which still ranks as the bloodiest armed conflict in American history (including World War I, II, and Vietnam). Having taken place after the invention of photography, the Civil War was documented in both verbal and visual form, in diaries, war veteran memoirs and reportage, and in photographic form. However, despite the existence of a wealth of autobiographical and documentary narratives on the subject, the critical focus has so far been placed on other memorial forms, such as monuments, reenactments, and—perhaps most of all—slave narratives. In this context, there are other topics that should be further analyzed, such as memorial literature produced by veterans of other major wars, such as World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and, more recently, in the wake of the 1990s memoir boom, Iraq and Afghanistan. Last but not least, it is worth noting that the autobiographical literature most analyzed by memory scholars is still Holocaust-related, in spite of Michael Rothberg’s attempt to place the memory of the Holocaust in a wider and more complex network of suffering (2009). In this context, in spite of the recent rise of perpetrator studies, the figure of the perpetrator still occupies a minor position in the field.

However, since this is an interdisciplinary project, it is clearly situated at the intersection of memory studies and other related fields, such as trauma theory, media studies, and visual studies. In these fields, research on the representation of war and conflict has focused not so much on the auto/biographical or the documentary, but rather on issues such as the representability of trauma, the narrative potential of photography, drawing, caricature, and video, and the inappropriate migration of certain Western notions of memory and trauma  into non-Western cultural spaces. In this context, the project proposes a specific focus on multimodal documentary narratives such as digital media, documentary film, and graphic narrative. Thus, products of memorialization that have yet to be fully explored are documentary films by American filmmakers about destruction that takes place outside American borders, as well as graphic narratives produced by authors who flee warzones and conflict areas situated outside the US. Similarly, the memorial role played digital culture is as yet insufficiently explored, even as participants in war and conflict use comics, as well as social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to document events for an audience that has largely given up on traditional media outlets as a main source of information.

Project Activities

  1. May 2018-December 2018

Conferences

Dragoș Manea

“From the War on Terror to the Refugee Crisis: Representing Vulnerability in Debi Cornwall’s Welcome to Camp America and Kate Evans’s Threads.”With Mihaela Precup. “Drawing Yourself In and out of It”: The Second Amsterdam Comics Conference. Vrije University, Amsterdam, November 15-17, 2018

“Class Warfare, Neoliberalism, and Graphic Documentation in The Black Monday Murders (Jonathan Hickman, 2016–).” With Mihaela Precup. The 2018 RAAS – Fulbright Conference Ideology, Identity, and the US: Crossroads, Freeways, Collisions. University of Constanța, October 4-6 2018.

“Documenting Detention: War, Conflict, and Photo/graphic Representation in Kate Evans’s Threads and Debi Cornwall’s Welcome to Camp America.” With Mihaela Precup. Comics Forum. Leeds Central Library, September 20-21 2018.

“Reviving the Memory of Nazi Danger: Über (2013–) and the Ethics of Ambiguity.” International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference 2018 Retro! Time, Memory, Nostalgia. Bournemouth University, June 27-29 2018.

“On Race and Warfare: The Politics of Historical Adaptation in Merlin (BBC, 2008–2012) and Camelot (Starz, 2011).” AICED 20, Literature and Cultural Studies Section: Truth(s) and Alternative Facts. University of Bucharest, June 7-9 2018.

Dana Mihăilescu

“Facets of Anti-Semitism and Jewish Identity from World War I to World War II in Europe and the U.S.: On Will Eisner’s Graphic Memoir To the Heart of the Storm (1990).” The 2018 RAAS – Fulbright Conference Ideology, Identity, and the US: Crossroads, Freeways, Collisions. University of Constanța, October 4-6 2018.

Roxana Oltean

“Truth and Alternative Facts in the Early Cold War: Narratives of American Spying in Berlin.” AICED 20, Literature and Cultural Studies Section: Truth(s) and Alternative Facts. University of Bucharest, June 7-9 2018.

Mihaela Precup

“From the War on Terror to the Refugee Crisis: Representing Vulnerability in Debi Cornwall’s Welcome to Camp America and Kate Evans’s Threads.” With Dragos Manea. “Drawing Yourself In and out of It”: The Second Amsterdam Comics Conference. Vrije University, Amsterdam, November 15-17, 2018

“Class Warfare, Neoliberalism, and Graphic Documentation in The Black Monday Murders (Jonathan Hickman, 2016–).” With Dragoș Manea. The 2018 RAAS – Fulbright Conference Ideology, Identity, and the US: Crossroads, Freeways, Collisions. University of Constanța, October 4-6 2018.

“Documenting Detention: War, Conflict, and Photo/graphic Representation in Kate Evans’s Threads and Debi Cornwall’s Welcome to Camp America.” With Dragoș Manea. Comics Forum. Leeds Central Library, September 20-21 2018.

“A Communist Time Capsule: Andreea Chirică’s The Year of the Pioneer (2011).” International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference 2018 Retro! Time, Memory, Nostalgia. Bournemouth University, June 27-29 2018.

Publications

Precup, Mihaela (with Rebecca Scherr). Editorial. Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 9(3),  Special Issue on Sexual Violence in Comics II, pp. 193–194

At this early stage of the project, members have sent proposals for publication/are still working on proposals and in some cases are awaiting confirmation.

Oltean, Roxana. “Love and Belligerence Behind the Iron Curtain. Cold War Gender Identities in Anglo-American Perspective” – article submitted for publication in the academic journal Synergy (indexed in EBSCO (1/2017), ERIH PLUS (2/2015), Central and Eastern European European Online Library (CEEOL) (1/2005), Open J Gate (1/2005), Index Copernicus (2012), Open Access Journal Index (1/2005), Kubon & Sagner Media OPAC(1/2005)).

Precup, Mihaela. “I think we’re maybe more or less safe here”: Violence and Solidarity during the Lebanese Civil War in Zeina Abirached’s A Game for Swallows — chapter accepted for publication in Violence in Comics, edited by Ian Hague, Ian Horton and Nina Mickwitz. London & New York: Routledge, 2019

Precup, Mihaela. ”The Autobiographical Mode in Post-Communist Romanian Comics: Everyday Life in Brynjar Åbel Bandlien’s Strîmb Living and Andreea Chirică’s The Year of the Pioneer” — chapter accepted for publication in  Comics of the New Europe, edited by Martha Kuhlman and Jose Alaniz. Leuven: University of Leuven Press, 2019.

Research Periods

Dragoș Manea–John F. Kennedy Institute Library, Freie University, Berlin, July 27-August 27

Roxana Oltean–Eccles Centre for American Studies, British Library, London, August 5 -12

Mihaela Precup–John F. Kennedy Institute Library, Freie University, Berlin, July 27-August 27