World War One International Conference at Queen Mary, University of London

We are happy to share here below the news about the World War One International Conference at Queen Mary, University of London. This kind of conferences is getting always more frequent and as you see the approaches are different. The cross-fertilization is in our opinion one of the more relevant aspects to point out while posting about these academic initiatives:

To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, an international, multi-disciplinary conference is being organised by the School of Languages, Linguistics and Film and the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London, the Open University, and the Department of German at University College London. The organizers are working in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, the German Historical Institute, the Leo Baeck Institute London, and the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations (Queen Mary, University of London). The conference will be hosted at Queen Mary, University of London on its attractive campus in the East End of the city. The oldest Jewish cemetery in London is situated on site and the campus is close to the Olympic Park, Docklands, Victoria Park, the Regent's Canal and many other places of interest.The keynote speakers will include:

Professor Elza Adamowicz (Queen Mary, University of London)
Professor Christopher Clark (University of Cambridge)
Professor Jonathan Steinberg (University of Pennsylvania)
Professor Sam Williamson (University of the South)
Professor Jay Winter (Yale University)
Professor David Stevenson (London School of Economics and Political Science)
Professor Michael Epkenhans (Zentrum für Militärgeschichte und Sozialwissenschaften der Bundeswehr)

This conference will mark the outbreak of the First World War, which was named the "Great War" from as early as 1916, when it was already referred to as the "Great European War". The dates for this event match exactly the four days between Germany's declaration of war on Russia and the British declaration of war on Germany. Although the USA remained neutral at this point, the conference does not neglect its eventual involvement. Almost every nation involved in the World War will represented by our speakers: Germany and Austria, Great Britain, the USA and Canada, Ireland, the Middle East and India, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand, the former African colonies of both Germany and Britain, the Balkans, Poland, Russia, Spain, Italy and Portugal. As well as national and regional perspectives, the following perspectives and topics have emerged: political and military perspectives; colonial perspectives; Jewish perspectives (cultural and religious); other religious and confessional perspectives; the perspectives of occupied territories; gendered perspectives; science, technology and medicine; and the arts.

Where and when
Queen Mary, University of London
1-4 August 2014

The conference committee is currently planning a programme based on some 150 abstracts that have been submitted. We will post a provisional programme on the site as soon as possible. A number of cultural and social events will also be included on the programme.

Funding and fees
Our university will be able to provide some funding, but cannot promise to fund the entire event or pay speakers' expenses. We will therefore have to charge a fee to cover our internal expenses, but we will keep this as small as possible. We will charge a reduced fee for students.

We cannot promise to publish all conference papers, but we do intend to produce one collection of refereed articles. We are currently negotiating with a number of publishers and will announce any developments as soon as they become concrete.

Felicity Rash
Falco Pfalzgraf

The First World War and language (CfP)

A poilu's letter
about the Battle of Verdun
Only a few days are left to send a proposal and we wish this opportunity won’t be lost. Under the title “The First World War and language” the organizers of this conference wish to study the WWI from an unusual, yet interesting perspective: that of the languages and not only of the French one. Was the Great War also a linguistic event? How and in which extent did the conflict shaped the spoken and written communication? This is just a couple of aspects which linguists, historians and specialists of literature are invited to discuss privileging a multidisciplinary approach.  You find below the English text of the Call for Papers with all the indispensable information.
(The text of this Call for Papers is available also in French at this link.)

In the context of the upcoming commemorations of the First World War in 2014, the purpose of this conference is to bring together the research by linguists, historians and specialists of literature around what happened to the French language – and to other languages – during the conflict. For some, the First World War is a turning point in the history of the French Language. This standpoint raises the question of the coincidence between language change and historical change, and of the possible use of periodization. Furthermore, the history of the French Language during the 19th and 20th century has not been much explored recently, as these times may appear too near to us for the diachronic approach to be deemed necessary.

As a matter of fact, the First World War seems to have fascinating potential for sociolinguistic enquiries, as some of its language material still remains unexploited, and may reveal a fruitful case study for some of today’s most important issues in the linguistic field – the question of variation and language use, for example.

Indeed, while the quantity of written material that remains from some more ancient periods can prove scarce and frustrating, this is not the case with the First World War. An enormous quantity of sources is available – some of them even oral sources -, constituting a rich heritage, and there is no doubt that during this period of commemorations, some of them will be more systematically explored. Through digitization, new corpora will be made available for researchers.

While existing studies mostly put a stress on literary testimonies or the use of argot on the front lines, the purpose of this conference is to open up the range of possible linguistic issues and raise a number of questions that have not been so far dwelt upon in much detail.

Proposals on the following aspects will be particularly considered:

The First World War as a landmark. Is the First World War a real turning point for the French language? On what grounds is this thesis defended?
The use of dialects. Is the First World War the moment when, as soldiers sent to the front had to adopt French as a vehicular language, the use of dialects began a phase of serious decline? Were the soldiers bilingual in their every-day life? Did the First World War play a role in the perception of French as a « national language », attached to military values, to the ideas of unity and cohesion of the nation?
The use of argot and neologism. Was there such a thing as a « parler poilu »? Behind all the picturesque aspects developed by a significant literature, often published during the war itself, and tending to to promote clichés and stereotypes, what are the facts? What kind of sources can be used : dictionaries, newspapers, songs…? To what extent did the new ways of speaking spread into the civil society after appearing on the front? How were these new forms of speech regarded? What were the private and general attitudes towards them?
Language contact. During the war, the practice of learning a foreign language, of translating, of interpreting, was significantly increased. Who were the interpreters? What was their education, their capability, their experience? How did the different languages involved interact with each other? How did the joint staffs work? In which contexts did translations take place? Did nationalist ideas and ideologies play a role?
The use of writing. During the war, a number of individuals (soldiers and their families) had to write in French, perhaps for the first time ever, but certainly for the first time on that scale. Is there a linguistic specificity to those written productions? Did the level of literacy evolve? Can we observe a change in the expression of emotions? Was the expression of intimate matters altered by the war?
Language and education. The very functioning of schools was severely affected during the years of war. So far, there has been little research on this fact by historians.  How did the school system adapt to the new regime imposed by war? Was the teaching of the French language altered? Can we speak of a gap in transmission? Did the linguistic and cultural norms change during those years?
The purpose of this conference is to show that, by examining such an event as the First World War from the specific viewpoint of language matters, we can reveal its entanglement with cultural, social and political issues. The conference would also like to be an opportunity for historians and linguists to bring together their questions and methodologies, and promote new approaches around a common and engaging object.

Submission guidelines

Papers proposals should be sent in electronic format word, rtf or pdf to

not later than June 30, 2013.

Proposals must include the author’s name and his status, the title of the paper, a 350-word or a 1000 signs abstract.

They will be examinated by the members of the scientific committee.

Scientific committee

Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau (directeur d’études à l’EHESS)
Hélène Baty-Delalande (maîtresse de conférences en littérature, université de Paris 7)
Annette Becker (professeure d’histoire contemporaine à l’Université de Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense  / IUF)
Gabriel Bergougnoux (professeur de linguistique à l’université d’Orléans)
Sonia Branca-Rosoff (professeur émérite en linguistique à l’université de Paris 3)
Bruno Cabanes (associate professor en histoire contemporaine à Yale University)
Jean-François Chanet (professeur d’histoire contemporaine à l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris Sciences Po Paris)
Jean-Claude Chevalier (professeur émérite, université de Paris 8)
Jacques Dürrenmatt (professeur en Langue française, unievrsité Paris-Sorbonne)
Jacques Guilhaumou (directeur de recherche émérite, CNRS, section 34)
John Horne (professeur d’histoire contemporaine à Trinity College Dublin)
Jean-Marie Klinkenberg (professeur émérite en sémiologie et rhétorique à l’université de Liège, président du Conseil Supérieur de la Langue Française de Belgique)
Peter Koch (professeur, Romanisches Seminar, université de Tübingen)
R. Anthony Lodge (professeur émérite en Langue Française, University of St Andrews)
Marie-Anne Paveau (professeure en analyse du discours, université Paris 13)
Gilles Philippe (professeur de linguistique, université de Lausanne)
Christophe Prochasson (directeur d’études à l’EHES)
Frédéric Rousseau (professeur en Histoire contemporaine, université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3)
Odile Roynette (maîtresse de conférences habilitée en histoire contemporaine à l’Université de Franche-Comté et chercheure associée au Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po)
Jean-François Sablayrolles (professeur de lexicologie, université Paris 13)
André Thibault (professeur en Langue française, université Paris-Sorbonne)
Carine Trevisan (professeure en littérature du XXe siècle, Paris 7)
Jay Winter (professeur d’histoire contemporaine à Yale University)

The poets and the World War: "Valmorbia" by Eugenio Montale

The Italian poet
Eugenio Montale in 1918
Today we go back to poetry with the world renowned Italian poet Eugenio Montale (Genova 1896 - Milano 1981), Nobel prize in Literature in 1975. Montale was a soldier of the Great War in the Trentino region. As far as we know, he wrote only one poem about his experience at the front and this appears in his debut book entitled Ossi di seppia (Cuttlefish bones, 1925, Piero Gobetti Editore Torino). It's a recollection of memories happening some years after the war has ended and therefore something completely different from the poems Ungaretti wrote live and kept in his haversack. The translation we offer is a brand new one and is a team work of the editors of World War I Bridges. For a better location of the region you can have a look at this page. A curiosity and an advice for people willing to deepen their knowledge of the Italian poetry: the title of the best anthology of Italy World War I poetry today available borrowed a verse of this poem: Le notti chiare erano tutte un'alba (edited by Andrea Cortellessa, Bruno Mondadori Editore, 1998).

Valmorbia, blossoming clouds of plants

held forth on your bottom at the puffs.
World's oblivion flowered in us
doomed to the blind chance.

In the lonely lap the shots fell silent,
nothing but the gruff Leno resounded.
A rocket bloomed on its stem, faint,
letting tears flow into the air.

The bright nights were all a dawn
and brought foxes to my cave. 
Valmorbia, a name - and now in the pale
memory, land where the night never falls.

The valley entitling the poem in a photo of the war time


Valmorbia, discorrevano il tuo fondo
fioriti nuvoli di piante agli àsoli. 
Nasceva in noi, volti dal cieco caso, 
oblio del mondo.

Tacevano gli spari, nel grembo solitario 

non dava suono che il Leno roco. 
Sbocciava un razzo su lo stelo, fioco 
lacrimava nell'aría.

Le notti chiare erano tutte un'alba 

e portavano volpi alla mia grotta. 
Valmorbia, un nome - e ora nella scialba 
memoria, terra dove non annotta.

An exhibition in Maserada sul Piave on the development of surgery and medical sciences during the Great War

Today aesthetic surgery principles meet their pioneering start in the Great War period. This is one of the possible conclusions we could get after analysing some aspects of the medical sciences in the years of World War One. Beside of this, we all know that wars are always a crucial passage towards the development of sciences, technology or logistics. Think about the "container", the basic unit of today freight transport. It was during the Vietnam war that the standardization introduced by this metal parallelepiped became evident to the entire world. Going back to the First World War and to the great boost it gave to the development of medicine, we like to remind that in February of 1916 the Italian kingdom decided to set in the north-eastern region of Friuli, and precisely in the village of San Giorgio di Nogaro (just behind the lines of the Isonzo front), one of the most important medical schools of the time. The history of this school is an important part of the exhibition that the friends of Museo della Grande Guerra 15.18 of Maserada sul Piave designed in a layout fully concentrated on the development of surgery and medical sciences during the Great War. The exhibition was designed to tell the story from the points of view of the soldiers and their physical sufferance and it tries to keep the distance from all the bombasts that often followed the Great War (we think about the huge ruinous scars in the body and souls of men and the way it was "managed" from a political point of view; we also published an interesting interview with professor Barbara Bracco about the postwar period and the Italian case). All the actors of the peculiar "health service" find their place in the layout of this exhibition: the previously remembered "Ospedale Castrense", doctors, nurses, the Red Cross and the University of Padua.
There's no hurry.  If you're travelling in the Venice or Piave areas, you have time until next February 2014 to plan a visit (just follow the links below). The exhibition opens today with a conference. Further information below. 

La scienza medica incontra la Grande Guerra
(Medical sciences and the Great War)
Museo Storico della Grande Guerra 15.18
Palazzo Attività Ricreative di Maserada sul Piave
From 15 th June, 2013 to 24th February, 2014
Free Entrance
(The exhibition is open with the same times of the museum)
In cooperation with FAST
Foto Archivio Storico Trevigiano della Provincia di Treviso

Novels of the Great War: "Der Baron Bagge" by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Up to what extent can we consider Der Baron Bagge by Alexander Lernet-Holenia a novel of the Great War? This Austrian poet, novelist and dramaturgist never wrote a book eligible for being considered a complete war testimony like the ones we already pointed out. And yet the First World War is an almost permanent trait of his fiction. We get out (escape?) from the sticky world here represented with a deeper feeling (and emotion) of what the war was, about the spectres in the mind of people who fought it. If from an historical point of view this novel could be filed as the last novel about the corps of cavalry, from a narrative perspective this is probably one of the strangest stories you may read today about the First World War set in the forgotten front line between Central Powers and Russia. This short novel first published in 1936 is both a real and a dreamlike journey of a squadron of Austrian cavalry towards the unknown, a compelling pursuit of the protagonist's gallop in the territories of a misty war and of an almost mystic love (you will read about an extraordinary wedding ceremony... but you will discover it's a dream). This novel is in fact the story of the advance of Baron Bagge through the plains of Pannonia, the former Roman region today shared by a multitude of countries (Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), a journey that passes through reality and a long dream (the biggest part of the novel) to land at the end in the reality again.

There is deep sense of wait in this novel, something reminding us the atmospheres of The Deserts of the Tartars by the Italian novelist Dino Buzzati. Unlike Buzzati's book and his protagonist (a tenant tied to stillness whose name is Drogo), here we can see and understand a movement (what we called before the advance towards the enemy's line). If we stop for a while and think, we can realize that this is an innovation in the First World War literary legacy, often resembling a stagnating, putrescent and muddy literature. Our impression is that Lernet-Holenia is really helping readers who search in World War One literature a way for a better understanding, but he is successful in this keeping himself light-years away from the manners of Hemingway, Remarque or the Italian Lussu (just to mention some of the most popular names).

You may read Der Baron Bagge beside some of other books he wrote. Take for example Die Standarde (The Standard), another novel set during the Great War years, and you will discover how this Austrian writer invents his plots staying at the edges of the war. Or maybe you could dive into the pages of Ein Traum in Rot (A Dream in Red). Some recurring elements are traceable in all these works of fiction and these are 1) the World War that seems present but somehow set aside, 2) love and wedding ceremonies, 3) high society social gatherings and 4) a thin (sometimes feeble and sickly) line between reality and fantasy, between life and dream. In other words, his experience of official during the war in one of the two "eastern" fronts (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Russia) will become a great source of the future fiction, a powerful spring from where his prose gushes, like when, just before the Nazi invasion of Poland many years later, he got a second (and very short) call to arms which originated Mars im Widder (Mars in Aries). As we said, the most noteworthy feature of this great master of storylines is perhaps the hint of dream in reality and, viceversa, the hint of reality in a dream. The Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia once wrote that while reading this book you never know the exact point when you realize that the narrator has switched to the "dream mode", after having led you through a multitude of absurd and often surreal details. It's very propable that this will happen to you.

The art coming from the trenches: the drypoint of Anselmo Bucci in the exhibition of Montelabbate

The recognizable trait of drypoint
in this work of Anselmo Bucci
The title of this exhibition in Montelabbate (Italy) dedicated to the artist Anselmo Bucci lands us in the middle of that important chapter to dedicate to visual artists and their experience of the Great War: "L’arte in trincea. Anselmo Bucci e la Prima Guerra Mondiale" is a very short exhibition starting on the 2nd of June. The show gather fifty drypoint etching artworks from the folder Croquis du front italien (Paris, 1917) where we find the results of his war experience at the front as volunteer cyclist. In spite of his affinity to futurist artists such as Marinetti, Boccioni and Sant’Elia, in the etching works here displayed we discover Bucci's eye more absorbed by the rest moments of the battalion. One of the reasons of interest of this exhibition is also the background and overall frame where the artworks lay, full of cross-references to the main Italian writers operating during the First World War years. By the way, Anselmo Bucci was a writer himself. In 1930 he published Il pittore volante ("The Flying Painter") awarded with the prestigious Viareggio literary prize and some aphorisms of this lucky book gained popularity in Italy.

L’arte in trincea. Anselmo Bucci e la Prima Guerra Mondiale
(Art in the trenches. Anselmo Bucci and the First World War)
Palazzo Municipale di Montelabbate (PU / Italy)
2-16 June, 2013
Saturdays and Sundays from 5pm to 7pm
Info: +39.349.8605868 or email
Free entrance