'Books on the Battlefield: the reception, use and appropriation of texts in warfare, 1450 to the present'
A one-day conference at the University of York. 3 November 2007.
The relationship between books and war appears self-evident: books have acted as potent weapons in ideological warfare and war has provided literature with one of its most enduring themes. Yet the reception, use and appropriation of texts in a military context has remained relatively unexplored. While the work of Paul Fussell, Samuel Hynes and others has raised important questions about the literary dimensions of soldiers’ narratives, the ways in which combatants’ reading shaped their experience and understanding of war deserve further examination. We also need to consider texts targeted specifically at soldiers, from the pocket bibles and catechisms produced for the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil war to the vast range of literature published through the US armed services editions in the twentieth century.
Moving beyond the study of literature about war, this one-day conference will draw together various disciplinary fields, integrating book history and the history of reading with the cultural study of warfare. Papers which look beyond the Anglo-American experience of war will be particularly welcome.
Possible themes might include, but are not restricted to:
Narratives: the role of texts in shaping combatants' experiences and interpretations of warfare.
Material culture: the symbolic meanings attached to books as objects in warfare (from sacred texts to personal mementos), as well as their more practical functions (lighting fires, deflecting bullets etc.)
Ideology: The ideological deployment of texts by political, military and civilian bodies, through, for example, 'books for the troops' programmes.
Reading practices: The place of reading within the collectivist culture of the army; regimental libraries; literature and military training.
Please submit proposals of up to 500 words to Helen Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Catriona Kennedy (email@example.com) by 30th April, 2007.
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