The first casualty of war is Truth, and after the guns fall silent, the victors’ first act postwar is to resurrect it. What form does it take? What story does it come cloaked in? By what strange rituals and incantations is it quickened and brought back to life? Postwar is the moment when the meaning of the war just past is defined, just as postwar is the era defined by the war it follows. “Postwar” has, in all its ambivalence, always had a special meaning in American Studies. Whether indicating the hopeful years following the Revolutionary War, the grim messianism of the Reconstruction, or the “American Century” beginning 1945, “postwar” sings a triumphalist chord, touched though it is with undertones of mourning and regret. Today, with the American occupation of Iraq fading into the past and American involvement in Afghanistan winding down, the question of how to understand what happens “postwar” is as urgent as ever. The recent initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War, recognizes the need for scholars to study this topic.
Our symposium, POSTWAR, asks what “postwar” means in American history, literature, and culture. Through this conference we hope to open questions about how the experience of war gets translated into peacetime understanding and how various agents and institutions go to work after war to reinterpret its meaning in new ways. The “postwar” always occludes itself in its own turning from war to peace and back again; we hope to attend to this movement as the moment of interest.
We invite submissions of abstracts for papers from junior scholars and graduate students in all disciplines working on topics related to the idea of “postwar” in America. Topics of special interest include veterans, race, gender, post-45, memorialization, forgetting, poetry, collective organization, political theology, trauma and its discontents, interdisciplinary studies, anthropology, liberalism, dialectical materialism, dissidence, and the heroic. Relevant questions might include: What have been the after-effects of war on U.S society and culture? Can we speak of specific “postwar” periods, and if so, what are their defining features? How have discourses about illness, disability, race, masculinity, and femininity shaped and been shaped by wartime experiences? How have veterans readjusted to peace, and how have their memories of war been recognized by the societies they returned to? Why are some veterans seen as more deserving than others? What has been the impact of veterans on U.S politics and culture? How has war been remembered, not only publicly in memorials, historical pageants and ceremonies, but privately in novels, diaries, and correspondence? How has the experience of war been imagined in U.S literature?
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