Call for Papers: State-sponsored History after 1945

Ghent (Belgium), 23, 24 & 25 November 2015

Conference theme

Since their earliest inception, modern states and their regimes have recognized the importance to draft and direct ‘their’ national history. Although 19th century models of romanticist nationalist history lie behind us, post 1945 reality shows that regimes as a rule still recognize the protection of ‘national history’ as an intrinsic part of national state interest. State interventionism in the drafting of national history has arguably increased since the early 1990s, although the shapes, forms, contexts, goals and outcome continues to diversify and complexify.

We want to promote an interdisciplinary debate on the history that is created when state authorities mobilize their financial, political, cultural, judicial and/or academic resources to set up a durable construction of historiographies, collective memories and public narratives or visual representations related to (perceived) ‘national history’. The main aims of the conference are: 1) to create an overview of the diversity of forms of state-sponsored history around the globe 2) to analyze processes of state influence 3) to analyze the types of histories and narratives that result from this.

We are especially (but not exclusively) interested in papers that discuss the appearance of state-sponsored history in:

– ‘memory laws’, ‘amnesty laws’ and other forms of ‘legislated history’
– ‘historical apologies’ and the ‘diplomatic’ history
– classroom history, initiatives of civic education and the creation of historical ‘canons’ – sites of national commemoration (monuments, landscapes etc.)
– museums and documentation and research centres
– Archives, archival laws and science policies
– truth commissions and historical expert commissions – courts and tribunals

The conference aims to be global in its geographical scope. In terms of the timeframe we want to focus on the period since 1945. We welcome a variety of approaches, including theoretical ones, however, we ask all contributors to use one or more concrete cases as a starting point. We will consider both proposals for panel sessions as well as individual papers. Panel proposals should preferably include a commentator and a chair.

We plan to plan to publish a selection of the papers as part of a volume on state-sponsored history which we are creating for the Palgrave Handbooks series.

Practical information

Those interested in taking part in the conference are asked to submit an abstract (maximum 700 words) before 15 July 2015. Notifications of acceptance will be send out by the middle of August 2015.

Please send abstracts and questions to:

Berber Bevernage
Ghent University – Department of History
Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35
9000 Ghent – Belgium


Nico Wouters
Square d’Aviation 29
1070 Brussels – Belgium

Planning for First World War commemoration in Australia and the UK

Media reports in Australia and the UK are beginning to reveal official plans for First World War commemorative activities in both countries. In Australia, the new conservative coalition government, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbot, is committed to a widespread program developed by its Labour predecessor. Abbot recently  flagged the possibility of a new ‘Arlington-style’ war cemetery in the Australian capital, Canberra. A report on the proposal is available at–national-war-cemetery-for-act-20131018-2vrvm.html.

This proposal apparently came as a surprise to other officials involved in shaping the national agenda for the ‘Anzac Centenary’, including the Director of the Australian War Memorial (AWM). The AWM is refurbishing its First World War gallery and organising other projects for the 2014-1018 period, as described in detail on A more complete description of Australia-wide government-supported activity is available here:

FxCam_1345641290622-1Meanwhile, other commentators have coined the phrase ‘Anzackery’ to describe the ‘obsession with Anzac myth and legend’ on both sides of politics. This more critical perspective, one that is relatively recent in mainstream discussion of the Anzac myth, holds open the possibility of a more complex and nuanced discussion of the role of the Anzac narrative in shaping contemporary Australian politics and society. See Paul Daley’s thoughtful discussion in the Australian edition of The Guardian

A similarly critical approach seems to be taking place in the UK, with the BBC recently announcing its approach to the 2014-18 period. The senior executive in charge of this material stressed that during the centenary period, the BBC ‘would explore the impact of the conflict on Britain’s economy, its class system and its place in the world.’ Read more at

We’d love to hear more about what is being planned in other countries.

Photo essay: the Australian Remembrance Trail


In its 2009-2010 budget, the Australian government allocated $10m to establish an Australian Remembrance Trail throughout the former Western Front. The trail identifies and improves visitor facilities at a series of battlefields on which Australians fought, including in Ypres, Ploegsteert and Zonnebeke in Belgium, and at Fromelles, Bullecourt, Pozières, Mont St Quentin and Villers-Bretonneux in France. Here is a link to Australian government’s information on the Trail, including the Australian Remembrance Trail brochure.

In August and September 2012, I visited these sites to see what this trail looked like, what the visitor experience might entail, and how the sites related to the larger landscape which contextualises them. Following the trail north from Villers-Bretonneux to Zonnebeke, I photographed each site, trying to capture how they related to their surroundings, and using photographs to help understand the experience of ‘being there’.

Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux
The Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux

I started at the primary commemorative site on the Trail, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. My immediate impression was the agricultural nature of the surrounding landscape. We visited at harvest time, and tractors and other machines were common on the rural roads. Small clouds of dusty earth were visible front the high ground on which many of the sites are located.

Villers-Bretonneux cemetery with tractors
The cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux with tractors working in the background.

This formed a particularly stark contrast at Le Hamel, where I spoke briefly with a farmer working only a few metres from the memorial. The new road, visitor facilities and signage feel as if they demarcate a space completely distinct from the surrounding farms. Intended to invoke both another place – Australia – and another time – the Great War – Le Hamel is surrounded by farmland which, as it changes throughout the year, would change the feel and experience of the site. When I was there the harvest had just been completed, and the earth was dusty and exposed. I could imagine a different context to the site at different times in the farming year.

Signage at Le Hamel
Signs explaining the history of the site, and Australian involvement, Le Hamel.

memorial at Le Hamel
The memorial at Le Hamel is surrounded by farmland.










Moving between the sites meant driving on rural roads, and we doubled back or took wrong turns many times. As with many trails, this one is not as coherent and clear on the ground as it is on the map or brochure. I was not able to photograph Mont St Quentin, but at Pozières, a small observation platform allowed perspective over the surrounding landscape, showing the abrupt distinction between the memorial space and its surroundings.

Poziere from high vantage point
The memorial at Pozieres.
explanatory signage at Poziere
New explanatory signage at Pozieres.

The Australian site at Bullecourt is in a memorial park just outside the village on the Rue des Australiens. Peter Corlett’s memorial sculptures also appear at the Australian cemetery at VC Corner near Fromelles, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. They are part of a visual vocabulary that reinforce the official Anzac narrative and link the sites together.

BUllecourt Digger
The ‘Bullecourt Digger’ by Peter Corlett (1993) in the Australian Memorial Park.
Fromelles Cobbers
Peter Corlett’s ‘Cobbers’ (1998) at the Fromelles memorial park.

There are three distinct sites in and near Fromelles: the memorial park (pictured above), the VC Corner Australian Cemetery, and the new cemetery in the village itself, opposite the church. The last site saw the reburial of the newly-discovered remains of Australian soldiers in 2010.

Vc Corner cemetery Fromelles
The VC Corner Cemetery near Fromelles.
New cemetery at Fromelles
The new cemetery at Fromelles, opposite the village church.

Along with many other imperial forces, Australians were killed and are commemorated at the Menin Gate, Ypres. The In Flanders Fields Museum, recently refurbished and reopened in June 2012, is in the centre of the town in the  medieval Cloth Hall which was meticulously rebuilt after the Great War.

Menin Gate, Ypres
The Menin Gate, in Ypres, Belgium.

Ploegsteert is close to Ypres, and the memorial is on the main road. Its imposing size and design is a surprise on an otherwise unremarkable road.

Ploegsteert memorial
The Ploegsteert memorial.

The British Hyde Park Corner cemetery opposite the rotunda contains the graves of three German soldiers, whose gravestones differ only slightly in design from the Commonwealth ones.


Hyde Park Corner, Ploegsteert
The British Hyde Park Corner cemetery, opposite the rotunda at Ploegsteert.
A German grave at Hyde Park Corner, Ploesteert
A German grave at the Hyde Park Corner British cemetery outside Ploegsteert.

The last place I visited was outside Zonnebeke, in Belgium, not far from Ypres. Like the sites in France, this one is surrounded by farmland.

Polygon Wood
Polygon Wood cemetery, near Zonnebeke.

The memorial to the 5th Australian Division looks out over the Buttes New British cemetery, over the road from the Polygon Wood site. The affectionate toy koalas and small Australian flags on the memorial are a gentle contrast to the straight rows of headstones they overlook.

The Buttes new british cemetery
The Buttes New British cemetery is overlooked by the 5th Australian Division memorial at Polygon Wood.
5th Australian Division memorial, Zonnebeke
5th Australian Division memorial, Polygon Wood.
koalas on 5th division memorial, Zonnebeke
5th Australian Division memorial.