May 21, 2019
Book launch of a tribute volume
I was delighted when on 21 May 2019, my old friend and colleague, Jay Winter, emeritus Yale University, came to Dublin to launch the volume A World at War 1914-1949: Explorations in the Cultural History of War (Brill, 2019), which two other friends and former PhD students, Catriona Pennell (Associate Professor of History at the University of Exeter) and Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses (Professor of History at Maynooth University, Ireland) had edited to mark my retirement from Trinity College Dublin in 2015. The volume grew out of a surprise event, including a daylong workshop held in the Royal Irish Academy, in 2015, with colleagues as well as former students contributing chapters. The book launch was held in the Trinity Long Room Hub (our Humanities Research Institute) amid family, friends and colleagues.
I suppose I have always been a little wary of the Festschrift as a genre, considering it in some cases akin to an intellectual P45 (the document issued in Ireland and the UK when you quit a job). But this book has nothing of that about it. The subject is a really important one – how we think about the two world wars in relation to each other and to the whole arc of warfare that runs from the Italo-Turkish War and the Balkan Wars, which heralded the Great War, to the onset of the Cold War once the Soviets exploded their atom bomb, making Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) the price of restaging a Third World War. It was a vertiginous expansion in mankind’s capacity for military and other forms of violence that has never been equalled in human history.
Each of the four sections draws on a theme that has been central to my work on the First World War: cultural and political mobilisation; soldiers and the combat experience of industrialised warfare; war crimes and violence towards civilians; and the nature of post-war periods, considered through processes such as cultural and political demobilisation. The authors of the framing articles introducing each section (Jay Winter, Alan Kramer, Annette Becker and Robert Gerwarth) all adopted a transnational approach and dealt comparatively with both world wars. Some of the case-studies in each section did the same and all drew on concepts and bibliographies informed by transnational cultural history.
Any fear I may have had about this being an academic P45 was quickly dispelled when Catriona and Filipe insisted that I engage with the arguments of every contributor in my conclusion – making it the longest chapter in the book! But I can think of no finer tribute than being invited to push my own boundaries and contemplate in a systematic way the relationships between the two world wars. I think I first declared the desire to be an historian when seven years old (somewhere there is a photo of me in the crusader helmet and surcoat that my mother made to prove it) and that is what I shall always be. To be invited by friends to continue the dialogue is the very best of ‘retirement’ presents since it speaks to the exact opposite.
John Horne, 25 May 2019.