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Sophie De Schaepdrijver: Remembering the Great War in Public Space

Tuesday, 27 November, 2018 - 18:00
BELvue museum
Paleizenplein 7, 1000 Brussel
Redelijk Eigenzinnig / Reason and Engage (VUB)
Public lecture

Redelijk Eigenzinnig / Reason and Engage (VUB) is an interdisciplinary course for students and a series of lectures and activities open to all. The fourth edition of Redelijk Eigenzinnig/Reason and Engage focuses on war and peace, conflict and resistance.

Societies’ remembrance of war – be it as horror, triumph, “test” for the nation, holy crusade, or in any other manner – reveals much about them. We learn a great deal, for instance, by observing how war is remembered in public space: the choices made, and, importantly, those not made regarding themes, loci, form.

These dynamics are particularly salient when it comes to the memory of the First World War in the post-Armistice decade. This memory, for the first time in European war remembrance, placed the death of millions front and centre. A hecatomb interpreted in terms of “sacrifice” for the common good. But even this dominant discourse left questions unanswered: whose sacrifice? What common good? Where to draw the line between sacrifice and victimization? What shape to give memorials? Where to place them in public space?

In her lecture Sophie De Schaepdrijver (Penn State / VUB) addresses these questions from the perspective of the Belgian war experience, which was particularly complex because it encompassed not only the front but also military occupation: not just “fallen” soldiers, but also executed resisters. How was this complex experience memorialized in public space – in inscriptions, monuments, street-names? And how did subsequent generations view these memorials? Specific examples from the greater Brussels area will demonstrate how this line of questioning makes for a better understanding of modern societies and war.

The lecture will be in English.

This event is fully booked. Places remain for the guided tour Brussels, November 1918. Leaving the war behind and reinventing peace at 20:30. For more information click here.


Sophie De Schaerpdrijver

Sophie De Schaepdrijver (Penn State / VUB) is a historian of the First World War. Her most recent books are Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War (2015), and An English Governess in the Great War: The Secret Brussels Diary of Mary Thorp (2017, with Tammy Proctor), which was reviewed in the New York Times. She is currently at work on a book on the war’s military occupations entitled The Great War’s Third Space. She is also active as a public historian: she has co-written and presented a prize-winning TV documentary and curated exhibitions on the civilian experience of the First World War. Most recently, she was a BBC television commentator for the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele (July 2017).