Great War geographies of militarism and the resonances of total war

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Historical Geography Specialty Group, Cultural Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM (MDT)
Room: Rampart, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Organizers: Angela Cunningham
Chairs: Angela Cunningham


As the centenary years of the “War to End All Wars” draw to a close, now is the ideal time not only to take advantage of the popular and academic surge of interest in the First World War but also to stress the distant and lasting impacts of this and other conflicts beyond the battlefield and after the official cessation of hostilities. Geographical concerns have been at the heart of cutting-edge Great War historiography from Wilson’s (2012) discussion of the co-constitution of battlefield landscapes and soldiers’ identities on the Western Front, to Johnson’s (2003) work on the routes of memorial parades as political statements in Ireland, to Ziino’s (2007) exploration of the way physical distance structured postwar grief in Australia. These and other works echo arguments made by Woodward (2005) and others for the need to engage with a critically informed “geographies of militarism,” stressing that the implications of military practices and ideologies are more broad, intimate and persistent than can be understood through a myopic, objectivist focus on terrain or wartime.

World War I in particular offers a rich source for scholarly work in military, cultural, historical and population geography, as well as spatial analysis. The pieces cited above suggest the potential for further study of the First World War through investigations of human-environment interactions, scale, mobilities, embodiment and corporeality, and the material and discursive construction of space. For instance, Cronier (2007, 58) has written that the distinction between home and front was “not just a geographical distinction but a normative one” yet this dichotomy was problematized by soldiers maintaining relationships with the civilian population or being present in ‘civilian’ spaces while on leave. How did material and discursive constructions of military versus civilian space structure these dynamics in places other than the European capitals that Cronier studies? There is a robust body of work on WWI memorials, but less so on the (dis)connection between mourning in public versus private spaces, on ‘utilitarian’ memorials, on memorials themselves as sites of conflict, or indeed on how veterans and their histories were present in other ways in postwar places (Trout, 2010). How might the study of the postwar world be invigorated by a focus on those who returned from emplaced battlefield experiences, who literally embodied the conflict, and whose place in civilian life needed to be renegotiated in the years and decades after the armistice? Nuanced discussion of race, gender and intersectionality have filtered back into social histories of the war, providing a better bridge between studies of individual experience and societal context – a necessity in the study of total war, according to Chickering (2011); engaging with these topics through mapping or critical quantitative methods is an avenue almost completely unexplored. How might the study of the Great War be furthered along this front?

Great War studies and other critical conflict studies also have much to gain from being put into conversation with each other. Saunders and Cornish’s (2013) discussion of how Italian causalities were removed from named graves along the Isonzo Front to mass graves to serve the purposes of the fascist government resonates with other work on the reshaping of the geography of death for political ends, whether on thanatopoltics in 20th century Cambodia (Tyner, 2009) or on the construction of “the grievable death” in the 21st century War on Terror (Romanillos, 2014, 8). The construction of home and front during the Great War was strongly gendered (Capozolla et al, 2015); the spatialized normativity of women’s roles in WWI were echoed in responses to the Cold War Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common as described by Cresswell (1994). Although some WWI work is deliberately framed to speak to current patterns of militarism (e.g. Kinder, 2015; Hawkins, 2014), casting such inquires through an explicitly geographical lens promises to bring further insight into total war, its evolution, and our changing understanding of conflict.

With these motivations in mind, I am proposing a session at the 2018 AAG meeting on critical military geographies with a special emphasis on the First World War. Submissions from a diversity of subfields and employing a variety of methodologies are welcomed. Although papers with a strong focus on the Great War are particularly encouraged, papers on other conflicts will also be considered.

Works cited:
Capozzola, C., et al. (2015). Interchange: World War I. Journal of American History, 102(2), 463–499.
Chickering, R. (2011). Why are we still interested in this old war? In J. D. Keene & M. S. Neiberg (Eds.), Finding common ground: new directions in First World War studies (pp. 3–18). Leiden: Brill.
Cresswell, T. (1994). Putting women in their place: the carnival at Greenham Common. Antipode, 26(1), 35–58.
Cronier, E. (2007). The street. In J. Winter & J.-L. Robert (Eds.), Capital cities as war: Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919 (Vol. 2, pp. 57–104). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hawkins, T. (2014). The Great War, the Iraq War, and postmodern America: Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds and the radical isolation of today’s U.S. veterans. In M. Löschnigg & M. Sokołowska-Paryż (Eds.), The Great War in post-memory literature and film (pp. 95–105). Berlin: De Gruyter.
Johnson, N. C. (2003). Ireland, the Great War and the geography of remembrance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kinder, J. M. (2015). Paying with their bodies: American war and the problem of the disabled veteran. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Romanillos, J. L. (2014). Mortal questions geographies on the other side of life. Progress in Human Geography, 39 (5), 560-79.
Saunders, N. J & Cornish, P. (2013) Introduction, In N.J. Saunders & P. Cornish (Eds.). Bodies in conflict: corporeality, materiality, and transformation (pp 1-8). London: Routledge.
Trout, S. (2010). On the battlefield of memory: The First World War and American remembrance, 1919-1941. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Tyner, J. A. (2009). War, violence and population: making the body count. New York: Guilford Press.
Wilson, R. J. (2012). Landscapes of the Western Front: materiality during the Great War. New York: Routledge.
Woodward, R. (2005). From military geography to militarism’s geographies: disciplinary engagements with geographies of militarism and military activities. Progress in Human Geography, 29(6), 718–40.
Ziino, B. (2007). A distant grief: Australians, war graves and the Great War. Crawley, W.A: University of Western Australia Press.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Kolson Schlosser*, Temple University, Education and Intimacy-Geopolitics: The National Security League’s Committee on Patriotism Through Education, 1917-1919 20 10:00 AM
Presenter Angela Cunningham*, University of Colorado, ‘The war every soldier brings home’: American doughboys as mediators of militarism's geographies 20 10:20 AM
Presenter Jacob Shell*, Temple University, The Question of ‘Chenango’ Labor: World War One, Urban Class Conflict, and the Re-Planning of Freight Flows in New York City 20 10:40 AM
Presenter Antonio Barocci*, University of Connecticut, Geography of repression. A spatial analysis of the first years of the Fascism Regime in Italy, 1922-1928. 20 11:00 AM

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