Imaging War – Imagining the Nation

A Cultural History of the Soldier in Europe 1800-2014

Call for contributions to an informal workshop to be held at the
University of Warwick, 29-31 May 2015
organised by Dr Ian Roberts (Warwick) and Dr Andrew Plowman (Liverpool)

Images of conflict and of soldiers engaged in conflict have featured in European cultural thought since the inception of the modern nation-state. The representation of a nation’s fighting soldiers has played a critical role in establishing national identity: in poetry, literature and fine art, and more recently in film and TV productions, the way that nations and societies have chosen to depict conflict, and particularly the soldiers engaged in conflict, sheds light on the ways that these societies would like to be regarded – a form of national/military imaginary which is heavily dependent on concepts of ‘the other’, constructions of heroism, notions of humanitarianism or fair play, and other socially-determined qualities.

More recently the protracted ‘War on Terror’ has seen a new phenomenon emerge as European nations – now wrestling with cynical, post-colonial populations which have become over-saturated with images of conflicts in remote locations – seek to represent their soldiers as honourable peace-keepers, even as their forces have become embroiled in wars in all but name. The cultural response within these societies has been markedly different across Europe, ranging from overwhelming support of the soldiers even as the war is opposed, through to outright rejection of these men and women and even denial that war is even taking place. In a contrast to the imagery of smart weaponry and surgical strikes which dominated the first Gulf War of the 1990s, however, the embodied experience of soldiering has returned squarely to such engagement with the topic as there has been.

‘Imaging War – Imagining the Soldier’ seeks to provide a preliminary and informal forum for academics working in a wide range of disciplines who are variously investigating aspects of cultural depictions of soldiers in Europe, both from a historical and contemporary perspective. Areas of relevance may include War and Historical Studies, Sociology, Art History and Film Studies, and Literary and Cultural Studies in Britain in European Languages. The workshop format will allow for the presentation of both finished papers, or early work in progress, on any topic covered by the broad subject area. It will include time for delegates to discuss informally and in plenary how this hitherto relatively under-researched area might be developed into a research network, incorporating input from the European militaries, as well as poets, novelists, journalists and filmmakers, in order to convene a major international conference on the subject in the near future.

The aims of the workshop are:

  • – to bring together academics working across a range of disciplines in order to identify points of collaboration;
  • – to examine the changing representations of combat soldiers in European cultures;
  • – to consider how contemporary conflicts have impacted on European cultural expression;
  • – to determine how literary, artistic and cinematic representations contribute to a cultural history of the soldier in European art, literature and the visual media ca. 1800-present;
  • – to devise a framework for future collaboration between academics and members of the European military and creative arts communities.

The workshop will centre around two themed panels. Panel 1 will consider the changing face of the European soldier over history, with foci possibly including (but not limited to) the armies of the early modern nation-state, the Napoleonic Wars, post-colonial wars and the World Wars and the Cold War period. Panel 2 will cover European representations of soldiers engaged in contemporary conflict, most notably the ongoing War on Terror. Proposals for informal papers/outlines of work in progress lasting approx. 15-20 mins should be submitted by no later than 27 March 2015: proposals should be 200 words long, plus a short biographical statement. Please submit to Ian Roberts ( and Andrew Plowman (

Finally, discussions will centre around the subsequent formation of a research network covering some, or all of the above, with a view to organising a full conference which will bring together academics, military personnel and members of journalism and the creative arts from around Europe. The organisers intend to seek guest editorship of a relevant journal in order to showcase the event and to provide a springboard for a future conference once the network has been fully established.

Informal enquiries to Ian and Andrew are welcome. We hope to be able to offer some support to postgraduate students. The event will be supported by the University of Warwick and the University of Liverpool