War is a topic of perennial importance to people from all sectors of all societies, and battle narratives play a major role – in many different forms – in shaping and mediating responses to war. Think of Homer’s Iliad, the histories of Livy, the Bayeux Tapestry, Shakespeare’s history plays, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Picasso’s Guernica, Shostakovich’s Stalingrad Symphony and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now – to name just a few. At first glance these representations of battle are all strikingly different. Whether we are conscious of it or not, however, they have long been interacting with each other – in different ways, and to different extents – in artists’, authors’, viewers’ and listeners’ minds, adjusting the ways in which war is visualised and canonising broader ideas about (e.g.) gender, leadership, ‘success’ and sacrifice’.
The aim of our project is to foreground these interactions and explore their impacts. In a nutshell, we ask: how do battles narratives from different media, communities and historical periods both shape and differentiate themselves from each other? How do their interactions reflect and shape broader attitudes to war? And how do the attitudes and ideologies which they generate influence the ways in which people think, feel and behave in their day-to-day lives?
Our project brings together a wide range of Humanities and Social Science scholars, applying methodologies from Art History, Classics, Film Studies, History, International Relations and Psychology. In studying interplay between narratives from many different periods and places, we hope to gain new insight not only into battle depictions in individual works and media but also into the development and architecture of ‘the battle narrative’ as a complex, boundary-crossing network of ideas. In the process, we aim to shine fresh light on culturally specific as well as more widespread habits of visualising war. We are interested in the indirect impact which battle narratives have on people’s mindsets and behaviours but also in the ways they can be purposefully leveraged by those in positions of social or political power. Our ultimate goal is to build capacity in individuals and groups to harness narratives of war to prevent or mitigate against the effects of future conflict.
Principal Investigators: Alice König & Nicolas Wiater
Web support: Mary Woodcock Kroble Laidlaw Scholar Research Assistant: Aubrey George Undergraduate Research Assistants: Katrina Drayton and Margherita Coughlan
This project has received funding from the School of Classics at the University of St Andrews, the St Andrews University KE and Impact Fund, the St Andrews Restarting Research Fund, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, the Classical Association, and the Institute of Classical Studies.