Battle narratives are a crucial element of ancient and modern cultural and literary traditions. Cutting across boundaries of genre and media, they link historiography, poetry, oratory, drama and technical writing with non-literary forms of representation such as sculpture, cartoons, epitaphs, music and anecdote. In the tales they tell and the tropes they share, they bring different cultures and communities into dialogue with each other. They also connect different communities and periods: later depictions of battle invariably respond to the earlier models on which they draw. The aim of our project is to explore these interconnections, while developing new methodologies for ‘reading’ multimedial, cross-cultural and diachronic interplay.
The premise of our project is that individual battle narratives have always been constructed in dynamic relation to each other, and that a proper understanding of the battle narrative as a complex cultural phenomenon requires interaction between different genres, media, historical periods and communities to be placed at the heart of discussions. Visualising War brings together experts from a range of academic fields to explore such interplay from multiple angles. The collective expertise of our contributors covers all historical periods (from ancient Greece and Rome, through Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, to the 20th century and the present day) and many different media and genres (including literary texts, theoretical treatises, epigraphy, journalism, art, drama, and music). This interplay between such a diverse range of scholars will prompt important reflections on the tensions and overlaps between different ‘visualising’ methodologies, ancient and modern, and on intertextuality and interdiscursivity more broadly.
The representation of battle is as powerful a social, cultural and political phenomenon now as it was when ancient Greek poets first began to narrate the sack of Troy. In taking a deliberately long view of the representation of battle, we aim to come to a fuller understanding of the evolution of battle narratives across time and space, the powerful ideologies they generate through their interactions (e.g. about gender, conflict-resolution, leadership, nation, sacrifice) and impact on mindsets and behaviours.
In that respect, our project looks forward as well as back: we hope that broad engagement with the results of our research will lead to an enhanced awareness of the mechanisms and ‘poetics’ of battle narratives in all eras, and prompt critical reflection on future as well as contemporary representations of warfare. Traditionally, war studies focus on strategic or technological factors; but analysis of battle narratives and their impact on how people think, feel and behave is just as important to our understanding and prevention of armed conflict as the study of historic facts or current capabilities. Fundamental to our project is a belief that the interdisciplinary study of past and present battle narratives will build capacity in individuals and groups to understand and harness narratives of war as positive interventions in future conflict.