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How do anime and manga shape habits of visualising war and peace? An introduction…

CONTENT AND SPOILER WARNING: This article discusses the series Avatar: The Last Airbender and Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) and includes mention of conflict, war, and some graphic violence. 

“100% one of the best stories ever told”

Tinseltopia (Reddit user) [ii]

Hiya, I’m an undergraduate student and Laidlaw scholar investigating how popular anime/animated shows and manga/comics influence young people’s habits of visualising war and peace. This introductory blog post is the first in a series of research outputs from this project and is designed to introduce readers to my research topic and the media I will be engaging with in subsequent blog posts. 

Eren Jaeger, primary protagonist of Attack on Titan (Isayama, Chapter 3, p. 41)

I have focused my research on two concrete examples of anime and manga: Avatar: The Last Airbender and Attack on Titan.[iii] These are two extremely popular examples of their respective genres. Since starting as a manga series in 2009, Attack on Titan has become one of the most recognisable names in manga and anime.[iv] Around peak readership in 2013 it was the second most popular manga series in Japan, with roughly 16 million copies sold,[v] and it had six of its volumes in the New York Times Manga Best Seller List.[vi] It has now sold over 100 million copies worldwide[vii] and is regularly cited as one of the best manga and anime series of all time.[viii] Attack on Titan is an example of ‘Shonen’ anime and manga, referring to the demographic that the media is aimed at. ‘Shonen’ literally translates to “a few years”, so it refers to young adults (usually young boys).[ix] Reaching similar levels of popularity to Attach on TitanAvatar’s season 3 finale received 19 million viewers at the time of initial broadcasting, mostly comprising young children (ages 6-11) and tweens (ages 9-14).[x] It is also regularly referenced on lists of the best animated or children’s television shows[xi] and has won a prestigious Peabody Award for electronic media.[xii]

I chose examples of anime and manga because of their powerful potential to shape habits of visualising war and peace, both thanks to their renown and to the relatively young age of their audiences. Many people grow up engaging with them; and many also revisit them later, through discussions with fellow fans and the vast library of online analyses (to get an idea of the volume, just search up video essays on either of them on YouTube). People who loved them as children have a tendency to consider them ‘well-crafted masterpieces’ also as adults, and to draw a good deal from their thematic explorations of war and peace. I confess that this has been the case for me. There exists somewhere a picture of an eight-year-old me dressing up as Aang (the primary protagonist of Avatar) for Halloween after having recently shaved my head, because what else was I going to go trick-or-treating as? 

Aang primary protagonist of Avatar: the Last Airbender (DiMartino and Konietzko, “The Boy in the Iceberg”, 2005, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, 9:10)

My initial contact with them was emotional, nostalgic, and largely subconscious; but I rewatched the series and engaged with criticism of it going into early adulthood, and that got me thinking more critically about them and their impacts on audiences’ habits of thought. The research I am now doing aims to prompt further critical discussion of these fascinating and influential media. 

Narratively speaking, both series use war and conflict as a backdrop for the main events of the plot. Both also end with an explicit peace formed (as in Avatar), or with peace talks about to ensue (as in Attack on Titan). My research has focused particularly on the representation of peacebuilding in these media (which is much less discussed than their representations of war); but in order to appreciate how the ending of a typical linear story is being narrated, it is important understand what came before. So, in both cases, I have focused first on how they represent conflict and violence and how the main conflict ends, in order to appreciate how their creators chose to represent peacebuilding. From this general framework I will highlight clear thematic throughlines about war and peace that the creators quite clearly wished to impart to their audiences, as well as other more hidden representations that should be considered in critical engagement with media.

Typical example of a titan (figure in the foreground is an average human), Isayama, Chapter 2, p. 20

Attack on Titan’s world revolves around a major conflict between humans and titans (large humanoid man-eating monsters) and deals along with way with themes such as ‘hopelessness and loss’.[xiii]  

Attack on Titan initially was pitched to several editors in Japan by Isayama who appreciated the originality of the premise but were doubtful about his drawing ability.[xiv] His story pitch was to have humanity under existential threat from a species of beings more powerful than us. The inspiration for such an existential threat came from other media, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.[xv] One of the main recurring themes in the manga is the idea that ‘the world is cruel’ and in an interview with the BBC Isayama noted that this sentiment comes from his upbringing as a child on a rural farm: ‘All living creatures must get nutrition from other living creatures to survive. We might call it cruel, but it is actually the norm’.[xvi] It is interesting that this worldview comes from such a formative childhood experience of Isayama’s, something I will explore in a subsequent blog post. Additionally, there have been real life histories that have influenced the manga too: for example one of the important characters, Dot Pixis, is based on ‘real-life Japanese general Akiyama Yoshifuru’ – celebrated in Japan for reforming the Japanese cavalry, but who may also have been responsible for atrocities in the first Sino-Japanese war.[xvii] Akiyama Yoshifuru evidently figures as a hero for Isayama, as well as for many other Japanese people – somewhat controversially

Avatar is set in a world heavily inspired from several ‘non-western’ cultures, mainly East Asian and Inuit. These cultures heavily influenced the construction of the fictional world. For example, the world of Avatar has four nations, each inspired by the nations of these ‘non-western’ cultures, and each one’s history paralleling that of the actual nation’s history.[xviii]

Map of the four nations (DiMartino and Konietzko, “The Boy in the Iceberg”, 2005, in Avatar: The Last Airbender,0:20)

At the time of the show’s initial airing, it was one of the few animated shows on Nickelodeon and other children’s television networks that represented a compelling introspective story about war with non-white characters. It is this compelling story that the creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino very intentionally had in mind when producing Avatar. In a 2015 interview, Konietzko noted that ‘Kids are deeper than a lot of people, and especially corporations, give them credit for’, adding that they wanted to tell ‘the kinds of stories with the types of conflict that interested us [Konietzko and DiMartino]’.[xix] In other words, this show – which seriously explores the ramifications of war and conflict – is intentionally aimed at a younger audience, and consciously does not treat that audience as merely passive and unthinking children. I will explore the ramifications of this further as I work through my blog series. 

There are a few disclaimers I should mention at the outset of this project. Firstly, in the case of Attack on Titan, I am working with translations from the original Japanese to English. I do not speak Japanese, nor am I especially knowledgeable in Japanese culture. As a result, I may miss or misinterpret certain aspects of the text in my analysis. However, these are not likely to be significant in the wider scheme of my arguments regarding Attack on Titan, since my focus is on its more general representations of violence, conflict, and peace, not fine details. Moreover, there is a large international following of this manga, many of whom are in a similar position to me, and as a result I would argue that this skewed perspective is still relevant for exploring and understanding how the manga’s audience could learn to visualise war and peace from it. 

Secondly, with regards to Avatar, I will be discussing certain aspects of the series’ message in the context of its cultural and historical inspirations. For those unaware, in the world of Avatar each of the four nations which comprise its world are based on several real-life peoples and cultures including: the Inuit, Qing dynasty China, Imperial Japan and Tibetan monks. I am not from any of the cultures directly influencing the world of Avatar, and much of what I know I have learnt through secondary sources, and as such I may not give a sufficiently fleshed out representation of them in my discussion. That said, I have tried to research what I can in the time available, and I hope it will be sufficient for the purposes of my arguments. 

Finally, and specifically to those who are fans of the media I am looking at: my critical discussion is not designed to degrade or criticise specific works, nor to attack the big popular media franchises behind them. Nor am I implying that you should accept my readings of these texts as final. I am merely offering my (hopefully valid and well-informed) readings of these media to promote discussion of these and similar texts, which are so valuable and influential; to date, they have not yet received enough attention, especially in academia.

Thank you for reading this far into my opening piece. I hope to start bringing you some of my research findings soon.


Matin Moors, July 2022

Undergraduate Student, Master of Arts in English and Philosophy

University of St Andrews

A special thanks to Lord Laidlaw and the Laidlaw Foundation for enabling my research, as well as to my supervisor Dr Alice König for helping guide me and facilitating my contributions to the Visualising War project. 


References

DiMartino and Konietzko. Avatar: The Last Airbender, Animation. 2005.

Isayama, Hajime. Shingeki no Kyojin. Tokyo: Kodansha. 2009. Inkr. https://inkr.com/title/409-attack-on-titan. [Subscription needed] [date accessed 24/07/2022]


[ii] despacito11 and Tinseltopia. “Attack on Titan has now 7 episodes rated as 9.9 and above, more than any tv series. Breaking Bad has only 4.” Reddit, 26 Jan. 2021,https://www.reddit.com/r/attackontitan/comments/l5553g/attack_on_titan_has_now_7_episodes_rated_as_99/. [date accessed 09/07/2022].

[iii] I will be using the English name as opposed to the original Shingeki no Kyojin.

[iv]A note on terminology. For those unfamiliar, ‘anime’ is used when referring to animated visual media made in Japan and the associated style of animation. However, there is debate about whether something should be classed as ‘anime’ due its specific animation style, or simply because it has its origins in animation, or a mix of both. Likewise, ‘manga’ refers to Japanese comics and their associated style, and here too there is an ambiguity as to whether `manga’ refers to the particular style that a comic evokes or to its origins in the wider ‘manga’ tradition. For the purposes of my research, I shall be using these terms relatively loosely, to refer to works that can simply trace their origins back to anime or manga. This avoids ambiguity over media such as Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar), where there is some debate as to whether it is anime or not. Whilst it was not made in Japan, it does have several hallmarks of the style of anime. For more on this follow this link.

[v] Loo, Egan. “Top-Selling Manga in Japan by Series: 2013.” Anime News Network, 1 Dec. 2013, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2013-12-01/top-selling-manga-in-japan-by-series/2013. [date accessed 28/06/2022].

[vi] Hodgkins, Crystalyn. “New York Times Manga Best Seller List, October 13-19.” Anime News Network, 29 Oct. 2013, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2013-10-29/new-york-times-manga-best-seller-list-october-13-19. [date accessed 28/06/2022].

[vii] Loo, Egan. “Attack on Titan Manga Celebrates 100 Million Copies With Giant Mural at NYC Madison Square Garden.” Anime News Network, 25 Dec. 2019, https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2019-12-25/attack-on-titan-manga-celebrates-100-million-copies-with-giant-mural-at-nyc-madison-square-garden/.154747. [date accessed 28/06/2022].

[viii] See e.g. TheTrueJapan. “The 30 Best Manga of All Time” The True Japan, 25 Dec. 2017, https://thetruejapan.com/20-best-manga-time/. [date accessed 28/06/2022]; Poe, Arthur S. “100 Best Manga of All Time You Need to Read” Fiction Horizon, 21 May 2022, https://fictionhorizon.com/best-manga-of-all-time/. [date accessed 28/06/2022]; McMahon, Andrew. “Top 20 Most Popular Anime of All Time, Ranked” Twinfinite, 20 April 2022, https://twinfinite.net/2022/04/most-popular-anime-of-all-time-ranked/. [date accessed 28/06/2022] .

[ix] Freedman, Alisa, and Toslade. Introducing Japanese Popular Culture. London; New York, Ny: Routledge, An Imprint Of The Taylor & Francis Group (2018), p. 445.

[x] Luna, Kyle. “Nick’s ‘AVATAR’ Animation Series Finale Scores Big Ratings” Animation Insider, 23 July 2008, archived on 5 Jan. 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20090105224926/http://www.animationinsider.net/article.php?articleID=1794 archived at web.archive.org. [date accessed 29/06/2022].

[xi] See e.g. Scbyrnetda. “50 Best animated TV series of all time”, IMDb, 26 April 2011, https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000376561/. [date accessed 29/06/2022]; and Saunders, Huw. “15 Best Animated Shows of All Time”, Cultured Vultures, 23 April 2021, https://culturedvultures.com/best-animated-shows/. [date accessed 29/06/2022].

[xii] “Award Search”, Peabody Awardshttps://peabodyawards.com/awards/search/. [date accessed 29/06/2022].

[xiii] Chen and Oi. “Attack on Titan: a reclusive artist and his man-eating giants.” BBC, 19 October 2015, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34483459 [date accessed 26/07/2022].

[xiv] Brinkhof, Tim. “NAZISM REPACKAGED? A CLOSER LOOK AT THE “FASCIST SUBTEXT” OF ‘ATTACK ON TITAN’.” pop matters, 18 March 2020, https://www.popmatters.com/hajime-isayama-attack-on-titan-2645472520.html#sidr-nav [date accessed 26/07/2022].

[xv] Singh, Tanveer. “Attack On Titan: 10 Sources That Influenced Creator Hajime Isayama”, Gamerant, 21 Feb. 2022, https://gamerant.com/attack-on-titan-hajime-isayama-influences/ [date accessed 27/06/2022]. 

[xvi] Chen and Oi. “Attack on Titan: a reclusive artist and his man-eating giants.” BBC, 19 October 2015, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-34483459 [date accessed 26/07/2022].

[xvii] Speelman, Tom. “The fascist subtext of Attack on Titan can’t go overlooked”, Polygon, 18 Jun. 2019, https://www.polygon.com/2019/6/18/18683609/attack-on-titan-fascist-nationalist-isayama-hajime-manga-anime [date accessed 26/07/2022].

[xviii] Shiota, Julia. “AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER’S WORLD NEVER FELT TOKENIZING BECAUSE IT DREW FROM ASIAN HISTORY”, SYFY, 6 Jul. 2020, https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/avatar-the-last-airbender-pan-asian-history [date accessed 26/07/2022].

[xix] Myers, Maddy. “Interview: Avatar: The Last Airbender Co-Creators on Writing Flawed Heroes and Smart Content for a Young Audience”, The Mary Sue, 7 Oct. 2015, https://www.themarysue.com/interview-avatar-the-last-airbender-co-creators/ [date accessed 26/07/2022].

War Stories: How women visualise Conflict, Displacement and Home in the Central African Republic

This guest post has been contributed by Pauline Zerla, a doctoral researcher in the department of War Studies at King’s College London. Her research mostly focuses on peacebuilding, trauma and mental health in conflict, and veterans’ return from war. Prior to her doctoral studies, she spent a decade working on project design and management in fragile and conflict-affected states including the DRC, CAR, Nigeria, and Somalia.


‘Every day, we miss what we have lost.’

In Spring 2022, my colleague Miller Mokpidie and I travelled to Eastern Central African Republic (hereafter CAR) to learn how women see the impact of war on their lives and on their communities. We sat with three groups of women who had survived gender-based violence, were abducted by armed groups or had been recruited. Through body mapping and narrative interviews, we explored ways in which women visualise the impact of war on daily life in Central Africa. With our story-based methodology we hoped to engage with women’s experiences in a way that fostered respect and avoided re-traumatisation.

Body mapping offers a way to bring narratives of war to light. It describes a process of “creating life-size drawings that represent people’s identities within their social contexts (Skop, 2016). As a biographical tool,body maps can be used to show and tell a person’s life story and reflect on important relationships or memories (Coetzee, Roomaney, Willis, & Kagee, 2019). In research, they allow participants to actively “participate” in the process of narrative creation and they prevent the preconceptions and assumptions from directing discussions. As such, they work well as a participatory quali­tative research tool, so long as participants give their informed consent. The maps tell a story and simultaneously challenges those stories to be interpreted by participants and researchers through individual or group discussions.[i] This approach, anchored in narrative exploration, permits us richer understanding of human experiences and reminds us to see the world from other people’s point of view (Matthews, 2006). In this way, the project creates -through histories- a space for both scholarly and participative reflection on the collective and individual trauma brought on by war.

The discussions sparked by our body mapping exercises began the process for Miller and me to start understanding how these women have experienced and visualise war changing their everyday lives. In feminist research, the lived experiences of women have long been a focus of foundational research frameworks (Garko, 1999). Here, we hoped to enrich the still limited examination of women’s experiences in CAR through a focus on lived experiences and offering individual narratives as an essential source of knowledge for understanding war. We aimed to challenge more traditional and systemic conceptions of war, but we learned so much more. 

Narratives of place, of time, and of home

Individual stories are connected to the body and the place around it. Johanna Selimovic’s work has long established individual stories as sources of new knowledge. She considers place, body, and story as “conceptual vehicles used to understand how agency in the ordinary is played out and how ethical subjects emerge in shifting spaces and times” (Selimovic, 2019). 

Body mapping tends to bring to light findings that other research methods do not elicit. In the case of the women we talked to in CAR, it was the concept of home that came across most strongly: what home used to be, how it was experienced in the present, and how it could be rebuilt in future. Above all, we found war and home to be intertwined, in all sorts of shifting ways. For some women, war meant making a new life in a new place. For others, it meant reconciling what used to be with what was today and reconstructing ideas of home as a new space in the same place, as time passed and things changed. 

These ideas of spatial and temporal dislocation often underlie experiences of war, but are rarely brought to the surface in research. Another of the underlying themes that came through in our conversations around the body mapping was trauma, although it rarely was framed as such. When visualising and conceptualizing the traumas they had experienced, most women referred to loss and to the past. As the maps shared here suggest, the memories of what life used to be, where home used to be and how daily life was experienced since its loss remain salient and entwined with a sense of trauma. Above it is shown as the continual worry of providing for family and creating a home for them. Below, the map illustrates the shop one woman used to own as an aching reminder of the loss of, triggered every time she thought about her past life. Here, trauma is narrated through the memories of loss that their everyday lives now bring to the surface, loss of family, of safety, of rights such as education, and of belongings. 

Experiences of Return and Healing at all Costs

There was a distinct focus coming through conversations and drawings that invited us – the researchers – to discuss how to move forward and what these women’s hopes were for the future. Dealing with the past seemed to be a means of grappling with the uncertainties that the future might hold. 

On the one hand, war had often been experienced as displacement and, as such, a post-war future was understood or visualized by some women as a form of return, either to a prior time or space – or both. As this happened, the ‘blurry’ lines between war and peace and between safety and fear were constantly challenged. On the other hand, several participating women focused on the deep struggles they had gone through as refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and how in some ways refugee camps were worse than war at home. These two diverging but complementary narratives underpin they ways in which fighting every day to move forward and support their families made sense. 

For some it was about going back to what they had, and for some thinking through ways to move forward; but in every case, visualising war could not be separated from thinking in terms of time and space. It reminded us that there is no straight line between war and peace in Central Africa, that the two are intertwined in every place and at different times. 

These narratives represent just a sample of the ways in which war is still visualised in daily life, from the memories of people who have been lost, the homes that have been destroyed, the journeys victims have been forced to take, and the struggles their have encountered to make a life again. The stories that we heard reminded us that it is only through paying closer attention to how war is understood by those who live through it that we will fully grasp its implications. 

References

Coetzee, B., Roomaney, R., Willis, N., & Kagee, A. (2019). Body mapping in research.

Cronin-Furman, K., & Krystalli, R. (2021). The things they carry: Victims’ documentation of forced disappearance in Colombia and Sri Lanka. European Journal of International Relations27(1), 79-101.

Garko, M. G. (1999). Existential phenomenology and feminist research: The exploration and exposition of women’s lived experiences. Psychology of Women Quarterly23(1), 167-175.

Matthews, E. (2006). Merleau-Ponty: A guide for the perplexed. A&C Black.

Selimovic, J. M. (2019). Everyday agency and transformation: Place, body and story in the divided city. Cooperation and Conflict54(2), 131-148.

Skop, M. (2016). The art of body mapping: A methodological guide for social work researchers. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work28(4), 29-43.


[i] In CAR, we conducted group discussions after asking participants what they would prefer to take part in. In different contexts, body maps can be used as a public narrative illustration. In CAR, however, these were created as part of the research process and therefore remained anonymous and confidential.

Women, War and Displacement in Antiquity

As part of the Visualising War project’s research into the ripple effects of conflict, we are exploring how different art forms have visualised the rupture, loss and trauma of forced displacement. Undergraduate Research Assistant Holly Axford has been looking particularly at ancient narratives of displacement, and in this blog she writes about the representation of women displaced by war in Ancient Greek epic and tragedy.

‘By means of such genres as theatre, including puppetry and shadow theatre, dance drama, and professional story-telling, performances are presented which probe a community’s weaknesses, call its leaders to account, desacralize its most cherished values and beliefs, portray its characteristic conflicts and suggests remedies for them, and generally take stock of its current situation in the known ‘world.”[i]
Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre

When we think of the consequences of war in the ancient Greek world, the first thing to come to mind may be the touching, yet to some, gilded, accounts of heroic death in battle of The Iliad; or perhaps the cruel fate of Astyanax, son of Hector, whom the Greeks would not allow to grow up and seek revenge for his father. Yet, for half of the population of plundered cities like Troy, the termination of conflict was only the mark of a new chapter in their suffering. Women who saw their communities defeated in war became the captives, the possessions, of the victors. Displaced from their homelands, isolated and vulnerable to exploitation, the experiences of these women were something that ancient writers were well aware of. 

The Iliad, otherwise a powerful epic of martial glory, displays a clear recognition of the consequences of war for its female characters, while Athenian tragedy went even further in bringing these same women centre stage. The emotive resonance of their stories across the ancient world is clear, but they have also continued to speak to us in the present, where Euripides’s Trojan Women, in particular, has frequently resurfaced in light of contemporary parallels.

The Displacement of Women in Ancient Texts

Immortalised in The Iliad are the glory-driven exploits of its male warriors, culminating in the death of Hector, defender of Troy and its inhabitants, at the hands of Achilles. The pathos of this scene alone, as the poem’s climactic moment, is substantial, but it is significant that the audience is unable to separate Hector’s desire for glory and remembrance from the fates of his dependents. 

‘Hector and Andromache’ by Giovanni Maria Benzoni (1871)

During the meeting of Hector and his wife, Andromache, at the Schaean gates, suspended between the two worlds of battle and domesticity, Andromache makes it clear to both Hector and the poem’s audience that he is her only source of protection. In her emotive and highly persuasive speech, Andromache makes use of what J. T. Kakridis has termed the ‘ascending scale of affections’.[ii] She reminds Hector that she has ‘no father, no honoured mother’ (6.413), and goes on to recount the events of her family’s deaths, before eventually claiming: ‘Hector, thus you are father to me, and my honoured mother, you are my brother, and it is you who are my young husband’ (6.429-30).[iii] In doing so, Andromache distances herself from her blood relatives and, consequently, stresses her complete reliance on Hector. 

It is made clear that, should Hector fall, Andromache will be taken as a slave to ‘work at the loom of another’ far away from Troy (6.456). An acknowledgement of this fate is therefore a necessity. Rebecca Muich, in her study of Andromache’s laments, has argued that Andromache ‘demands Hector view the situation from the perspective within the oikos, rather than without’.[iv] In this way, then, Andromache’s speech here, in addition to the poem’s concluding laments for Hector, provide an alternative vantage point from which to view the war. The poem’s main battle narrative plays out parallel to an awareness of the fates awaiting the women of Troy, confronting the consequences of war beyond the temporal scope of the narrative.

Athenian tragedy takes up these same threads and weaves them into focused and full accounts of women’s displacement.[v]  Euripides’ Trojan Women – which one scholar has termed ‘an unrelenting portrait of suffering’ – is a key example of this.[vi] What makes Trojan Women such a powerful text, in my opinion, is that, albeit within its own limited context, the play allows for individualised expressions of displacement and its consequences. 

Theatre Sewanee’s ‘Hecuba’, University of the South

‘Alas! Who shall have me, a miserable hag, for his slave? Where, where on earth shall I go, poor old decrepit Hecabe, resembling one dead, the shadowy image of a corpse? Oh, the thought of it! Shall I be set to keep watch at some doorway or given charge over children, I, who reigned as queen in Troy?’ (190-196)[vii]

Here, Hecabe’s reflection on her present circumstances is heavily coloured by her individual previous status and experiences. Stressing her own weakness, she wonders what her role will be as an elderly woman, and now a slave, in a foreign land. This highlights how a variety of personal factors, age being one example, could have influenced how women experienced displacement. Earlier, Hecabe asks ‘should I not lament when my homeland, my children, my husband are no more?’ (107-108). Her sorrow, here, comes not just from the toil and suffering of her new slave-status, but is equally the result of her separation from the world and the people whom she has always known. Displaced from the destroyed city of Troy, Hecabe seems to have lost the sense of identity which her homeland granted. With her children dead or, like her, prisoners of the Greeks, Hecabe can no longer fulfil her duty to the daughters who she ‘raised in purity to grace the arms of no common husbands’ (485). Taken from her expected role, Hecabe is displaced from the social fabric with which she is familiar. It is this sense of alienation as a consequence of warfare, just as much as the immediacy of death and the threat of sexual violence, which forms the heart of her lament. 

Alongside Hecabe’s experiences, the play also explores the consequences of war for young women, mainly through its presentation of the disruption or the absence of marriage. The Trojan princess Cassandra’s perverted celebration, after being claimed as the prize of the Greek king Agamemnon, as she instructs her mother and the chorus to ‘deck my head with garlands and rejoice in my royal marriage!’ (352-353), only serves to draw more attention to the absence of this ritual within their new status as slaves and concubines.[viii] Polyxena, the youngest daughter of Hecabe and Priam, is sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles and denied this rite of passage altogether (622-623). For these women and others like them, the impact of war is not only a physical displacement from their homeland, but also their displacement from normal social rituals and institutions. 

In the play, Andromache goes so far as to claim that Polyxena’s death is a ‘kinder fate’ than hers (631). As with Hecabe, it appears that Andromache considers her displacement to be a greater source of sorrow even than death – because it robs her of both identity and rights, of all that ‘home’ had made her and of control over her life. A striking feature of Andromache’s narrative is its depiction of the precarious nature of her new position following this displacement from home and family. She is removed from the protection of normal and familiar social networks, and consequently becomes wholly reliant for her safety on her captor and master, leading Hecabe to advise her to ‘honour your new lord and…offer him the enticement of your winning ways’ (698-700). Her lack of security becomes an even more prominent theme in another play of Euripides’, Andromache, which depicts her vulnerability as a slave and foreigner without connections to the spiteful attacks of Hermione.[ix]

Suspended between the destroyed city of Troy, which nonetheless continues to exercise a powerful hold over the play’s imagination, and their new, scattered homes, the Trojan women are shown to exist in a stasis which reflects their lack of personal agency. Yet, within the confines of the play, the experiences of these women are given a voice.

Why Trojan Women?

That Euripides’ Trojan Women offers a sympathetic and impactful account of women’s experiences of war and displacement is clear. But we might now wonder why this story – a story of ‘barbarian’ women – seems to have resonated so strongly with a fifth-century Athenian audience. 

This blog post began with a quote from Victor Turner’s From Ritual to Theatre. Here, Turner suggests that dramatic performance can provide a framework for interrogating the issues which a community is presently facing, and at the same time allowing for a reflection on its own identity. This can be used to guide our understanding of Trojan Women

The play has often been viewed within the context of the Peloponnesian War. Indeed, in the same year that it was produced, the city of Melos was sacked by Athenian forces, its men killed and its women and children enslaved.[x] Given these apparent historical parallels, it might be possible to interpret the play’s narrative as a direct engagement with contemporary events. Some scholars have gone so far as to identify Euripides as a pacifist, and the play as an anti-war tract in light of Athenian military atrocities.[xi] Whether or not these parallels were the deliberate aim of its author, it seems reasonable to suppose that the play’s audiences would have called to mind the conflict in which they were presently playing a part.[xii] Trojan Women, then, may or may not have been tied to a specific historical moment in Athenian history, offering its own perspective on current political decision-making.

But even more strikingly than this, the play leads its audience to reflect on the universality of the experiences which it depicts. As a result of its emotive portrayal, an Athenian audience comes to sympathise with the suffering of defeated victims.[xiii] Might the play have encouraged Athenians to think upon the possibility of themselves facing the same fate in the future, to some extent at least? What Trojan Women speaks to is not simply the ability of an author but also the willingness of audiences to recognise the suffering and the humanity of those outside their own community. Casey Duéhas undertaken a comparison between the play and modern US media coverage of the Iraq War. She notes that, while much US media coverage spoke to real, human experiences, they were from an almost exclusively western perspective.[xiv] Trojan Women, on the other hand, offers a narrative of war from the perspective of the defeated female ‘other’, instead of the victor.[xv] The audience is confronted with the reality that the death of soldiers in battle is not the only consequence of warfare. The displacement which survivors of war experience is treated equally, if not more so, as a source of sorrow and reflection, and is shown to have a drastically destabilising effect on the identity and cohesion of a community. 

The Trojan Women of Today

The consequences of war and displacement for women, as expressed by the Trojan women of Euripides, are in no way relics of an ancient past. The extent to which this story still speaks to present-day experiences is evidenced by the numerous adaptations of Euripides’ play. Euripides’ Trojan Women reaches out to us across two millennia, prompting discussion and reflection on those features of displacement which are experienced most frequently by women.

One such adaptation is the Trojan Women Project. The work of filmmakers Charlotte Eager and William Stirling, alongside Syrian director Omar Abu Sada, it first brought together in a series of workshops a group of Syrian women displaced from their homeland and residing in Jordan. In what one reviewer of the opening UK performance termed ‘the most urgent work on the London stage’, the resulting production was a powerful and incredibly moving account of these women’s ordeals. Reworking the original play of Euripides to incorporate these experiences, the story of the Trojan women acts as a familiar and understandable framework from which to convey individual accounts of displacement to a wider audience.[xvi] The play is able to strike a balance between communal suffering and unique perspective; at one point in the performance, the mutual experience of the actors is stressed as they speak and step forward in unison. At other times, one individual is the clear focus, seated at the front of the stage as she tells her own story. In this way, dramatic performance becomes a tool for encouraging a sense of community, which the audience may also find themselves drawn into, without assuming one single refugee experience or painting ‘the refugee’ as a single, homogenous identity. 

Femi Osofisan’s Women of Owu situates the story of Euripides’ Trojan Women in a real-life historical context. First performed in 2004 after being commissioned by the Chipping Norton Theatre, its narrative occurs following the sack of the city of Owu, in what is now Nigeria, by the two kingdoms of Ijebu and Ife after a seven-year siege. Its temporal continuities, however, go even further. A note on the play’s origins, given at the beginning of the published script, also refers to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US led ‘Allied Forces’ – the same term which is used in the play to refer to the besieging army.[xvii] Apparently seeking to liberate Owu from tyranny, the victors’ motivations are undermined by the female chorus, one of whom highlights the violent actuality of this supposed liberation as she states: ‘after your liberation, here we are, with our spirits broken and our faces swollen’.[xviii] Nor does Osofisan shy away from acknowledging the sexual violence which the women are now at risk of.[xix] In the opening scene, the audience is directly confronted with this reality as one woman remembers how ‘our women were seized and shared out among the blood-splattered troops to spend the night’.[xx] With this, and its sense of temporal continuity, the play makes clear that the consequences of war are, for those who are most vulnerable, comparable across time. 

Further Questions

The fate of the Trojan Women is a poignant tale of loss and displacement as a result of conflict. It gives voice to the experiences of women in the ancient world, so often ignored, and yet strikingly, when these women do speak it is the family, home and community identity they leave behind which forms the focus of their laments.[xxi] As Euripides and others interpreted the story of the Trojan Women against a backdrop of fifth century BCE warfare, it may now be used to reflect upon modern experiences of displacement and the ways in which we communicate those experiences. 

  1. Would you argue that Euripides is writing a ‘pacifist’ play?
  2. What are the possible differences between the fates of the Trojan Women and modern experiences of displacement?
  3. How and to what extent are individual experiences of displacement reflected in modern media?

[i] Victor Turner, From ritual to theatre: the human seriousness of play (New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982), 11. 

[ii] Marilyn Arthur, ‘The Divided World of Iliad VI’, Women’s Studies 8 (1981), 29.

[iii] Quotations from Homer, The Iliad of Homer, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

[iv] Rebecca Muich, ‘Focalisation and Embedded Speech in Andromache’s Iliadic Laments’, Illinois Classical Studies 35 (2011), 10.

[v] Laura Slatkin, ‘Notes on Tragic Visualizing in the Iliad’ in Chris Kraus, Simon Goldhill, Helene P. Foley and Jas Elsner (eds), Visualizing the tragic: drama, myth, and ritual in Greek art and literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 29.

[vi] Casey Dué, The captive woman’s lament in Greek tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 136.

[vii] Quotations from Euripides, Electra and Other Plays, trans. John Davie (London: Penguin Books, 2004). 

[viii] Dué, 145.

[ix] Dué, 151.

[x] Dué, 148.

[xi] N. T. Croally, Euripidean polemic: The Trojan Women and the function of tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 232.

[xii] Croally, 234.

[xiii] Dué, 166.

[xiv] Dué, 166-167. 

[xv] It is not unique in this perspective as an ancient Greek play: Aeschylus’ play The Persians also looked at conflict and its impacts from the perspective of people whom the Greeks had been fighting.

[xvi] P. Eberwine, ‘Music for the wretched: Euripides’ Trojan Women as refugee theatre’, Classical Receptions Journal 11 (2019), 200.

[xvii] Femi Osofisan, Women of Owu (Ibadan, Nigeria: University Press PLC, 2006), vii.

[xviii] Osofisan12.

[xix] Olakunbi Olasope, ‘Lament as women’s speech in Femi Osofisan’s Adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women: Women of Owu’, Textus 30 (2017), 111.

[xx] Osofisan, 3.

[xxi] Readers might also be interested in Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships, which rework Homer’s Iliad from the perspective of displaced women.

Student team launches a virtual Museum of Peace

A lot of museum space has been dedicated to war. Libraries and bookshops contain countless volumes of military history. Most of us can think of multiple war films. There are well-established traditions of war reporting and conflict photography. Peace, on the other hand… 

We talk a lot less about peace. We aspire to peace, we idealise it – but we don’t spend as much time exploring and reflecting on it as we do with war. As a result, our habits of visualising peace are often limited to simple clichés and well-worn tropes. To images of doves or UN peace-keepers, to metaphors of friendship or seed-sowing. These images and metaphors have value and power. But they can also limit our understanding of peace, which is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that is experienced and conceived very differently from one context to another. And if our understanding of ‘peace’ is limited, so is our ability to build or sustain it. 

Over the past few months a team of students at St Andrews University – led by Dr Alice König – has been working on a Vertically Integrated Project called ‘Visualising Peace’.[i] Their goal has been to research and stretch habits of imagining, understanding, representing and working towards peace, to generate more conversation and deepen understanding. As committed ‘citizen scholars’, they wanted to move beyond the narrow sphere of academia and curate a resource that was accessible to everyone. So they came up with the idea of a virtual Museum of Peace.

Together, they collected examples of many different ways of visualising peace, in lots of different contexts, and from antiquity to the present day: inner peace, local peace, global peace, cyber peace. Each entry represents an individual visualisation of peace that transcends the symbols and assumptions we traditionally associate with it. Covering the whole spectrum from conflict-resolution to peace-building to peace-keeping and peace-beyond-conflict, they push us to rethink long-held views and to consider concepts that tend to be overlooked, such as what peace in outer space might look like or involve.  

Their aim is not to promote any one particular vision of peace. Rather, they want to encourage exploration of the diversity of ways in which it can be felt, understood, imagined, narrated, envisioned, embodied, created and sustained. Their emphasis on individual interpretations and actualisations of peace seeks to demonstrate that peace-building is not limited to governments, international forums, or large-scale non-governmental organizations. As many of the museum entries underline, even the smallest individual initiatives and actions can have profound impacts. 

Above all, the goal of the museum is not only to prompt critical reflection on existing habits of conceptualising peace, their gaps and shortfalls, and their real-world impacts. It is also to spark broader conversations with the wider public about what peace ‘looks like’ to each of us; where it can be found, how it can be promoted, how it gets represented, and what sustainable and inclusive peace-making and peace-keeping actually involve. Talking about different manifestations of peace is an important step in empowering everyone to play a part in fostering it, no matter who they are or where they come from. 

‘Peace’ is a seemingly simple concept.

But how would you define it?

The Visualising Peace team is keen to hear what you think. Once you have visited the museum, please consider filling in their feedback form. And if you have any suggestions for other visualisations of peace to include in the museum, do let them know!


[i] This project is an off-shoot of the Visualising War project. You can catch up with the project’s podcast, which has lots of episodes on peace and peace-building, here. You can read more about the Visualising Peace student team and their wider work here.

Young People’s Voices on the War in Ukraine

What do children and young people have to say about the war in Ukraine? And what can we learn by listening to them? 

In June 2022, the Visualising War project teamed up with the charity Never Such Innocence (NSI) to invite young people from all around the world to share their reflections on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and their hopes for an end to the conflict. Children from Ukraine were joined by young people from South Korea, Russia, Lithuania, Canada, China, Sri Lanka and the UK. A panel of adult respondents included academics (Prof. J. Marshall Beier and Dr Helen Berents) and policy-makers in military and humanitarian roles (Lieutenant General Tom Copinger-Symes and Dr Sean Loughna). 

Since 2013, NSI has been giving children and young people a voice on conflict. Via an annual competition, schools workshops and high-profile roadshows, NSI provides opportunities for young people aged 9-18 to reflect on different aspects of conflict and conflict-resolution, and to share their views with politicians, policy-makers and other adults in influential, decision-making positions. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, NSI has received many works of art, poems, songs and speeches from children and young people all around the world, expressing their horror at the unfolding conflict and their concern for everyone involved. This webinar featured the work of ten young people from eight different countries – all very powerful and thought-provoking in different ways. Many focused on the impact of the war on children themselves, depicting their loss of close family members, reflecting on the upheaval of forced displacement, and discussing mental health impacts and disruption to schooling, among other topics. But they also represented children as sources of hope and strength, highlighting their resilience as well as their need for protection. There were images of destruction and desolation, and words expressing pain, division, anger and sorrow; but also paintings infused with light and positive symbolism, and speeches and poems expressing pride, encouragement, gratitude and optimism.

Children from other parts of the world, with different histories of conflict, shared their experiences of displacement and survival, reaching out in solidarity to those affected in Ukraine. Their empathy and care for each other was powerful. Equally impactful were their insightful critiques of adult decision-making, both before and since Russia’s invasion. Their understanding of history stretched right back to antiquity, and their warnings and calls to action for the future demand our attention. As one panellist (Marshall Beier) observed: the adult-child relationship is often conceived as that of expert-novice or teacher-pupil. But another way of understanding it is to see adults as guardians and communicators of established knowledge, and children as askers of challenging, even ‘heretical’ questions, disrupting and stretching that established knowledge with new perspectives. Participants at the webinar learnt a great deal from the diverse reflections and thought-provoking questions which our young speakers urged us to think about.

In their responses, the adult panelists reflected on what these young people can teach us about the impacts of war in both time and space. Their contributions powerfully showed how war disrupts people’s experience of time, sometimes establishing strong divisions between ‘before’ and ‘after’ even as people try to hold onto continuity amid change. As Tom Copinger-Symes underlined, this brought us to questions of dreams and reality: one young participant asked ‘are we ever after conflict – or is that just a dream?’, while others depicted a mix of memories, hopes and fears, as they wrestled with what this war in the present means for the future and how it might change the way we look at the past. Helen Berents noted that, while news coverage tends to focus on global politics, desolated cityscapes and men in suits, the contributions submitted by young people to NSI draw our attention to the local: to everyday impacts of war in ordinary people’s lives and on people’s families, to local examples of survival, to personal acts of resistance and resilience.

Sean Loughna was particularly struck by the insightfulness of young people’s criticism of bodies like the UN, and also the implicit (not just explicit) reflections which their contributions encouraged into war’s impacts: for example, the painting of a crutch, which gestures to the huge challenge ahead of clearing land mines, a source of so many childhood deaths and injuries after conflict. Marshall Beier joined the other adult panelists in stressing the huge contribution that young people’s voices have to make to global politics, if only we are willing to listen and support. As he and Helen both stressed, children are the authorities on their own experiences, with unique things to say about people’s efforts to survive, resist and built peace in the long term. It is not enough to give them the microphone every so often: adults need to do more to validate and recognise their expertise and to make room for them routinely in discussions of war and peace.

You can watch a recording of the webinar below. Two Ukrainian participants recorded additional speeches which can be found here and here.

This webinar is part of a wider collaboration between the Visualising War project and Never Such Innocence to develop new mechanisms for involving more children in conversations on conflict.

ARTEM, 9-11 – UKRAINE

Peace from Pieces

In January 2022 a team of twelve undergraduate students at the University of St Andrews were selected to work on a ‘Vertically Integrated Project‘ called ‘Visualising Peace‘. Directed by Dr Alice König and supported by PG Mentor Jenny Oberholtzer, this project seeks to extend the work of the Visualising War project by examining how war’s aftermath, conflict resolution and peace-building are conceived. Our aim is to study different habits of imagining, understanding, representing and working towards peace, and we are particularly interested in analysing how different narratives and ideas of peace have evolved and gained influence over time. 

Part of studying how others visualise peace involves being mindful of the stories and images that we ourselves amplify and project. For this reason, we thought hard about the kinds of imagery we wanted to use in our outputs and on social media. Our conversations inspired one student, Harris Siderfin, to design a logo for the project that captures many of the elements of ‘visualising peace’ that we have been talking about. In this blog, Harris explains the ideas behind his design.

There were several inspirations for visualising peace in this graphic which I tried to incorporate into the piece. 

The first came from Frank Möller and his research into visualising real 'everyday' peace. Möller's particular focus is photography, and he argues for broad understandings of and approaches to 'peace photography', discussing the power of images which represent 'everyday' peace, even during times of war (Möller, Peace Photography, Palgrave Macmillan 2019). Möller states that images of 'everyday' peace can help frame and address the reality of conflict, which in turn can support mediation and peace-building processes. 

Some 'realistic' images of peace include military equipment abandoned in post-conflict zones. In the image below, for example, a tank has been abandoned and subsequently taken over by nature. I wanted to incorporate this idea of abandoned instruments of war, which help us to visualise the ugly realities of peace in a post-war landscape, so I included two guns in my design - a modern assault rifle and a traditional single-shot rifle - with flowers growing from their barrels. The flowers show that the firearms can no longer be used for war as they have been taken over by nature. However, the guns serve as a reminder that peace often comes post-war. We may celebrate when peace flourishes, but we should not forget that it can often have violent roots.  
The flower-sprouting guns also represent the 'flower power' movement of 1960s America, where war protestors placed flowers on soldiers' guns. This transforms the guns from being objects of killing and war into something natural, peaceful and beautiful, as they act as vessels for the flowers to grow.

I have inverted the colours of some of the flowers to represent different aspects of peace. For example, I have used white to represent pure and peaceful intentions, but I have included streaks of red to show the bloodshed that often occurs before peace and stability are established. The black also signifies the darker sides to peace and memories of war which we often fail to see. The bright flowers catch the viewers’ attention whilst the black stems are understated and can easily be over-looked. This is to illustrate how the public can hyper-focus on specific aspects of peace and it success, often overlooking the reality of day-to-day peace-making and the sacrifices required for getting there. The withered nature of the stems further illustrates the fragility of peace: without healthy stems and maintenance the flowers of peace will die. 
On the far right of the logo, the flowers are more colourful, demonstrating that beautiful things can happen when peace flourishes. You might notice a bee on one of the flowers. This is a reference to a story told in Emily Mayhew’s book The Four Horsemen and the Hope of a New Age about the city of Mosul’s post-conflict recovery (Mayhew, E., The Four Horsemen and the Hope of a New Age, Riverrun 2021, 240-41).  As she explains, a year after the end of ISIS’s bloody occupation of Mosul the local bees and their beekeepers produced record amounts of honey: ‘hope in a jar’, as she puts it. Bees (like flowers) can flourish in the wild, but they benefit from good care and attention; and they are social creatures, working collectively. Bees remind us of the hard work and co-operation that goes into producing something sweet. They can teach us important lessons about peace. 
The green roots represent the 'grassroots' peacebuilding efforts which are often critical in achieving sustainable peace (Hamidi, M. 2018. Peace Insight. Accessed March 28, 2022). However, they also look like lightning bolts which demonstrate how peace can occur and disappear rapidly – and sometimes violently. The dark blue field the graphic sits on symbolises hope and apparent horizons. However, I decided to use a darker blue to signal that, while there may be hope for brighter days, darkness and conflict are never far away. Finally, you might notice a white feather helping to bind one bunch of flowers together: a symbol which brings to mind the conscientious objectors of WWI. The white feather evokes pacifist movements, but it also reminds us of the stigma which some pacifists have faced for standing against war. In Britain, men who did not sign up to the war prior to the introduction of conscription in 1916 were verbally attacked by women on the street, and had a white feather pinned onto them. Although from the perpetrator’s perspective, the feather was representative of cowardice, for the conscientious objectors it often became a symbol of pride, showing their pacifist nature. Thus, the inclusion of a white feather also shows the importance of positionality when considering peace, as the differing symbolism highlights how personal interpretation is key. Finally, the white feather raises thoughts of historical interpretations of peace, and how this has changed throughout the eras. 

Overall, this graphic visualises peace through imagery of hope, nature, beauty and growth. But it also evokes the fragility of peace, through references to the violence that often precedes it and to threats that persist when peace starts to flourish.   


Harris Siderfin, April 2022

Human Nature and the Potential for Peace

What can Modern History and Social Anthropology teach each other – and us – about past and present peace building?

Peace is a concept that many feel familiar with – and yet clear-cut definitions are hard to pin down. Our research has shown that peace gets visualised and studied in very different ways both within and across different disciplines. As a result, the complexities and contradictions of the notion are rarely addressed, resulting in lack of clarity and understanding. The University of St Andrews ‘Visualising Peace’ project is working to challenge and stretch traditional habits of visualising and idealising peace. Dr. Alice König, Postgraduate Research Mentor Jenny Oberholtzer and a team of twelve students from a variety of year groups and academic departments have been investigating how peace is studied and represented within their respective disciplines, and how these discussions translate into wider peace-building efforts.

The team’s first major publication was an online bibliographic resource, gathering together over 175 different articles, books and other publications which represent different trends in peace studies. Between us, we conducted an extensive literature review on this material, comparing different disciplinary approaches to constructing and studying peace. We identified significant gaps in existing scholarship, and discussed suggestions and solutions for future studies, to enhance the inclusiveness both of academic and of real-world peace-building strategies. 

This presentation by third-year student Claire Percival describes her selection for our online bibliographic resource, particularly focusing on the subjects of Modern History and Social Anthropology. Within the presentation, Claire underlines the importance of de-centring heavily theory-based, ‘standard’ Western narratives of peace, as simply the opposite of conflict. She  also problematises tendencies in some anthropological scholarship that promote indigenous people and belief systems as ‘models’ of peace/peaceful practices which Western initiatives can simply adopt/utilise. Taking case studies from both Modern History and Social Anthropology, Claire identifies some common threads that connect both disciplines; but she also reflects on what more they can learn from each other and the challenges they both face in deepening our wider understanding of peace itself and of the various ideologies that different communities attach to it. 

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’: international relations, peace and the way forward

Few concepts are seemingly as basic yet as contested as ‘peace’. A coherent understanding of ‘peace’ and ‘peacebuilding’ has remained elusive in academia, with efforts to form an all-encompassing understanding of both hindered by a lack of inter-disciplinary communication and research. The University of St. Andrews Visualizing Peace project is seeking to change this. Alongside Dr. Alice König and Postgraduate Research Mentor Jenny Oberholtzer, a team of 12 students drawn from across university departments and year groups is investigating patterns of representing and narrating peace in their respective fields of study, as well as the role that these conceptualizations play in peacebuilding efforts.  

The group’s first output was a 175-source literature review which compared different disciplinary approaches to the construction of peace, highlighted existing gaps in scholarship, and outlined potential steps to ensure that academic research and practical theories of peacebuilding are indeed reflective of the challenges they seek to address. This presentation by student Mathias Katsuya summarizes a portion of the literature review with an emphasis on the field of International Relations and the dominance of the ‘liberal peace’ narrative within it. Beyond explaining the theoretical underpinnings of ‘liberal peace’, the presentation highlights the consequences of assuming the universality of particular visualisations of peace on both academia and real-world peacebuilding efforts. Finally, this presentation outlines alternative conceptualizations of peace and illustrates instances of success through contemporary case studies ranging from post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland to present-day Somaliland.

‘Blessed are the Peacemakers; international relations, peace and the way forward’, Mathias Katsuya

How can children and young people help us re-visualise war and peace?

Regular listeners to the Visualising War podcast might remember that our first guest interview was with Lady Lucy French, the founder of Never Such Innocence, an organisation which gives children and young people a voice on conflict. We have been really inspired by their work, and as the podcast series has developed we have been nudged again and again to think more about the forces that shape children’s habits of visualising war and peace – and also the power of children and young people’s voices to influence how all of us think about war, its aftermath, conflict resolution and peace-building. 

‘Eyes Wide Shut, Mind Wide Open’ by Vasko Stamboliev, 2018

Building on this, Alice König has begun collaborating with a wide range of researchers in childhood studies, critical security studies, peace studies and futures thinking, to develop an extensive network of academics and practitioners to ask some of the following questions:

  • What kinds of war stories are children of different ages most regularly exposed to in different parts of the world (through films, gaming, school curricula, local folklore, graffiti, news reports, and so on)? What aspects of war dominate the narratives that children are exposed to? And what narratives about war’s aftermath, conflict transformation and peace-building tend to circulate in the media they most regularly engage with?
  • What do children and young people think about the dominant modes of representing war and peace? How do they describe the impact which different narratives of war and peace have had on them? And how differently might they represent or narrate war, conflict transformation and peace if they were in charge of the storytelling themselves? 
  • Finally, what impact can children’s voices have on entrenched adult habits of visualising war and peace?

Alice will be working with lots of different storytellers in different fields (the museum sector, the world of comics and anime, journalism for young people, gaming, and the publishing industry, among others); but above all, she will be involving children and young people in the project, so that we can learn directly from them.

For this reason, she decided that the 50th episode in the Visualising War podcast series should bring young people into the conversation, kicking off this new project as we mean to go on. She invited three recent Never Such Innocence competition winners to be guests on the podcast: Molly Meleady-Hanley, Jasleen Singh, and Vasko Stamboliev (all of whom now serve as inspiring Never Such Innocence Ambassadors). They shared their memories of the war stories they grew up with, and they also reflected on how war and peace were taught in the different school systems (in Greece, Serbia, Australia, Ireland and England) which they were part of. They talked about the writing and artwork they have done themselves, to express their own views on conflicts past, present and future; and they explained how empowering it has been to have their voices heard, thanks to the opportunities which Never Such Innocence has given them to speak with many different young people from all around the world and to address world leaders in lots of different places, from Buckingham Palace to the Bundestag.

Below you can see the poems by Molly and Jasleen, and above the painting by Vasko, which were awarded first prize in their age groups in the 2018 Never Such Innocence competition. We strongly encourage readers to visit the Never Such Innocence website to look at many more winning entries from their annual competitions – it is a mind-opening experience! A small sample of work is available here. And of course, please do listen to the podcast, where you can hear directly from Jasleen, Molly and Vasko themselves. The podcast we recording with Lady Lucy French at the start of our series is available here.

Me Brother Dan by Molly Meleady-Hanley (Written in the Sheffield Dialect)

Me brother Dan went off to war, marching down Duke Street with his pals.
Heads held high, while the Sheffield crowd clapped and cheered them so!
Me Mam wept and me Dad said:-
“Gi’ore Molly. Be proud. Be happy for our lad. He’s serving his King and Country in a just war.”

Six Weeks later, we got a fancy Can Can card from our Dan.
Reet chuffed we were. Dad read it out, puffed up chest, loud and clear.
Dad said, Dan was doing well and our Dan wished us all good cheer.

Tucking card in’t pocket, he went off down road to get hisen a beer.
Ten weeks later, on Skye Edge Fields, a neighbour came calling us from play.
Saying :- “Come quick Lizzie, yer Mam needs yer - reet away!”
Opening our door, on Talbot Row, we heard Banshee screaming.
Our Mam, paper crumpled on’t floor, sobbing and rocking, hands to heaven.
“Why did he have to die? Me son, me son, me only son!” she cried.
Dan’s body never came home.

He lies without us, in some distant land.
In a place me Mam will never be able to go.
And so she trudges every day to Norfolk Row.
Saying prayers and lighting holy candles for our Dan and other mothers' sons.
These other boys whose lives too will never grow.

And me, well… I keep asking mesen
“Why do they kill caterpillars and then complain that there are no butterflies?”
Me Dad said:- “Listen up our Lizzie. Them there caterpillars and butterflies have
died to keep us all safe and free
.
You’ll learn that one day me love, when you’re wise from being worn with care.
Until then me Liz, be proud and thankful for the sacrifice our Dan and is pals made for thee."

The Indian Soldier by Jasleen Singh

Home is where the heart is 
I heard a British Soldier say that here 
If that is true my love 
My home is a long, long way from here
 
My heart is under the mango tree 
Where its sweet blossoms smile almost as wide as me 
Instead shells are pouring like the rains in the monsoon 
Only we don’t know for certain that these will ever stop 

My heart is wandering somewhere far away from this God forsaken land 
Where night is never silent and stars are never seen 
Our richly spiced food is traded for a cold hard bread 
It impales my teeth like the bullets struck in the walls back home
 
My heart longs to fly away from here and join the flock of migrating birds 
They are escaping the smoke that plumes like wispy ghosts 
For a brighter land with silks of red, yellow and orange 
And a sun that beams just as vividly 

My heart longs for freedom, freedom and peace 
I have a wish that my children can live in a world with more justice than me 
I do this for a promise, my love 
A promise to own the soil beneath our feet 

My heart belongs to the corn fields 
And a warm breeze running free 
Instead the corpses cover the fields 
Like sheaves of harvested corn

My heart belongs to the children, hold them tight my dear 
Tell them whatever happens, Papa will always be near 
Tell them funny stories, make them laugh from ear to ear 
I shall be able to hear their laughter, even from a place as far as here 

Our hearts long to sing 
Instead they are silenced 
Hidden amongst the millions of white crosses surrounding our graves. Why? 
We too gave our all when it came to the cry of the fight 

Molly Meleady-Hanley has been writing from the age of 9 and is now a published playwright, having had several plays professionally produced and performed at the Sheffield Crucible. She has been commissioned to write and present poems and art installations for major events, including for the opening of the Invictus Games Trials in Sheffield in 2019. Her poem ‘Me Brother Dan’ was included in the official Battle of the Somme Centenary commemorations in 2016; it was read out at the Menin Gate, and carried by serving personnel from the U.K. and laid on the graves of every Commonwealth armed forces member who died in WWI.

After winning first prize in her age group in the 2018 Never Such Innocence competition, Jasleen Singh has recited her winning poem, ‘The Indian Soldier’, at the Guards Chapel in the Wellington Barracks, Buckingham Palace and the House of Lords. She was chosen as one of three young people to read a prayer at the Westminster Abbey Centenary Remembrance Service in 2018; and she was selected to represent the UK at the German Remembrance service to mark 75 years since the end of WWII, held in the Bundestag in 2020.

Vasko Stamboliev is an undergraduate art student at Athens School of Fine Arts in the department of painting. Currently based in Athens, he was born in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and also spent time living in Perth, Australia, as a child. He is a Young Ambassador for Never Such Innocence and was one of the judges in 2020 for their art competition’.

Visualisations of War in Online Gaming

In a recent Visualising War podcast, Alice and Nicolas talked with Dr Iain Donald, a Senior Lecturer in Game Production at Abertay University. Iain works with talented colleagues, postgraduate researchers and undergraduates to explore what games and interactive media can achieve. He has been involved in several award-winning Applied Games projects, and has written and presented on creating and developing games for digital health, education, cybersecurity and social change. His research looks particularly at commemoration and memorialization in video-games.

A still from a game which Iain is developing, based around the battle of Loos (image credit: Iain Donald)

In the podcast we reflected on the opportunities and challenges of representing war in video games. Iain discussed the complex question of historical accuracy in games based on real conflicts, and the risks and consequences of representing real-life wars or battles. We talked about player agency and immersion, the interplay of technical, aesthetic, economic and historical interests in game creation, and the ethical problems that many games run into as they represent injury, trauma and death. We also discussed visualisations of peace and reconciliation in war games, as part of a wider conversation about the more experimental side of the industry. Iain himself has been pushing at conventional boundaries with his development of games based around commemoration.

A still from another game which Iain is developing, based around remembrance (image credit: Iain Donald)

During the podcast, Iain mentioned some little-known games alongside bigger names. The following list may be useful for listeners who want to find out more:

Iain also mentioned the following better-known games:

  • Grand Theft Auto V 
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 
  • Warframe 
  • Call of Duty Series 
  • Battlefield Series
  • Civilisation Series
  • Age of Empires Series
  • Total War Series

To complement our interview with Iain, our postdoctoral research assistant Katarina Birkedal interviewed Taliesin and Evitel, the couple behind the YouTube and Twitch channels of the same name. They offer commentary on the game World of Warcraft, as well as giving regular news updates on everything related to the game. Through a combination of humour and deep dive analyses, they enrich their viewers’ experience and understanding of the game, drawing on their backgrounds as an actor and an art historian to pick apart the references and narrative devices the game uses to tell its story. Katarina draws out a fascinating conversation with them about the overlaps and differences between how we visualise war in the real world and in game worlds, and how representations of conflict in World of Warcraft might influence as well as reflect real-life mindsets and behaviours. You can listen to that episode here.

Alice König, 2.2.22