Conflict +Society Seminar -1

Tuesday, 19 March

12–1:30pm, Navy Room, Adams Auditorium, UNSW Canberra at ADFA.


Hereafter: Memory, Commemoration, and the First World War at the Australian War Memorial, 1927 – 1930s

Alexandra McKinnon

This presentation will explore how families engaged with memory-making and the state in the aftermath of the First World War, focusing on interwar engagement between Australian families and the Australian War Memorial (AWM). In Australia, the process of writing the official histories of the First World War began soon after the Armistice, drawing on an archive of letters, diaries, and documents from those who had experienced it. From 1927 to the mid-1930s, the AWM actively reached out to families whom it believed might hold relevant records. Out of the approximately 5000 enquiries sent, half were to the next-of-kin of war dead, most of whom were women. While most of these recipients had no direct experience of the conflict, they remained profoundly affected by its results. How did the AWM engage with families in the development of its archives and in the process of writing the official war histories? How were next-of-kin included – or excluded – from this process? How did individual experiences of loss affect public commemoration and memory? These files reflect a process of collaboration and communication both between the AWM and next-of-kin and between different family members of the war dead, determining what should be offered for inclusion.


Alexandra McKinnonAlexandra McKinnon

Alexandra McKinnon is an MPhil candidate in History at the Australian National University. Her thesis focuses on engagement between Australian families and the Australian War Memorial in the interwar period, exploring the process of transition from “memory” to “history”. Originally from Canberra, she completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts with High Distinction in History and Material Culture at the University of Toronto, exploring Canadian commemoration of the Battle of Hong Kong, and has worked on the battlefields of Northern France. She was part of the 2019 Summer Vacation Scholarship Scheme at the Australian War Memorial.





The possibilities and perils of military prosopography revisited

Emeritus Professor Peter Dennis

My paper will outline some of the challenges in developing large databases that deal with collective experience, in this case the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the First World War. I will look at the public reactions and institutional disappointments which are offset by the outreach and impact factors so beloved of university administrators. On a more significant level I will discuss some of the research outcomes that the databases have supported, and speculate on the uncertain future of these and similar projects.


Emeritus Professor Peter DennisPeter Dennis

Peter Dennis is Emeritus Professor of History, UNSW Canberra. A graduate of the University of Adelaide and Adelaide Teachers College, he gained his MA and PhD from Duke University in North Carolina where he was a James B Duke Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar. He has held academic positions at The Royal Military College of Canada, The University of Western Ontario, the National University of Singapore, and the Faculty of Military Studies at RMC Duntroon. He transferred to the History Department at UNSW ADFA in 1979, and retired in 2006. He is the author of four books, and the editor or joint editor of a further 26, and was joint founding editor of the journal War & Society.