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Looking Back on Europe's Most Violent Century

Europe's Violent Memories WindowLaunch of Europe’s Violent Memories 2013-2016 Podcast Library marks end of three-year public lecture series

The centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Rising marked the end of a three-year lecture series exploring the events which defined the 20th Century as one of the most violent in Europe’s history. It was organised by the Trinity Centre for War Studies (School of Histories and Humanities) and the Trinity Centre for European Studies (School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies) in association with the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute.

Europe’s Violent Memories 2013-2016 featured prominent international scholars from diverse disciplines including history, literary, film and memory studies who all weighed in on how war, its memories and traumas have left a lasting legacy on the formation of European identities in the 20th century.

Decade of Commemorations

Europe’s Violent Memories was planned around two significant centenary commemorations for Irish and European people – The First World War and the 1916 Easter Rising – and it coincided with the seventieth anniversary of 1945 and the end of the Second World War.  Addressing the challenges of commemoration, Professor John Horne, former Director of Trinity’s Centre for War Studies and one of the convenors of the series, said that when conflicts end, the memories and the sense of what has happened can be deeply contested: ‘Commemorations can be deeply divisive and explosive. In this series we focused not directly on the violent episodes that have done so much to shape European history since 1914 – to world wars, the Cold War, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, genocide – but rather on how Europeans have remembered and dealt with (or not dealt with) those same episodes’.
As noted by Professor Juergen Barkhoff, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub from 2012 to 2015, ‘what we tried to do was show how the past – how we remember it and how we use it today – is of huge relevance to the way we perceive ourselves as citizens – to make this active link between the past and the present and show how the past is relevant.’

Europe's Violent Memories Contested Memories

Commemorations can also address ‘contested’ understandings, sometimes leading to a more nuanced debate according to Professor Horne, who delivered the concluding remarks of the lecture series:  ‘In relation to Ireland and the First World War, not only is there the ongoing debate about the legitimacy or otherwise or the consequences of the violence deployed in the Rising but also the contested memory of the First World War in the nationalist community……. therefore understanding that Ireland  - and nationalist and catholic soldiers - played a really important part in the British army in the First World War became a very important point both for reconciliation but also for coming to a more complex understanding of Irish history.’

The lecture series brought many of these contested memories in relation to conflict and its aftermath to the fore.

Speaking on how the Holocaust has become a dominant memory in commemorative focus and practice, Professor Horne says that he believes Auschwitz ‘has become the first site of collective memory for Europe for the twentieth century.’ On contested memories explored during the lecture series, he highlights the perils of victimhood in post conflict situations as highlighted in Dariusz Stola’s lecture: ‘many other victims suffered in the Second World War, and so with the emergence of non-communist national memories to prominence after the fall of the wall in 1989 (the fall of communism), all sorts of groups are competing for victimhood status and victimhood status has real political power.’ Contested memories were also discussed in Robert Gerwarth’s lecture about defeat; ‘one way of understanding what happens to the defeated powers after the First World War – Hungary, Italy, Germany -  is a feeling of non-recognition of what they had endured in the war and then in the German case, of being made falsely responsible for the war – true or not – that was the perceived feeling – and so a deep resentment at contested understandings of the Great War had a great deal to do with the rise of the Nazis to power.’

Professor Balázs Apor, Trinity Centre for European Studies and a convenor of the series, said that Europe’s Violent Memories also investigates ‘the often forgotten-or silenced-memories of Europe's violent past, and their impact on the continent's recent history. By focusing on continuities of violence, and the dynamics of remembering and forgetting in post-war Europe, the series shed light on the tainted origins of modern national identities’.

Listen Back


2015-16 Ireland’s Revolutionary Decade and Legacies of the Easter Rising

Instant History: 1912, 1916, 1918’
Prof David Fitzpatrick (Fellow Emeritus of Modern History, Trinity College Dublin)

'Learn the history of Pearse...a gem of young Ireland who roused an indomitable desire for armed revolution' The Irish Revolution and India
Dr Kate O'Malley (Assistant Editor, Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) Series)

Living with the Memory of Violence? Europe's Twentieth Century Post-war Periods
Prof John Horne (Fellow Emeritus of Modern History, Trinity College Dublin & Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford)

2014-15 Trauma, Memory and Identity after the Second World War

‘Competing Victimhoods? How Poles and other Eastern Europeans commemorate their violent past.’
Dariusz Stola (Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of the Sciences)

The Ghosts of Mid-Century: Violence, Democracy and European Memories since the Second World War
Pieter Lagrou (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

2013-14 The Long Shadow - Trauma, Memory and Identity after the Great War

The Vanquished: Europe and the Aftermath of the Great War
Robert Gerwarth (University College Dublin)

‘A Time of Silence? Legacies of the Civil War in Spain after Franco’
Michael Richards (University of the West of England)

To Talk Peace in the Parables of War: The League of Nations after World War I
Patricia Clavin (University of Oxford)

For a full breakdown of the lectures and speakers please click here

For the Europe’s Violent Memories 2013-2016 Podcast Library click here.

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer | Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895