« But I forget that I’m not writing the history of the army, and that I’m [wounded and] being carried away from the battlefield on two rifles. »

In this excerpt from his memoirs about the war in 1809, Général Pouget points at the central question to be explored in this course. What does it mean to tell one’s own story as a witness or combatant in wars ? How does it differ from « writing the history of the army » ? How has that changed and evolved in the period considered which saw the birth of modern war, the massification of army and the totalization of conflicts, as well as the advent of the autobiography as a literary genre and more broadly deep mutations in conceptions of individual identity. This course will look at war narratives who lived through or fought in wars, with a primary focus on European history spanning from the 18th to the 20th Centuries, from memoirs written by commanding officers of the early modern wars to the diaries and oral testimonies of victims and survivors of the Holocaust, concluding the course on interrogations concerning contemporary ways of witnessing wars. The course will be organised chronologically, with thematic through lines. It will look at the changing status of the witness, will ask who talks about war – combatants, civilians, men or women – will look at the genres and styles of war narrative, interrogates matter of memory and identity construction and question the treatment of violence and what is or isn’t sayable about war. The course will incorporate theoretical texts as well as relevant autobiographical narratives.

Semester: SoSe 2024