Peace history conference

IssueJune 2010
Feature by Julie Obermeyer

The annual Peace History conference, organised by the Movement for the Abolition of War in association with the Imperial War Museum and the International Peace Bureau, has been held at the Imperial War Museum annually since 2007.

While it may seem somewhat incongruous to hold a peace history conference in a museum that examines, and to a large part, commemorates war, the venue has grown on me over the years for a few reasons.

I believe that by providing a space for the conference the War Museum keeps peace history and peace perspectives in their consciousness much more than might otherwise be the case.

Holding the conference there also helps to “legitimise” and widen the profile of peace history and peace perspectives by providing a platform for intelligent and informed discussion. It also helps bring people already sympathetic to the peace movement and interested in peace history into a new context – with the potential to mix with “non-peace” audiences – for discussion.

I attended the fourth Peace History conference on 16-17 April as part of a two-person delegation from The Peace Museum, Bradford. This year marked my third time attending and the museum’s fourth year in attendance at the conference.

Peace history plays a large part in the story that any peace museum would tell, so listening to interesting and informative lectures on a wide array of peace topics, viewing peace-related films, being treated to new and creative theatrical works on various aspects of peace history and learning about the incredibly visionary women and men in history who worked hard campaigning for peace is a rare and valuable opportunity.

The conference format has remained fairly consistent from year to year with each day generally consisting of two to three talks relating to aspects of peace history by experts in the fields of history, politics, journalism and art, and one or two panel discussions and forums.

Ample space for discussion is integrated into all sessions so that attendees are active participants throughout the conference. Each day also offers attendees the chance to take part in creative, multi-media presentations. On Friday, attendees were treated to a very moving drama entitled “Women of action; women of peace – the challenge of wartime” written and presented by students from La Sainte Union School.

It was affirming to see young people interacting so creatively with peace history and it just goes to show that peace history can be made interesting and relevant to and by young people.

Friday evening offered a celebration in poetry and music of writer and poet Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008), which helped round the day off by bringing a touch of humour and a measure of fun to the day’s more serious proceedings.

On Saturday, two short films were shown – Conscientious Objector, a contemporary piece which was inspired by Edna St Vincent Millay’s poem of the same name, and A Force More Powerful which shows historical footage of Gandhi’s Salt March.

This year’s talks covered a wide range of topics and periods including: “A history of manipulation in war reporting”; “Official war art of the First World War: a plea for universal peace”; “The League of Nations Union peace ballot of 1935”; “The UN vision for world peace 1945- 2010”; and “Make cheese not war: the nonviolent battle for the Larzac 1971-1981”.

The talks are well-researched and have consistently shed light on what have remained unfamiliar histories.

I have returned from each conference fired up about some unknown but incredible facet of history and have kept all my notes and handouts in hopes to some day weave these aspects of peace history into the wider narrative of peace as interpreted by The Peace Museum.

The conference has also been extremely useful in terms of making and renewing contacts and has resulted in donations of artefacts to the museum’s collection.

The Peace History conference is a powerful example of a collective effort to bring peace history to life in ways that inspire contemporary audiences and bring us closer to the day, as one conference attendee so insightfully described it, “when the only place that you will find war is in a museum”.

Topics: History