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International Conference: Civilians and Warfare in World History

International Conference: Civilians and Warfare in World History
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Dr. Nicola Foote
Associate professor of History, FGCU
phone: 239-590-7368 

Dr. Nadya Popov-Reynolds
Assistant professor of History, University of West Georgia
phone: 678-839-5370

Introduction to the Conference


Civilians and Warfare in World History: Introduction 

NADYA: Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our pleasure to welcome you to the conference Civilians and Warfare in World History. We are Nicola Foote and Nadya Popov, the co-organizers of the event. Words cannot express how very excited we are to have all of you here. We look forward to hearing the papers and engaging in productive dialogue over the next three days about a topic of crucial importance to all periods and geographical areas of world history. Notably, we see this event as merely the beginning of an exciting dialogue between scholars of disciplines that normally do not get to talk together, since all of us have our own discipline-specific conferences. Thus in order to encourage all of us to keep in touch and continue the dialogue, we included a list of email addresses in your folders.

The purpose of this introduction this morning is three-fold: we would like to tell you a little bit about the history of this project and the evolution of our own thinking about it; we would like to share with you our project goals; and finally, we would like to provide some details about publication plans. But first, before we do anything else, we would like to extend thanks to the people without whose efforts this event would not be happening.


NICOLA: Thanks to: Florida Gulf Coast University, who graciously agreed to host this event and pay for two nights for each participant in the conference hotel; Dr. Ron Tull, the Provost of the University; Dr. Donna Henry, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, without whose support this conference would definitely not be happening, and who has kindly agreed to host the conference dinner in her own house; Dr. Melodie Eichbauer, who is essentially a co-organizer of this event and has been an absolute Superwoman by day and by night in helping to resolve various mini-crises that invariably pop up when organizing a major international event; Eliane Smith, the wonderful secretary of SOBE, who has been dealing with all of the paperwork related to this event; John Lango, Kathy Gaca, and Nicole Dombrowski, the presenters who have been involved in this project before it was a conference, and who also went well beyond the call of duty in providing feedback on grant applications to sponsor the conference; faculty and students who are chairing panels and reading papers of presenters who could not be here in person; our fabulous student volunteers, who are going well beyond the call of duty; the Student Government Senate and the Honors Program, who have kindly agreed to sponsor the event; the presenters who have taken time out of their busy schedules to come and join us; and many, many others who have helped in various ways. All of you have our undying gratitude.


NADYA: The story of the project: Two years ago, I began gathering information for a book project on civilians’ involvement in warfare in the Ancient Greek world. For comparison’s sake, I decided to read some works on laws of war in the modern world. I swiftly realized that the modern scholarship on civilians enriched my ability to ask constructive questions about the plights of civilians in the ancient world. Furthermore, I was impressed to see just how many scholars in different disciplines are currently working on civilians. Thinking that the topic could make an excellent edited volume for academic reference, as well as use in the classroom, I approached Nicola, whose work has been touching on some of the same questions, and asked if she would be interested in co-editing such a volume.


NICOLA: I agreed, and the two of us began to approach possible contributors. Among the very first enthusiastic supporters of this project were Jocelyn Courtney, John Lango, Nicole Dombrowski, Kathy Gaca, and John Cox. I soon realized, however, that a co-edited volume without a conference is not a good idea, since part of the point of the project is to facilitate a dialogue between individuals who would not normally have gotten to talk to each other. Nadya agreed, and the project began to grow in scope, as we thought of increasingly more academic disciplines that might contribute to the understanding of civilians in war. We knew that we had a good idea on our hands as we approached one individual after another, and were met with utter enthusiasm. Finally, in order to round out our scope, we had also posted a call for papers on H-Net, and that way several other exciting researchers became involved in the project.

It is, perhaps, ironic that this conference aims to promote interdisciplinary dialogue, and yet both organizers are historians. The conference thus was an educational experience for both of us, as we came to think of more and more fields that should be involved in this project. One such field became involved in the project through a joking comment from a friend and fellow-participant, John Cox. In the initial stages of conference planning, John designed the conference website, and selected an image – Goya’s famous painting “Executions of the Third of May 1808.” In conversation with Nadya and me, he later mentioned that he had thought of including an image on the website of Hannibal’s elephants, who famously were the unfortunate victims of the crossing of the Alps in BC 218. While John was likely joking, I immediately exclaimed “But elephants ARE civilians!” After some research, I then invited to participate in the conference Rajmohan Ramanathapillai, a philosopher who works precisely on the ethical questions regarding the involvement of animals in war.

We hope that all of the participants and students attending the conference over the next few days will see our logic in including a wide variety of disciplines in this dialogue. We will all have a chance to discuss our impressions of this experience, as well as thoughts about the scope of the project, in the final roundtable discussion on Saturday.


NADYA: Project goals: This project has two main goals. First, we aim to create a new direction in the academic study of war and society, inspiring inter-disciplinary and innovative research on the topic of civilians and warfare. Second, we aim to educate scholars and non-academic audiences worldwide, and especially in the developing world, about the impact of military violence on civilians across time and space, as well as the importance of studying this topic in depth for the successful prevention and resolution of conflict in the future.

It is a well-known paradox that while violent conflict has its most profound impact on civilians, studies of war have conventionally focused on soldiers and armies. Although the blurred line between combatants and non-combatants in many recent military conflicts has prompted the resurgence of philosophical and political questions about the appropriate meaning of the categories of civilians and soldier, while the “new military history” has prompted historians to engage more forcefully with the broader social meaning of war, there has been remarkably little conversation about civilians and war across disciplines, regions and time periods. Moreover, interest has been focused on a handful of questions: mainly the social realities and physical vulnerabilities of civilians during wartime, and the ethical justifications for the divisions between combatants and non-combatants. This project seeks to broaden the boundaries of the discussion by undertaking the first study of non-combatants in world history that is fully comprehensive in its chronological, disciplinary, thematic and regional scope.


NICOLA: The next three days will be a crucial first step in achieving these goals, since this conference will provide a uniquely productive setting for a public discussion between scholars from the disciplines of history, classics, literature, music, religion, sociology, philosophy, disability studies, women's studies, anthropology, archaeology, and political science. Of course, this event is much more than a conversation among academics and activists. By hosting this event on a university campus, and opening it up to the public at large, we are hoping to educate both students and the general public about the effects of war on civilians. Finally, we aim to reach an even broader global audience of academics, students, and policy-makers world-wide by publishing the revised and expanded papers from the conference in an edited volume. 

Over the next three days, by looking beyond the action and agency of the most prominent participants in warfare in a systematic and cross-disciplinary way, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of war and violence across time and space. Civilian experiences of war are of immense global significance in an era in which war overseas has become an ongoing backdrop to the politics of the most important world powers, where civil conflict over resources continues in much of the developing world, and where new military techniques and strategies continue to obfuscate the boundaries between combatant and non-combatant. By fostering fuller recognition of the impact of military violence on ordinary people and advancing understanding of how civilian experiences shape identity formation and engender political and economic change the project will also make a contribution to the effective resolution of violent conflict. We hope that the work produced will be required reading for both academics and policy makers interested in this subject.


NADYA: Publication plans: While the conference is an essential first step in encouraging a dialogue between academics working on civilians and warfare, it is certainly not the end of the dialogue. We hope that the conference will allow all of the participants to think more about their own research in ways that perhaps they never had before. In order to provide the wider world of academics, students, policy-makers, and the wider public with the results of the project, we plan to publish an edited volume collecting some of the papers from this conference. With this goal in mind, we have begun approaching publishers, and we will stay in touch with the participants as we hear from interested presses.

In the meanwhile, we propose a deadline of July 15th 2012 for the submission of a final version of a paper for consideration for inclusion in the edited volume. This deadline will allow all of the participants a few months following the conference to revise their papers. It will also allow the co-organizers time in the summer to review the submissions and put together the volume. The papers should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length, and should follow the Chicago style of footnotes and formatting.