Skip to main content Skip to navigation

‘Homecoming’ after war: Comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives

Welcome to the page for the Humanities Research Centre Conference about post-war Homecoming, to be held on the 20th of May 2023. It promises to be a inter-disciplinary forum and meeting-place for the foremost scholars considering questions of return, trauma and post-war communities. It intends to be a face-to-face conference held at the University of Warwick. Look forward to announcements regarding a keynote speaker and Call for Papers soon. If you have any preliminary questions please get in touch with the organisers, Niels Boender and Yara Staets, or here: homecomingconference@gmail.com.

The general vision of the conference is as follows:

From the popularisation of joyous videos showing American service personnel return home after service abroad, to the evocative image of the bedraggled Wehrmacht prisoner-of-war returning to a half-rebuilt West German city, images, and memories of homecoming after conflict are prevalent in popular cultural understandings of post-war transitions. Texts as diverse as Homer's Odyssey, Pat Baker's Regeneration or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's A Grain of Wheat deal with these moments of homecoming – returning combatants are the central dramatis personae in all of them. A multitude of topics are related to returning combatants: ideas of end and beginning, victory and defeat, occupation and liberation; new possibilities but also the persistence of older problematics. However, despite extensive social scientific literature on ‘demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration’, an inter-disciplinary and comparative analysis of the effect the war has on returning combatants and the home they try to return to remains still lacking. The questions on which this approach is based rely on complex subjectivities: Who is coming home? And what does home mean in a post-war context?

The core thematic focus of the conference is the return of ex-combatants and displaced civilians from conflict or conflict-based imprisonment. Presenters are asked to speak to a series of closely inter-related questions within this specific rubric. Of particular interest is the way in which former participants in conflict processed and reacted to the destruction or severe modification of their ‘home’ community and how this in turn interacted with the destruction or severe modification of their own subjectivity. Further questions spin off from this, such as questioning the nature and meaning of ‘home’ in the post-war context, irrevocably transformed by the experience of conflict. The place of guilt and trauma in post-war experiences and recollections is closely allied to this. How did former combatants across time and space, ‘victorious’ or ‘defeated’, adapt to the discombobulation resultant from homecoming into shattered or at least severely modified post-conflict zones? And how does this change when the conflict was a civil war or insurgency, when the conflict remains ever-present within the communities? ‘Re-integration’ can through these questions hereby be freed from a straitjacket of normative and prescriptive literature, with particular attention on the subjective consequences of conflict on individuals and communities.

Through asking these questions, the scope of the conference stretches beyond the immediate moment of homecoming to the longer-term legacies of this key moment in post-conflict transitions; the ways in which societies are still influenced by the silences that emerge around homecoming in certain contexts, and the place of return in the historical memory. Scholars with a wider interest in the post-war should find the conference an important and interesting opportunity to bring into focus their specific work regarding the homecoming of combatants. The conference invites academics and ECRs involved in a wide panoply of geographic and temporal spheres, from distant conflicts of which recollections are purely literary, artistic, and historical to more recent, and even contemporary conflicts, where oral histories and interviews with informants may form part of the evidential basis.

Moreover, the conference invites scholars from across the manifold humanities disciplines, especially combining historical approaches with the ways in which homecoming has been represented, whether it be in the literature, film, or the visual arts. Of special interest are key interdisciplinary fields like memory studies and the history of emotions. Through asking common questions, with different disciplinary approaches and of manifold different contexts, the conference will hope to arrive at some tentative conclusions about some underlying structures: parallels in the manner men and women react to the destruction of the familiar and their alienation from their past, present, and future. A potential publication on this theme, supported by the Warwick Series in the Humanities is also aimed for.