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German Prisoners of War in A French Prison Camp. 
French Pictorial Service., 1917 – 1919, U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier:165-WW-461D(3) From: American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, compiled 1917 - 1918 (Record Group 165)

War and Captivity in Modern Conflicts

Organisers: Jasper Heinzen (History) and Jon Finch (Archaeology)

An inter-disciplinary project funded by the Centre for Modern Studies and supported by the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York

While military conflicts are undeniably destructive in terms of their human and material cost, they also have unintended creative consequences. The German historian Ute Frevert has aptly termed wars ‘inter- and transnational events par excellence’ because no other phenomenon, with the possible exception of migration, brings so many people in such close contact with each other. Some forms of contact are benign, including the bonds of comradeship that can blossom into what Jay Winter termed ‘fictive kinship’ among soldiers, whereas atrocities and genocidal mass exterminations represent the opposite form of encounter. Both extremes of the spectrum have been the subject of extensive scholarship in recent decades, thanks to a process of analytical cross-fertilisation through interdisciplinary borrowing.

Building on these advances, the project seeks to foster dialogue among researchers and students interested in the experiences of prisoners of war. Themes to be explored include the role of camps as cultural/social contact zones, the way in which inmates adapted to the increasing standardisation of captivity in the modern period, conceptual juxtapositions of freedom and captivity, the commemoration of captivity and engagement with in/accessible and imagined landscapes.

With its roots in historical and archaeological research into prison camps and, taking advantage of the interdisciplinary collaboration, we plan to explore these questions in a wider analytical framework.

The project adds to the enquiry into the spatial rootedness of modernity whilst at the same time our investigation of captivity as a contact zone is distinct in the sense that it highlights the ephemerality of space. Prison camps were not natural or organic communities like cities but rather resulted from contingent infrastructural, cultural and political requirements of war. They were likewise shaped by the normative force of international humanitarian law. Combining their respective expertise in history and archaeology, the project leaders hope to generate cross-disciplinary debate on these issues at the University of York and further afield.

The lecture series will be geared not only towards colleagues/students from the University of York but also political scientists, anthropologists, legal scholars, and art historians interested in the effects of human conflict.

Lecture Series (provisional titles)

  • Renaud Morieux (University of Cambridge) French Prisoners of War in Britain during 18th century
  • Elodie Duché (York St John) British internees in France during the Napoleonic Wars
  • Anne Buckley (University of Leeds) Imprisoned in Skipton: German PoWs during the First World War
  • Neville Wylie (University of Stirling) PoWs, diplomacy and international humanitarian law in the Second World War