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Joe Sacco

Cultures and Commemorations of War is an interdisciplinary seminar series that explores the practices and politics of war memory across time. Organised by Dr Alice Kelly, Harmsworth Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Oxford’s Rothermere American Institute, the series was initially funded by a British Academy Rising Stars Engagement Award.

The next event, held on Thursday 9 May, is the fifth in the series and focuses on the interplay between art, war and memory, with a keynote speech from the renowned graphic novelist Joe Sacco. Dr Kelly, who is also a Junior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, talks to Arts Blog about the event...

What topics will this seminar explore?

The purpose of this interdisciplinary seminar is to explore the artistic and visual representation of war in many different contexts. Over the course of the day, we will hear from a range of academics (from professors to PhD students), artists and practitioners working on the artistic representation and memory of many different conflicts. In the morning there will be short talks on a new First World War video game, on art after Auschwitz, and on the political cartoons of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali (assassinated in 1987). In the afternoon we will hear about a project which links the Belgian refugee crisis in the First World War with contemporary refugees, and a project to photograph murals in Northern Ireland through the Troubles.

What role does art play in the representation of war?

Art and war have a complex relationship. In one way, the two are opposite: art is creative, war is destructive, but obviously it’s more complicated than that. Art, perhaps more than other media, has an immediacy which makes it highly effective in telling the story of a war. Art in wartime can promote war through propaganda, or it can protest against war. War inspires art, but it can also be looted in wartime or destroyed by war – think of, in recent times, the temples destroyed in Palmyra, Syria. Art can enable us to remember violence, recording the experience of people who may be forgotten by the historical record, and to rewrite the history of war, but it can also facilitate the forgetting of violence by censorship and photo manipulation. After a war, art can enable people to recover. There are also the complicated ethics of war art – what can be depicted and what can’t? What is reportage and what is exploitation? What constitutes ‘war art’? We’ll be thinking about some of these issues at our seminar.

Tell us about Joe Sacco’s significance in this area.

Joe is an award-winning cartoonist who combine eyewitness journalism and art, and is a pioneer within the genre of comics journalism. He is particularly known for representing conflict and violence, and their cultural and social memory. Some of his best-known books, for example Palestine (2001) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009), have focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict, while in books such as Safe Area Goražde he focuses on the Bosnian War. His epic 24-foot depiction of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, called The Great War (2013), should be seen by everyone thinking about the war. The scope of Joe’s reportage and his ability to provide panoramic scenes while paying meticulous attention to detail, combined with his humane and sensitive journalism, constitute a body of work which exemplifies the key themes of this CultCommWar seminar.

What else have you covered in this seminar series?

This is the fifth workshop in the seminar series. Our previous four events have covered a wide range of topics related to the practices and politics of war memory across time. In the first year, the series was funded by a British Academy Rising Stars Public Engagement Fellowship. In the two events held in Oxford and one at Imperial War Museum London, our keynote speakers were the journalist and writer David Rieff, the academic Marita Sturken, and the Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller (who told us about the process of creating We’re Here Because We’re Here, his Somme centenary piece). Our first event this academic year focused on American wars and American memory, and featured the anthropologist Sarah Wagner. Across the series, our conversations have considered the myriad ways that war has been remembered in unofficial and official contexts, from video games to baseball caps (shared between Vietnam vets); from old and new memorials to volunteers dressed as soldiers in Paddington station.

Most of the events feature a morning roundtable led by postgraduates and early career researchers, where the chairs are set in a circle to encourage an open and democratic exchange of ideas. I wanted to move away from the set structure of a conference and I think of these events more like a kind of thinktank, where audience members are encouraged to participate as much as possible.

You can read short pieces about the series on the British Academy website and the Oxford Arts Blog, and I wrote a short article for Times Higher Education on how the series particularly champions emerging and early career scholars in these types of events.

There are still a few places available at the event:

To register for the full-day workshop, please click here.

To register ONLY for the talk by Joe Sacco, please click here.

Puerto Rico

Eduardo Lalo, Professor of Literature at the Faculty of General Studies at the University of Puerto Rico, and an artist and author, has been appointed as Global South Visiting Fellow at TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).

Eduardo Lalo's literary oeuvre comprises novels, essays, poetry, graphic art and fascinating hybrids of all of these. He is the author of the novels La inutilidad (Uselessness, 2004), Simone (2015), and Historia de Yuké, which has just been published by Ediciones Corregidor in Argentina. For Simone, he was awarded the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel prize - an exceptional honour granted to the likes of Gabriel García Márquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude (1972) and Roberto Bolaño for The Savage Detectives (1999). Uselessness and Simone have both been translated to English and published by the University of Chicago Press.

The Global South visitor programme, which sits in TORCH, is part of a wider aim to diversify the curriculum in Oxford’s humanities departments. The scheme is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is part of TORCH’s ‘Humanities & Identities’ series. 

Mr Lalo said: ‘I am looking forward to joining the Oxford academic community and working with Dr María del Pilar Blanco from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages. I am grateful for the opportunity to be included in conversations on curriculum diversification and look forward to sharing my work and experiences with students, academics and staff.’

María del Pilar Blanco, Associate Professor in Spanish American Literature, is sponsoring Mr Lalo’s term at the University. She said: ‘I am pleased to see Eduardo join us here in Oxford. He is one of the most important cultural figures working in Puerto Rico today. He will offer our academic community a much-needed, urgent perspective on contemporary Caribbean arts and politics, as well as a unique view on hemispheric American and transatlantic cultural, political and social exchanges.’  

Through the Global South visitor scheme, academics from countries in the Global South are hosted by a University of Oxford academic for one or more terms. The programme also provides role models and increases awareness around diversity and inclusivity across the wider University. The scheme builds on and reinforces existing links between Oxford (including TORCH), Mellon and universities in the Global South.

Mr Lalo will be based at Oxford’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Trinity College during Trinity Term 2019.

Athlete warming up on a running track.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has announced that Caster Semenya and other athletes with disorders of sex (DSD) conditions will have to take testosterone-lowering agents in order to be able to compete. Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics in Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy, writes in response to this decision...

Reducing the testosterone levels of existing intersex female athletes is unfair and unjust.

The term intersex covers a range of conditions. While intersex athletes have raised levels of testosterone, its effect on individual performance is not clear. Some disorders which cause intersex change the way the body responds to testosterone. For example, in androgen insensitivity syndrome, the testosterone receptor may be functionless or it may be partly functional. In the complete version of the disorder, although there are high levels of testosterone present, it has no effect.

As we don’t know what effect testosterone has for these athletes, setting a maximum level is sketchy because we are largely guessing from physical appearance to what extent it is affecting the body. It is not very scientific. We simply don’t know how much advantage some intersex athletes are getting even from apparently high levels of testosterone.

It is likely that many winners of Olympic medals and holders of world records in the women’s division will have had intersex conditions historically. It is only recently we have become aware of the range of intersex conditions as science has progressed.

These intersex women have been raised as women, treated as women, trained as women. It is unfair to change the rules half way through their career and require them to take testosterone-lowering interventions.

It is a contradiction that doping is banned because it is unnatural, risky to health, and reduces solidarity. But in these cases they want to force a group of women to take unnatural medications, with no medical requirement, in order to alter their natural endowments. Elite sport is all about genetic outliers. Cross-country skier Eero Mantyranta won seven Olympic medals in the 1960s, including three golds. He had a rare genetic mutation that means the body creates more blood cells. The oxygen carrying capacity can be up to 50% more than average. This is a huge genetic advantage for endurance events like cross-country skiing. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says “the spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind”, but in this case, the rules seek to limit and quash bodies that don’t fall into line with our expectations.

It is true that the rules of sport are arbitrary. What defines man and woman will always have borderline cases. But it is imperative these individuals are not unfairly disadvantaged. It is unfair to take away a person’s life and career because you choose to redefine the rules.

CAS agreed that the rules are unfair, but found the unfairness justified: “The panel found that the DSD regulations are discriminatory but the majority of the panel found that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the IAAF’s [International Association of Athletics Federations] aim of preserving the integrity of female athletics in the restricted events.”

Yet there is another option: to implement the rules prospectively by allowing a “grandmother” clause for existing athletes who identify and were raised as women. Then testing for new athletes could take place early – as soon as puberty is complete – to identify athletes who would come under the DSD definition. Affected athletes could make an informed choice about continuing to compete at the cost of being required to take testosterone-lowering agents. This would still deny them the opportunity of competing to their full potential, but it would at least prevent individuals from investing their lives in a sport they would either not want to or be able to compete in.

Intersex conditions can restrict people’s life options. In many cases, it is not possible to have a biologically related child or carry a pregnancy. Unfortunately, it can still carry stigma and discrimination (indeed CAS agree this is an example of it). One possible upside is an advantage in sports. This should not be denied. 

Sport is based on natural inequality. If this is of concern to the authorities, I have argued that physiological levels of doping should be allowed. This would allow all women to use testosterone up to 5nmol/L, as can occur naturally in polycystic ovary syndrome and which the IAAF has considered an upper limit for women with intersex conditions. This would also reduce or eliminate the advantage some intersex athletes hold.

The rules of sports are arbitrary but they should not be unfair. Changing the rules to exclude a group of people who signed up under the current rules is unfair. A change for future generations of athletes would be less unfair, but I believe that it will make for a less interesting competition and will still disadvantage some women.

There is no fairytale ending to this story. Someone will be a loser. But that is always the case in sport.

TORCH welcomes Ms Nur Laiq to its centre as Global South-Mellon Visiting Fellow 2019-2020.

TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) will welcome Ms Nur Laiq as its Global South-Mellon Visiting Professor 2019-2020.

Nur Laiq is a public policy practitioner. She has sought to investigate the combustible power of identity and politics, based on her ground experience in the political and policy arena. Her research aims at bridging the gap between academia and policy.

Ms Laiq has worked on policy with political parties in India and Britain, as well as in the Policy Planning Unit of the UN Department of Political Affairs Policy in New York, with a particular focus on sustaining peace – the idea that nations need to continuously invest in the fundamentals of inclusion and equality to keep war at bay. She also served on the UN Advisory Group on Youth, Peace and Security, appointed by the UN Secretary-General.

Ms Laiq has been a senior policy analyst at the International Peace Institute in New York, a stagiaire at the European Commission DG External Relations in Brussels, and holds a visiting fellowship at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. She has an MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from St Antony’s College, Oxford, which included studying Arabic in Damascus and Persian in Tehran.

Her publications include Talking to Arab Youth: Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt and Tunisia (New York: International Peace Institute, 2013), based on fieldwork with social movements and political parties across the entire ideological spectrum in Egypt and Tunisia following the 2011 uprisings. She is co-editor of The Search for Peace in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), which aims to offer policymakers a toolbox of options for negotiations, based on documentary history and interviews conducted with Arab, Israeli and American stakeholders. Ms Laiq has been a member of the United Nations advisory group for The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth and Peace and Security (New York: United Nations, 2018) and the Center for American Progress task force for The United States and India: Forging an Indispensable Democratic Partnership (Washington, DC: Centre for American Progress, 2018).

Drawing on her experiences, Ms Laiq is working on a book project on the new varieties of liberal responses to new strands of populism and the politics of identity. She seeks to explore the flammable properties of grievance, aspiration and insecurity and the power of narratives in these situations, based on her work on the ground. She sifts through the changing discourse around inequality and identity as the idea of civic nationalism faces grave challenges in both the Global North and South. Her study of shifting political assumptions and practices necessarily takes an interdisciplinary approach.

TORCH welcomes Ms Laiq's knowledge and expertise, which will provide a timely contribution to ongoing work to bring together researchers and policymakers interested in the future of identity, and consequently the future of democracy, peace and security. This is a theme explored in the TORCH headline series ‘Humanities and Identities’.

Ms Laiq said: ‘I am pleased to be joining TORCH and working with Professor Rana Mitter, the History Faculty and the Blavatnik School of Government. I look forward to engaging with students and academics on the navigation of identity and politics in contemporary politics, which is a work in progress. I am excited to be part of a forum for the exchange of ideas between policy experts, politicians, and the Oxford academic community.'

Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University, said: ‘I am delighted to be Ms Laiq’s academic host during her permanence in Oxford. We are working on an exciting schedule of events to allow Nur to engage with students and academics from the University. Discussions on populist politics and the Indian elections, as well as graduate workshops on policy, will feature in it.’

Nur Laiq is based in TORCH from Trinity Term 2019 through 2020.

The TORCH Global South Visiting Professorships Programme is designed to bring world-leading figures to the University of Oxford for at least one term and be included in the teaching and research environment, hosted by leading academics in the humanities. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Programme is a collaboration between the Faculties of the Humanities Division and Colleges of the University of Oxford.

A Victorian duel

In his new book, The Murderer of Warren Street, Professor Marc Mulholland, a professor of modern history at St Catherine's College, Oxford, reveals the true story of the notorious 19th-century revolutionary Emmanuel Barthélemy. This article, first published in the Irish Times, focuses on the last fatal duel held in England...

By Marc Mulholland

On a foggy morning in October 1852, two French men stopped at one of England’s great beauty spots, Priest Hill, a viewpoint near Windsor rising above the Vale of the Thames. Both were revolutionary republicans, socialists, and refugees from their home country. They took off their coats, received duelling pistols from their seconds and stood opposite each other. At signal, Frédéric Cournet advanced, took aim, and pulled the trigger.

Frédéric Cournet, was a large man, in his forties, who carried himself with the confidence of a former naval war-hero. He had led courageous resistance on the streets of Paris against the recent coup d’état against the constitution launched by President Louis Napoleon. Cournet had killed a guard to escape his captors and fled to London a wanted man.

Cournet’s duel was with Emmanuel Barthélemy, still in his twenties but with a lifetime’s experiences. Born of the working classes, Barthélemy had been a revolutionary conspirator since the age of sixteen. He had served nine years as a galley-slave after attempting to assassinate a police man. Little daunted, after release he fought as a barricade commander in a major workers’ insurrection against the bourgeois government. Arrested again, Barthélemy made international headlines by his daring escape from the notorious military prison Cherche-Midi in central Paris. Disguised as a priest, he slipped out of the country and made for England.

Why were these comrades of revolution meeting in mortal combat? Fundamentally, they were very different types. Victor Hugo, in his great novel Les Miserables, painted a pen-portrait. Cournet was “a burly broad-shouldered man, red-faced, heavy-fisted, daring and loyal”. He was “intrepid, energetic, irascible and temperamental.” Barthélemy was “thin and puny, sallow-faced and taciturn, a sort of tragic outcast.” Cournet was something of a blowhard. He was well-known as a bully and an inveterate duellist. Barthélemy was a fanatic: disciplined, ruthless, and filled with a cold rage against society.

It was an Irish man and graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Arthur Reeves, who explained the affair to a fascinated public. Reeves, who had spent 22 years living in France as a language tutor, kept company with the French political émigrés in London. The “boiling nature” of French blood, he reported, made them ultra-sensitive “upon the point of honour”. Cournet had spread rumours about Barthélemy’s girlfriend, suggesting she was a prostitute. Most men, knowing Cournet’s reputation, might have turned a deaf ear. For Barthélemy, however, the slight was not just personal. The dignity of his class and his revolutionary enterprise was at stake. Cournet refused to apologise and a duel was inevitable.

The Murderer of Warren Street'The Murderer of Warren Street' by Marc Mulholland (Windmill)

Cournet confidently let loose his fire, but missed his aim. Now it was Barthélemy’s turn. He pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. He tried again, it misfired again. In a growing frustration of terror, Cournet threw his weapon at Barthélemy’s head. “Use mine!” Barthélemy picked it up, took aim and fired. Cournet fell to the ground, mortally wounded. He died later that night in the nearby Barley Mow Inn. For years afterwards his ghost was reputed to haunt the place.

Barthélemy and the duelling ‘seconds’ - friends and assistants to the ‘principals’ - fled the scene, but the new electric telegraph system sent news ahead, and police arrested them at Waterloo station. They were charged with murder.

Duelling had been a common social practice. Prime Minister William Pitt, the Duke of York, even Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Liberator, had all defended their honour on the field. Though technically a grievous criminal offence, duelling was in effect permitted for aristocrats, officers and gentlemen. It was only denied to the common people. The normal practice was for suspects to be released on bail before being found ‘not guilty’. This had been a republican duel, however, and Barthélemy and his seconds were working class. They were flung in jail to await trial.

Once more a curious Irish connection comes into play. Just a few months before the duel, in July 1852, British soldiers had fired upon a crowd in the small manufacturing town of Sixmilebridge in County Clare, killing six peasants. The occasion had been a tumultuous election assembly, with locals under the leadership of their priests shouting against landlord influence, but there is little evidence that soldiers had been seriously provoked or threatened. British opinion was shocked not by the massacre, however, but by the jury of the coroner’s court bringing in a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against the soldiers and the magistrate. This should have meant imprisonment of the accused until their criminal trial. Instead the Government-appointed Attorney General intervened to order their release on bail. Shortly afterwards he struck down the coroner’s court verdict.

At the Windsor Assizes, the lawyers defending Barthélemy and the others seized upon this legal chicanery. If soldiers could be released on bail as men of good reputation, they asked, why not these honourable duellists? It was an embarrassing moment for British justice, and a special appeal court had to be convened to adjudicate the point of law.

Unsurprisingly, the defence motion was denied, but in so doing the judges had to state with unprecedented firmness that duelling, in fact, was not a crime to be mitigated by honour. It could no longer be winked at as a suitable affair for gentlemen. An important principle had been established. This, as it turned out, would be the last fatal duel ever to be fought on these islands.

Barthélemy and the others were held on bail, went to trial, and were found guilty. The jury, however, brought in a verdict of manslaughter and the sentence was a mere six months. Barthelemy’s extraordinary career was far from over. Upon release, he planned the crime of the century - to assassinate Louis Napoleon, now Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. His furious temper got the better of him, however, and when his employer resisted Barthelemy’s attempt to extort revolutionary funds, a fatal fight ensued. In January 1855, in the falling snow, Barthelemy was hanged for murder outside Debtors’ Gate at Newgate prison.

The Murderer of Warren Street by Marc Mulholland is published in paperback by Windmill.