Voices Through Time: Letters of the Great War Presentation Nov. 16

November 7, 2012 - 5:00am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NANAIMO, BC - If you have ever wondered how major historical events affect individuals and those they love, you may want to join Vancouver Island University History professor Dr. Stephen Davies for an eye-opening presentation on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Nanaimo campus.

Following only days after Remembrance Day, his presentation “Voices through Time: Letters of the Great War”, shines a light on the experiences of individual Canadians caught up in the ‘war to end all wars’ by letting us hear their voices and see their faces.

In the third presentation of the 2012 Arts and Humanities Colloquium, Dr. Davies will speak about the human impact of military conflict as it is revealed in intimate letters exchanged during the First World War.

Thanks to Dr. Davies’s initiative, dedication, and many years of research, VIU is home to a unique national history project called The Canadian Letters and Images Project (see www.canadianletters.ca).

The project has become the largest collection of Canadian war-related personal materials in the country. Receiving acclaim from across the nation, this historical resource employs seven VIU students in its operations, giving them a unique hands-on research experience.

In his presentation, Dr. Davies will explore the “culture of the letter” to examine what personal war correspondence can and cannot tell us about the experiences of Canadians during wartime.

“Private letters are crucial in letting us understand the human impact of war,” Dr. Davies said. “No other source takes us as close to the individual and his or her most intimate experiences.”

One of the most difficult things to understand and to teach is the human cost of war. “If we talk about Canada’s 60,000 dead for WWI, that’s a figure that is difficult for most students to comprehend – and it’s not just simply 60,000, it is 60,000 individual lives,” said Dr. Davies.

“It becomes even more difficult when we discuss the wider war experience, with casualties of extended battles such as the Somme or Verdun running into the hundreds of thousands. The numbers become so large, and so abstract, that they become meaningless, particularly in terms of the human component.”

Dr. Davies’s goal is to highlight the experiences of the individual soldiers behind those numbers. “The best means to accomplish that,” said Dr. Davies, “is letting the soldiers speak themselves. Their letters, as well as those of their families, provide us with what we might call ‘history in the raw.’ They are windows into the thoughts and feelings of the participants, an opportunity to see the world as they did, without a lens of interpretation added through time.”

The letters remind us that wars are fought and experienced by individuals and that the battlefront and the home front are intricately connected, Davies added. “Their letters poignantly remind us that war is also about relationships and that it is a shared experience.”

Through his work on the project, Dr. Davies has succeeded in making the past relevant and accessible to everyone. With a click of the mouse, anyone, anywhere, can access the Canadian Letters and Images Project.

The materials of the project are being used in classrooms, from elementary schools to universities, across the country and beyond.

Dr. Davies’ presentation, Voices Through Time: Letters of the Great War, takes place from 10 to 11:30 am Nov. 16 in the Malaspina Theatre at VIU’s Nanaimo campus (Building 310). Everyone is welcome. The event is free and refreshments will be provided.

For more information, contact Dr. Daniel Burgoyne at 250-753-3245, Ext. 2126 or Daniel.Burgoyne@viu.ca.

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ABOUT VIU: Vancouver Island University is Canada’s west coast university. Known as a centre of excellence for teaching, learning and applied research, VIU offers a diverse range of certificate, diploma and undergraduate and master degree programs to more than 18,000 students on campuses in Nanaimo, Powell-River and Cowichan, and at the Parksville-Qualicum Centre. For more information visit www.viu.ca


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