‘Women and the War that Never Happened: British Women, Autobiography and Memory During the Gulf War’ in Temporalities: Autobiography and Everyday Life (ed.) J. Campbell & J. Harbord, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002)
This Book Chapter was commissioned by the book’s editors as part of a collection which deals with the complex relationship between experience and post-structuralist theory in autobiographical writing and life history work. In this Chapter I focused on the ways in which a group of women and men writing about the Gulf War of 1991 for the Mass-Observation project drew on their memories of life during the Second World War. The research on which this Chapter is based grew out of my earlier and wider project examining the relationship between war, gender and national identity and drew on material held in Mass-Observation (War and the British: Gender and National Identity 1939-1991, London: I.B. Tauris, 1998)
As indicated by the title, the article engages with Baudrillard’s controversial arguments about the war, most notably his observation that media coverage of the war in the West acted to disengage audiences from the reality of the war, representing it in an abstract sense, almost devoid of casualties. In its use of material lodged with Mass-Observation, the article demonstrates that for many members of this audience, their own experiences of war gave them a means of engaging with the war on a human level. Importantly, the article demonstrates, this engagement was often shaped by gender, with women more able than men to draw on memories of bombardment and civilian suffering as a means of supporting opposition to the war, whilst men were more likely to draw on their experiences as members of the military to support more factual observations about military tactics.
This Chapter provides a link between earlier research and a current research project. The relationship between history and theory is an area that continues to interest me and on which I have published in other areas. (see, for example, my extended review essay, ‘Gender, War and History: Discourse and Experience in History’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 36, No. 3, October 2001). In particular, I am interested in the relationship between memory, theory, and the construction of identity, an area that I have recently returned to in my ongoing research project on the role of memories of the Second World war in contemporary Britain. In 2006 I was an invited participant in the interdisciplinary ‘Popularisation of War Memory' Workshop at the University of Calgary, presenting a paper which developed this research in an examination of the gendered nature of memories recorded on the BBC’s ‘People’s War’ Website ( proceedings to be published as an edited collection in 2008). I have since continued to develop this project, giving papers at the Universities of Oxford and Portsmouth in 2007 and working on a collaborative project on the role of the internet in the construction of war memories.