Responding to war: peace activism, WWI literature, and remembrance

  • Thalia Isabelle Ostendorf

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This interdisciplinary thesis is based on six months of multi-sited fieldwork with the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades’ Association (MGC/OCA) in the UK and Voices for Creative NonViolence (VCNV) in the UK and the US, and remote follow-up interviews (due to COVID-19 restrictions), as well as the analysis of a primary corpus of WWI literary texts (Under Fire: The Story of a Squad (1916) by Henri Barbusse; Undertones of War (1928) by Edmund Blunden; All Quiet on The Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque; Storm of Steel (1920) by Ernst Jünger; and Testament of Youth (1933) by Vera Brittain. Straddling the disciplines of Modern Languages and Social Anthropology this thesis proposes an interdisciplinary methodology through applying ‘abductive ethnography’ across both disciplines (Bacj 2012), drawing out the points of convergence at the same time as accounting for their specificities. Interacting with my interlocutors and my corpus of WWI texts through what Kermode (1988) calls the commentary on these canonical works, this thesis begins with ‘endings’ as a way of articulating different stories. Critically engaging with my own ‘multi-situated’ positionality (Sunder Rajan 2021), I allow the fieldwork to influence the literary analysis and my engagement with the texts to inform my fieldwork. The various narratives addressed in this thesis are brought together to explore and question what moves people to engage with war through remembrance and activism, and how these practices take shape. Drawing on various theoretical approaches, this uncovers the ways in which this research shows both remembrance and peace activism as engaging with the dead but nonetheless geared towards the future. I ultimately propose a notion of multi-sensorial (re)reading which leads to interpretation and action.
Date of Award16 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorElodie Roseline Laugt (Supervisor) & Adam Douglas Evelyn Reed (Supervisor)


  • WWI remembrance
  • Peace activism
  • Canonicity
  • Critical and Uncritical Reading
  • WWI literature
  • Social anthropology
  • Modern languages
  • Comparative literature
  • Abductive ethnography
  • Interdisciplinary research
  • Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades’ Association (MGC/OCA)
  • Voices for Creative NonViolence (VCNV)
  • Henri Barbusse
  • Edmund Blunden
  • Erich Maria Remarque
  • Ernst Jünger
  • Vera Brittain

Access Status

  • Full text open
  • Embargo period has ended, thesis made available in accordance with University regulations

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