Lest We Commemorate: Assembling Canada's Great War Centenary, 2014-2018

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Lester, Breanna Theresa




This dissertation studies the commemorative practices of the centenary of the First World War (2014-2018). The centenary occurred within a decade-long commemorative period known as the "Road to 2017" (2010-2017) that was itself dedicated to marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. While participating in commemorations, particularly federally sanctioned ones, is socially and culturally constructed an act of good citizenship, these elements have resulted in scholarship that focusses on nation, nationalism, and collective memory. In contrast, with its focus on practices this dissertation approaches commemoration as labour and its practitioners as history workers. To do so, the dissertation applies assemblage theory and a wide range of methodologies to an archive of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) records, interviews with commemoration professionals inside and outside of government, media, and autoethnographic observations. It explores how battlefields were assembled into commemorative landscapes and recognizes both the human and non-human agency involved in those processes. The dissertation then focusses acutely on the day-to-day bureaucratic work involved with designing, enacting, and managing centenary events and practices, and considers the affective nature of that labour on the people who did it. Throughout the chapters, interviews and ATIP records provide unique perspective from inside the various bureaucratic and commemorative assemblages that intersected during the First World War centenary, while autoethnographic fieldwork reveals some of the hidden and unexpected elements of commemorative experiences. This dissertation argues that more scholarly attention should be paid to the practical and logistical components of commemoration. To do so means to better understand what makes commemorations affective, including why accessible and operating toilets can be as important as navigating the political nuances of which flags to display in what order at a centenary ceremony. An attention to practice, furthermore, also makes possible a more generous, empathetic appreciation of a group of often-invisible history workers who, despite often stressful working conditions, sacrificed aspects of their personal lives and wellbeing to execute the important large-scale events that comprised the Canadian centenary experience.


Canadian History




Carleton University

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