Great Battles Series
Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel
Oxford University Press, Oxford UK 2018
Hardback 288pp RRP: $56.99
Reviewer: Robert Dixon, April 2019
It is important not to be misled by the title of this book or by the photograph on the front cover. There is actually very little in this book about the fighting in and around Ypres in the First World War. It is instead an examination of the ways in which the populations of the different countries involved have imposed their own ‘narratives’ on the city and the region around it since 1918.
Much of the text is devoted to an exploration of the city's growth as a tourist destination after WW1 and especially the development of battlefield and pilgrimage tours. Oxford University Press describes the focus of the books in its ‘Great Battles series’ as follows: “Certain battles acquire iconic status in history. …. Commemorated in paintings, verse and music, marked by monumental memorials, and used as the way points for the periodisation of history, these battles have also enjoyed cultural after-lives. Each book in the Great Battles series examines both the battle itself, and also its legacy in the imaginations of the victors and the vanquished.”
Consistent with this purpose the book under review moves away from traditional British and Commonwealth remembrances of the battles to compare the views and commemorations of all combatant nations. In the words of the authors (both of whom are academic historians and seemingly writing for other academic historians rather than the general reader): “the book offers the first transnational interpretation of the meaning of Ypres… placing competing visions of its meaning and significance side by side throughout.” They go on to tell the reader that “Ypres … existed in a number of different registers in popular culture and was quotidian as well as ethereal.” (If you find that this sentence is meaningful, then this is definitely the book for you!)
The book includes thirty B&W photographs (mostly of memorials to those who died fighting in and around Ypres) together with three maps. The book also has twenty-four(!) pages of endnotes, a lengthy bibliography and an index.
The RUSI – Vic library thanks the publisher for providing this work for review.