Laurence Van Ypersele

Université catholique de Louvain

Laurence van Ypersele, Doctor of History, is a full professor at Louvain University where she teaches historical criticism and contemporary history of the western world.

She is a member of the board of directors of the research centre at the Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne.

As a specialist of the memory of the Great War and the Belgian political imaging, she notably published: Le roi Albert, histoire d’un mythe (Quorum, 1995 ; and Labor, 2006), Questions d’histoire contemporaine: mémoire, conflits et identités (PUF, 2006), and in cooperation with E. Debruyne: De la guerre de l’ombre aux ombres de la guerre (Labor, 2004) and Je serais fusillé demain.

Les dernières lettres des patriotes belges et français fusillé par l’occupant. 14-18 (Racine, 2001) and with E. Debruyne and C. Kesteloot: Bruxelles, la mémoire et la guerre. 1914-2014 (La Renaissance du Livre, 2014).

The Great War One Hundred Years On

From Exultation to Indifference (Belgium, 2014 - 2018)?

At a time when the commemorations of the centenary end, the purpose of this contribution is to sketch a first reflection. What was the role of institutional actors? In what way and how were historians associated with it?What are the big markers of these unprecedented events at both Belgian and international levels?

The commemorations of the Centenary of the First World War was an excellent test for understanding the functioning of Belgian federalism. All the federated entities and the federal government have played a more or less important role, revealing specific political agendas that are as much about their positioning on the Belgian (and international) level as their respective interest for the First World War. These commemorations were also indicative of extremely strong local dynamics that partly contrast with scientific research, which is increasingly part of transnational or comparative perspectives.

At a time when there are no more witnesses and where the monumental memory is no longer understandable by the new generations, one of the major preoccupations has been to make sense and to draw on a register of contemporary values even if it blurs the classic reading grids of the past. At the time of this first assessment, the eye will also be on new tools - commemorations in the digital era - and new practices - forms of re-enactment - without neglecting the importance of the media and the logic which have weighed heavily on this "great centenary".

At a time when the commemorations of the centenary end, the purpose of this contribution is to sketch a first reflection. What was the role of institutional actors? In what way and how were historians associated with it? What are the big markers of these unprecedented events at both Belgian and international levels? The commemorations of the Centenary of the First World War was an excellent test for understanding the functioning of Belgian federalism.

All the federated entities and the federal government have played a more or less important role, revealing specific political agendas that are as much about their positioning on the Belgian (and international) level as their respective interest for the First World War. These commemorations were also indicative of extremely strong local dynamics that partly contrast with scientific research, which is increasingly part of transnational or comparative perspectives.

At a time when there are no more witnesses and where the monumental memory is no longer understandable by the new generations, one of the major preoccupations has been to make sense and to draw on a register of contemporary values even if it blurs the classic reading grids of the past. At the time of this first assessment, the eye will also be on new tools - commemorations in the digital era - and new practices - forms of re-enactment - without neglecting the importance of the media and the logic which have weighed heavily on this "great centenary".

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