Three Achievements of Cultural History for War Researchers

Compiled by: Dawood Zameni
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: Perhaps the claim that the most important influence of cultural history on war studies was the deconstruction of the concept of "history" and the concept of "war" is not an exaggerated one. Cultural history actually deconstructed the concept of war and the history of war.[1]

Cultural history tells us not to see the war exclusively in the contexts, manifestations of the people who were only on the battlefield, but also see the contexts adjacent to it. On the other hand, cultural history tells us that war is not only a narration of events and even individual experiences of commanders, warriors, veterans and prisoners. The symbols that were created during the war and even after the war also have a history. Objects also have a history. The history of emotions and feelings are as important as the documents and archives left over from the war. Bodies also have history. When the historian decides to study a piece or part of the war, he must also pay attention to other texts.

The historian is the painter of the face of the times. The historian of the war must be able to establish relations between the events of the war and the spirit of the times. The basis of movement in cultural history is, as Peter Burke says, "culture" first, not history. Secondly, the concern of cultural history is "present" not "past". If the historian of the war cannot trace the past events and past events to the "present", his/her efforts will not be very special.

  Cultural history does not say that the past is not important and that what is important is the history of the present, but cultural history claims that the "present" is nothing and an expression of the past. All history belongs to now. Something that has no presence in the present has no history, even if hundreds of people narrate it, even if thousands of pages are written about it. "Writing history" was important for traditional and classical history, but "reading history" is important for cultural history.

Cultural history is closer to the analytical philosophy of history than history itself. Cultural history's main and most important achievement is that it freed war historians from a historical dogmatism. How can we transform the past into the present? What are the components of the present time?

Raymond Williams says that the present tense consists of three components. 1) First, remnants (that is, things inherited from the past and not related to the future). 2) Second, dominant things (things that control the present) 3) Third, emergent events (that is, things that have not fully developed, but they exist). Cultural history problematized the concept of past and present. According to During, the concept of contemporary is not a very important concept, but the question is where exactly does the past end and where does the present begin? Cultural history, in addition to the concept of past and present, also problematized the concept of "narrative".

Cultural history tells war historians not to rely entirely on narration. Historians of the war often accept the face value of the huge wealth of narrative material presented to him, but usually they do not try to discover how the narrative developed and through what distorting corridors it passed to reach him, and because they cannot or do not want to or they don't have the patience to reinterpret the narrative, they are forced to either accept it, or discard it under the subjugation of the politics of memory and the politics of forgetting.

"Narrative", as theorists such as Paul Venier, Louis Mink and Hayden White say, is a creation of the historian's mind. Historical events do not inherently have any problems and do not create a narrative by themselves. In fact, the story format that seems to exist in a historical work is given to it by the narrator. In Stanford's language: sometimes some historians create narratives in the form of narration.

From the perspective of cultural history, "understanding", as Dilthey says, is not just a purely rational flow, but a complex combination of all mental forces and emotional actions through which we perceive an inner reality through the signs that express that reality and these signs given to the senses.

Cultural history is a serious critic of metanarratives. He believes that there is no absolute and complete metanarrative in war. It tries to distance itself from any essentialist and elitist view of history. Cultural history is not a prisoner of reductionism. This discovery (as I mentioned) makes war historians wake up from the sleep of an epistemological and historical dogmatism. In my opinion, this achievement is a very great achievement that cultural history has brought to war researchers.

The second achievement that the studies of cultural history brought to war researchers and historians of holy defense is their attention to concepts such as "politics of memory", "politics of forgetting" and "truth regimes".

Paul Ricoeur - a French thinker - has a famous speech called "History, Memory and Forgetting" which he delivered in Iran in 1994. In this speech, he separated "memory" from "history". Ricoeur said in that speech: There are things that are clearly historical and do not belong to memory, and there are things that cannot be transferred from memory to history and are only a personal experience of history. Ricoeur distinguishes "individual memory" from "collective memory". Of course, the concept of collective memory or collective memory was first proposed by the French sociologist Maurice Holbaux in a book of the same name; In his speech, Rickorham refers to the theory of Halbaux.

Cultural history cautions war historians to be wary of the direct and indirect effects of politics of memory and politics of forgetting. Governments use the politics of forgetting to achieve the legitimacy and sustainability of their relationship with the nation. Who remembers or forgets what, when and why becomes important for governments. Cultural history happens to be looking for absent subjects, crushed subjects, unvoiced subjects and silent subjects. Cultural history warns war researchers, especially those who are interested in recording the memories of commanders, warriors, veterans, prisoners, and even the history of the enemy, to be careful in the name of authorship, in the name of editing, in the name of making the text attractive, the essence of imagination in the narrative shouldn’t make memories and don't manipulate memories too much. The war historian may intentionally or unintentionally censor parts of the narrative/memory; in the words of Professor Alireza Kemari, to "cleanse" the memory. The smoothing of memory may be done either because of the individual preferences of the researcher, or because of the favor of the employer, or unconsciously because of the dominance of the memory policies imposed by the dominant discourse.

The third achievement of cultural history for war researchers is the variety of methodologies and research methods that help war researchers as a toolbox and sometimes as a spotlight to explore the deepest historical and human layers.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, a serious challenge and crisis regarding the nature of science and scientific knowledge arose between philosophers, scientists, linguists, physicists and mathematicians. The question of whether historical knowledge is a scientific knowledge or not? It became a serious challenge for philosophers and historians on the one hand and members of the positivism school on the other hand. Positivism is a school in scientific methodology that states that only scientific propositions are observable, experimental and measurable. From the predecessors of positivists such as John Locke, Hume, August Comte and Spenser to the positivists of the Vienna circle such as Philipp Frank, Hans Hahn, Rudolf Carnap, Otonvirat, Mortis Schlick, Wittgenstein and others who created a crisis in science by considering the metaphysical and historical rules to be meaningless. They made history. This crisis continued until the middle of the 20th century.

But on the other hand, anthropologists such as Marcel Mauss (the founder of anthropology), Karfenigel, Schutz and Weber in sociology and many postmoderns such as Foucault and Derrida and the work done by people such as Strauss, Corbin and Cathy Charmaz in the field of nursing (which led to the emergence of a method It was called foundational data theory or theory arising from data) as well as the works done by phenomenologists such as Van Menen, Moustakas, Denzen and Lincoln and Giorgi in the late 20th century, all of them were actually a protest against the dominance of quantitative research, rigid views of scientific work which had cast a shadow over the entire 20th century mainly based on the dominance of positivist discourse.

The qualitative tradition, which was founded by researchers in the fields of cultural history, cultural studies, cultural sociology, and anthropology, came to a head in France, Germany, Austria, and America at the end of the 20th century by criticizing the objectivist paradigm and positivism in human sciences. Philosophically and intellectually, this stream is based on subjectivist, relativist and semanticist approaches. Today, the qualitative tradition includes several research methods, many of which were invented by researchers in the field of cultural history and related sciences; from case studies and ethnography and data theory, to comparative history, life history, narrative analysis, oral history and discourse analysis, each of which is classified into different types.

Today, in the qualitative tradition, 28 research methods are used by researchers in the field of cultural history, cultural studies, cultural sociology and anthropology, whose application can lead to the deepening of war studies and war historiography.

The criticism of war researchers from the perspective of methodology is that most researchers did not favor mixed methods. The reason is that the first and second generation of war researchers did not have an academic education or were not familiar with modern and advanced research methods.

From 2003 onwards, with the book published by two methodologists named Tadali and Tashakuri, a third current in research methodology emerged, which was called the mixed or combined approach. Mixed research methods have developed strongly in the world in less than 20 years. Creswell and Planoclark divided the types of mixed research into four categories: 1) three-way mixed methods, 2) explanatory methods, 3) exploratory methods, and 4) nested methods, each of which has different types.

Another criticism of the works of war researchers is that many of these researchers were stuck in the retrospective paradigm and did not enter into the forward-looking paradigms. It seems that the establishment of a future research chair in the field of cultural studies and war historiography is extremely empty.

I tried to explain three important achievements of cultural history for war researchers in this small space. First: the approach that I called deconstruction in the concept of history and the concept of war. Second: Researchers pay attention to concepts such as memory politics and forgetting politics. Third: Encouraging war researchers to use the various qualitative methods used by researchers in the field of cultural history, and their use will definitely lead to more in-depth study of war. I hope that interdisciplinary dialogues between the field of cultural history studies and war history and war studies will continue more than before and the result of these discussions will help the dynamics and development of humanities in Iran.[2]


[1] Deconstruction is a type of text reading that tries to discover the presuppositions inside a text.

[2] This note is the summarized text of Dr. Dawood Zamani's speech at the third meeting of the cultural history of the Holy Defense, which was delivered on December 21, 2021 at the Institute of Human Sciences and Cultural Studies.

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