Royal Geographic Society
RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London,
27-29th August 2014
Congested terrain: contested memories. Visualising
the multiple spaces of war and remembrance
‘Stasis’ is widely accepted
as the pre-eminent condition of the conflict on the Western Front,
a war of congealment, fixity and stagnant immobility fought from
earthworks that were designed to be temporary but quickly became
permanent. In the battle zones a new spatial order emerged; beyond
the superficial safety of the front-line parapet was No Man’s
Land a liminal, unknown space, a ‘debateable land’ which
could not be owned or controlled. Far beyond lay a green and unspoilt
distance, a ‘Promised Land' that was forever locked in an
unattainable future; the domain of imperial development and exploitation.
This paper explores the spatiality of conflicts on the Great War
battlefield, and draws on the work of artists, cartographers and
surveyors who attempted to explore and lend visual form to the chaos.
Through the act of mapping and drawing they attempted to systematize
the outward devastation, whereby trees became datum points, emptiness
was labelled, and the few fixed features of the ravaged land became
the immutable co-ordinates of a functional terrain, a strategic
field, where maps where predicated as much on time as of place.
The paper concludes by looking at the spatiality of commemoration,
at how memoryscapes have been created, preserved and re-presented
as a palimpsest of overlapping, polyvocal ‘lieux de memoire’.
Across France and Belgium, the flattened emptiness of the former
Western Front is now crowded with rhetorical topoi and emblems of
regional and national assertion.