Porter Fortune History Symposium March 5-6 to Focus on Civilian Experience of World War

Started in 1975, event honors late UM chancellor emeritus

OXFORD, Miss. – The advent of air travel drastically altered warfare,
both for military strategists and the civilian populations that endure
bombings. But historians tend to focus on the strategy of military
campaigns, leaving little record of civilian experience.

stories of those who survived wartime bombings take center stage this
week at the University of Mississippi during the 33rd Annual Porter L.
Fortune Jr. History Symposium. “Strategic Bombing and the Civilian
Experience of World War” begins at 2:30 p.m. Thursday (March 5) at the
Ole Miss-Oxford Depot, which is the site for all symposium sessions
except the keynote address. All symposium events are free and open to
the public.

“The Porter Fortune History Symposium is one of the
major annual events on our campus,” said history department chair
Joseph Ward. “This year’s symposium brings to campus an impressive
number of experts on a topic of considerable historical and
contemporary interest.”

The keynote address, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Johnson Commons Ballroom, features Tami Davis Biddle of the U.S. Army War College. Biddle plans to speak on “Abandoning Restraint: The Air Attack on Dresden, February 1945.”

Biddle wrote in a 2008 article for The Journal of Military History: “In the realm of public memory, the Dresden raid has eclipsed other, more destructive raids of the second World War. And yet, like many other high-profile historical events, the Dresden raid is encrusted with myth and misunderstanding. Rarely is there any discussion of the context of the event or the specific motivation for it.”

The symposium resumes at 10 a.m. Friday and concludes with a 4 p.m roundtable featuring all symposium presenters.

Thursday afternoon’s speakers and their presentations are Gianni Perona, University of Torino, “From Malta to the Alps, 1940-1945: Strategic and Tactical Bombing in Densely Populated Areas”; and Nicholas Stargardt, Oxford University, “War of nerves: Individual and Collective Responses to the Bombing in Germany.”

Presenters on Friday morning and their subjects are Edna Tow, University of California at Berkeley, “Negotiating Truth and Rumor about Chongqing’s Great Tunnel Disaster of June 1941”; and Cary Karacas, College of Staten Island, “Bodies and Bombs: Historical and Current Perspectives on Civilians in Tokyo During the Asia Pacific War.”

The concluding session Friday afternoon features Lucy Noakes, University of Brighton, “Hitler couldn’t get us down: Remembering and Forgetting the Blitz in 21st century Britain”; Franziska Seraphim, Boston College, “Hiroshima in the Global Iconographic Imagination of World War II”; Gilad Margalit, University of Haifa (Israel), “The Germans and Their Memory of the Bombed Cities.”

Beyond Dresden, the keynote topic, the symposium aims to shed light not only on the civilian experience of bombings but also on lesser-known bombings themselves, said Susan Grayzel, UM associate professor of history who is an expert on aerial bombings and their civilian casualties.

“In World War II, Japan bombed India; there were also bombings in Italy, China and Japan,” Grayzel said. “Everyone knows Germany and Britain were bombed. What’s different about this event is that in addition to examining the well-known cases, we’re expanding the focus beyond Europe.

“There are a lot of assumptions about what these bombings mean,” she added. “But how did civilians experience and remember them? What legacies result from how they remember being bombed? We’re going to take a closer look.”

That closer look will step outside the traditional view of bombings as military strategy. Just as bombings erased the concept of the traditional battlefield, the way combat is planned changed as well.

“When bombings became part of standard warfare, it required governments to make this tricky balancing act between wanting to protect the civil population and not wanting to scare them,” Grayzel said. “Bomb shelters, warning sirens – all of that had to be invented after the bombs first fell.

“And, of course, it was terrifying to be standing in the street after buying groceries and hearing warnings go off. We’re hoping this symposium will remind us to think about the impact of military endeavors on civilians – to take the civilian experience of war seriously.”

The Porter L. Fortune Jr. History Symposium began as an annual conference on Southern history in 1975. In 1983, it was named for the late Porter L. Fortune, Jr., UM chancellor emeritus, to honor his contributions to the success of the symposium. Past events have examined topics such as the Southern political tradition, childhood, religion and the role of gender in shaping public power.

For more information, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/history or call the Department of History at 662-915-7148. For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-7148.