Remembering in the 21st century

Tuesday 10 November 2009

The culture of remembrance has been revolutionised by the digital age, according to the latest research.

In a new study of young people’s attitudes to remembrance events, the process of paying tribute to the dead is more alive than ever thanks to the internet.

The research, by Dr Mark Imber of the University of St Andrews, also found that young people were largely supportive of soldiers, even though they might disagree with the principle of going to war.

Dr Imber, a senior lecturer at the School of International Relations, set out to examine the `decaying nature of remembrance’. The researcher was surprised to find out that in fact the notion of remembrance in today’s world has been given new meaning through social networking sites such as Bebo.

He explained, “There is something of a boundary between public expectations of remembrance and the inclusion of the use of web technology, but technology provides us the opportunity to create private spaces of mourning on public website, and for families to put down a marker.

“Digital media allows us to enlarge what we consider to be commemoration and such digital memorials are the digital equivalent of leaving a bunch of flowers by the roadside, or the site of an accident.”

Dr Imber’s study also looked at the use of contemporary art forms, such as Steve McQueen’s Queen and Country exhibition and The Black Watch play as modes of remembrance.

“Young people have cautious attitudes to innovation in the forms of memorialisation and remembrance, such as the proliferation of web-based memorials,” he explained.

“Interestingly, there was wider support for the role of theatre and role-play in explaining remembrance. A recent touring production of The Black Watch was cited by many participants as a profoundly moving wake-up call. Gregory Burke’s play may come to have the same impact on this teen-twenties generation as Oh What A Lovely War by Joan Littlewood, had on me and mine in 1970″.

The findings are part of a study carried out by Dr Imber with 45 sixth year pupils across Fife.  He asked the 17/18 yr olds a range of questions about their attitudes towards remembrance.  The results showed broad support for the `traditional’ forms of the current format including prominent leadership by senior military, political and royal figures, but less for religious representation.

High levels of support for, and engagement with, remembrance events might be explained by memorial processions at Wootton Bassett, the funeral of Harry Patch and revived traditions of `homecoming parades’, according to Dr Imber.

When questioned, the young people recommended more prominence for veterans and the bereaved families during remembrance events. The survey also revealed widespread respect for and imaginative use of the `two minute silence’, even among those who did not originally associate this practice with military remembrance.  It also showed widespread support for the casualties of wars regardless of political unpopularity of those conflicts, and showed strong support for enhanced post-conflict medical treatment and the welfare for veterans.

“I expected to find hostility against the notion that remembrance might be seen as a way of glamourising war, and although five out of the seventy involved refused to take part in `remembering¿, I was surprised to find how `adult’ the majority were in their reaction.

“Although they are angry with the political elite, young people can see that today’s soldiers are people like us, soldier citizens sent to the wrong place with the wrong equipment.  Even for a 17-18 year old, their loss is still a tragedy.  There is a very grown up attitude in this country.”

The pilot study follows on from Dr Imber’s research into war memorials, particularly those in honour of Fife’s fallen soldiers post 1945.



Dr Imber is available for interview on 01334 462932 or Email: [email protected]




Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Press Officer on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103 or email: [email protected]

Ref: Remembrance 111109
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