Wednesday 9 May 2012, Department of Political and Cultural Studies, Swansea University

Callaghan Centre blocks thin

This workshop takes as a starting point the position that the term ‘civil war’ has become too common place, too readily employed, too convenient to be meaningful. Notwithstanding its conceptual and empirical complexities, it stands as a term that not only continues to resist any valid attempt at generalization but, we suggest, actually limits our engagement with a given conflict, obscuring the small nuances or wider implications of that conflict. In short it has become an overly familiar cliché that needs to be re-defined, scholarship re-focused, investigation revised. This observation is supported by the kinds of re-conceptualization that are currently underway in a number of disciplines and that form the basis of the workshop panels. What makes a civil war, and who declares it so? To what end, and why? When does a civil war become a civil war? What are the implications for governments and people in labelling it as such? What do civil wars mean to those who fight them? How are civil wars mediated, negotiated, ended? Might memories and legacies of civil wars – and the context in which they emerge – open up new understanding about the politics of memory? And what of the repression of memory, do civil wars generate a special form of trauma? Can the War of 1812 be considered a civil war? Why did so many post-bellum white southerners shun the term civil war to describe the events of 1861-1865? Is the Spanish Civil War better understood through the prism of a holocaust? How far is the international response to a civil war irrelevant? What are the implications of this designation on policy and politics? Why do civil wars envelop developing countries? 

Approaching this theme from historical, political, philosophical, conceptual, legal, ethical and journalistic perspectives, the workshop brings together leading academics, professionals and analysts with a common interest in civil wars to discuss, develop and innovate new approaches and re-focus debates. By problematizing the very idea of civil war and in offering alternative approaches to understanding this term – indeed, to move beyond it – this workshop is intended as the first step in the creation of an international research network for the study of civil wars and their legacies with the anticipated submission of an application for AHRC Research Networking funds in autumn 2012. Swansea University has multifaceted strengths in this area, in terms of teaching and research and in relation to significant Spanish Civil War archival holdings and the Allan Milne American Civil War Library.

In combination with the workshop on 9 May, Swansea University will host a keynote address from Pulitzer-Prize winning historian and specialist in early American history Professor Alan Taylor (University of California at Davis). Professor Taylor’s address, sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Office of the Embassy of the United States, will focus on the War of 1812.  It will begin at 6 pm in the Wallace Lecture Theatre, Swansea University.  All welcome.  

Sponsoring Institutions:  Swansea University: The Callaghan Centre for the Study of Conflict, Power and Empire: Cultural Affairs Office, Embassy of the United States, London.

Workshop contributions will be limited to 15 minutes, followed by much room for discussion. If you would like to participate, please contact Dr Stephen McVeigh or Dr David Anderson. E-mail: and with a provisional title of the proposed paper. Spaces are limited. The selection of participants will be communicated in due course.