31 October 2012

Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-1945

Of more interest to family historians that most in this year's series of Shannon Lectures "Making Sense: History and the Sensory Past" is Friday's presentation on “Sensing War: Children’s Memories of Wartime Atlantic Canada, 1939-1945”. It will be presented by Barbara Lorenzkowski, Concordia University
at 3:00pm, in room 303, Paterson Hall, Carleton University

In the port cities of Atlantic Canada, children and youth grew up in a self-declared battle front during the years of the Second World War. For these youngsters, the war had a raw immediacy; for the Battle of the Atlantic transformed the waters and streets of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia beyond recognition. It was not just the navy, army, air force, and merchant marine that clogged the harbours and city streets; an unprecedented influx of military vehicles, as well, invaded the city, curtailing children’s range of movement and spaces of play. This lecture is an exercise in sensuous geography. Drawn from my larger work on the spaces of childhood in Atlantic Canada, it listens to close to fifty childhood recollections of the wartime Atlantic. In making sense of the “war zone” that were Halifax and St. John’s, my interview partners evoked the allure of nocturnal urban spaces, the tastes of cigarette buds, the sounds of German U-boat attacks, the furtive touching of a father’s letter, and the stunning sight of the Bedford Basin and the St. John’s harbour, filled to the rim with war convoys. If, as Proust held in Remembrance of Things Past, the senses provide a key to both memory and the emotions, these oral recollections serve as a reminder that the spaces of childhood are very much “sensescapes” – recalled all the more vividly if interview partners had been granted (or secretively claimed) the freedom to roam in their cities at war. 
Barbara Lorenzkowski teaches at Concordia University in Montreal.  She is the author of Sounds of Ethnicity: Listening to German North America, 1850-1914 (University of Manitoba Press, 2010).  In 2005, she joined Concordia University where she acted as program chair for the 2010 annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association.  Her current research project is a FQRSC-funded study on childhood, space, and memory in wartime Atlantic Canada, tentatively entitled “The Children’s War: Growing Up in the Port Cities of St. John’s, Halifax and Saint John.”  This study is based on close to one hundred oral history interviews conducted over the past three years. Her Shannon Lecture will investigate the sensory dimensions of these childhood experiences.

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