What topic are you working on for your masters degree or doctorate?
I am currently working on a Masters (EHESS – my research director is Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau) dissertation on the poetry of the Great War and its usage as a historical source.
Why did you decide to work on the First World War?
It is actually quite anecdotal. When I was seven I rented Schindler’s List by mistake, and I knew since then I wanted to understand the phenomenon of war. During my last year at university I went to King’s College London with my mind set in studying the role of anthropologists in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I attended a compulsory course called The Experience of War. For that course, I had to write an essay on Wilfred Owen’s merits as a “historian” of war, and his writing struck me as some of the most expressive things I had ever read, expressing a level of violence I had never encountered anywhere else. I started asking myself whether it was his personal talent or whether this specific war had touched people in a particular way, and the latter seemed more likely, so I decided to pursue this research.
Which is your favourite book on the First World War and why?
My favourite book on the First World War is one of the poetry books I work with, L’âge de l’humanité, by French trench poet André Salmon, published in 1921. In this book, Salmon tries to find all things inherently human (beauty, poetry, etc.) in the inhumanity of war, it is a testament to the perseverance of human intellect and creative power through conflict, and Salmon tries to extract conclusions that go beyond his generation involved in the war and reach humanity as a whole. I find this book is the poetic equivalent to the work of all those who try to study war and understand the social mechanisms involved in it: we all try to find humanity in violence and extract lessons from it, we just use a different means and write about it in a different way.