Mauricio Vergara

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What topic are you working on for your masters degree or doctorate?

My PhD at the University of Padua focused on the influence of physical geography on the eastern Tyrol front during the First World War.

Regarding military history in particular, geography has always been considered as a key factor in determining historical developments. The influence of geography can be studied on different temporal and geographical scales, from different points of views, and by using different approaches. In my PhD, the characterization of geography’s role in warfare was developed through different sub-themes, which required the application of diverse methodologies and the use of varied data and sources.

Among the sub-themes explored during my PhD, I studied the assessment of the military value of geography made by commanders, the weight that has been attributed by historiography to the military value of geography in relation to the failure of the Cadore Campaign, the constraints that the alpine geomorphology imposed to military operations and the obstacles relating to trafficability in the eastern Tyrol front.

Why did you decide to work on the First World War?

I have liked history since childhood—I was particularly interested in the two world wars. When looking for thesis topics at the end of my master’s in Natural Sciences, I discovered Professor Aldino Bondesan’s proposal to study the geology and geomorphology of the El Alamein battlefield of World War II. After completing my master’s with a thesis on that topic, Professor Bondesan talked me about the interest for the study of the significance that the geological and topographical framework had during the Great War in the Dolomites. This topic was proposed to the Foundation for University and High Culture in the Province of Belluno, which agreed to fund a doctoral scholarship.
Which is your favourite book on the First World War and why?

While I do not necessarily have a favourite book on the First World War, I can name one book that was important for me in understanding the conflict on the Austro-Italian front. This is A Year on the High Plateau by Emilio Lussu, which is an account of the author’s war experience.

Before A Year on the High Plateau, I had read other narratives describing personal war experiences, but none of them drew me in and made me empathize with what the author was describing in the way Lussu’s book did.

I think there are different reasons for why this book had such an effect on me. One reason is its minimal polemical tone and absence of rhetoric. Indeed, A Year on the High Plateau is principally composed of simple and impartial descriptions of moments of life during wartime, which for the most part convey the horrors and absurdities of that war, as well as the courage of the combatants, that the author experienced.

To my mind, the benefit of these descriptions is mainly due to the special observational skills of the author, who manages to capture the combatants’ thoughts and feelings and also finds critical and symbolic aspects of both the most terrible actions in war and the most common everyday activities.

Lastly, the simple and effective writing style, which is also slightly ironic in parts, adds to the attraction for me of A Year on the High Plateau.