Myths, Gender and the Military Conquest of Air and Sea

An interdisciplinary German-British conference of the universities of Oldenburg, Braunschweig, Brighton, Reading and Salford

22-25 April 2009 at the University of Oldenburg, Germany

John Philip Holland, 1841-1914, inventor, his first successful operating
submarine was put into service in 1900 by the U.S. Navy, later by the Royal Navy.

Since the First World War the spaces and zones within which submarines and aircraft have operated have been a major part of military activity. At the same time, air and sea have been associated with the visions and practices of civilian technological conquests. Both the military and civilian conquering of the depths of the sea and the ‘third dimension’ have been marked by fascination and the creation of myths, which show fascinating similarities and contrasts. These phenomena have been more or less explicitly determined by gender constructions and semantics as well as by discourses of nationalism, technology and modernity.

The conference ‘The Military Conquest of Air and Sea: Myths and Memory’ intends to examine the long-term impact of military and civilian attitudes towards conquering the (under-)sea (world) and the air (the so-called ‘third dimension’). In fact, the experience of flying has caused a shift in the way space and time are dealt with in the arts. In popular culture as well, new patterns of consciousness and interpretation have become evident. Other conceptions of typologies of modern man have emerged, while different concepts of masculinity and femininity are developing. Civilian and military social spheres have always been closely intertwined with each other. The mobilisation of women on the home front in both world wars, the inclusion and exclusion of women in the army, and the reintegration of soldiers into civilian life have all had a great impact on gender constructions and gender relations. Military heroes have become civilian heroes and vice versa. Scientists and technicians have worked not only on civilian but also on military projects; visions of national power and supremacy have been defined by military as well as civilian control of (sub)marine and air space.

Therefore, the interdisciplinary conference seeks to broaden the traditional view of the submarine and aircraft by focusing on the topic of the military conquest of submarine and aerial space, considering in particular the British and German perspectives on a broad range of issues.

1. Memory-Remembering-Nation

By way of introduction, this section will shed light on the theoretical questions involved in the interdependence of the process of creating myths and remembering, not forgetting the accompanying constructions of national collectives. Lectures will be delivered on the theoretical discourse of memory, remembering and myths, taking into account the correlation between national cultures of remembrance and gender constructions. In addition, it is intended to include comparative and survey studies of war, weapon systems and nations, including the significance of both world wars in popular literature and film, and the specific nature of German U-boat myths.

2. Gender Semantics and the Techniques of Modern Civilian Technologies of Conquest

In this part covering the civilian sphere, the focus will be directed to the (dis)continuities of myths, fears and fascination and the gender images involved. Various cultural practices will be examined, such as popular cultures, science fiction, fine arts, literature, and also various scientific cultures. Within this framework we will investigate how emergencies, disasters or fears are dealt in the media (e.g., Titanic films or the Challenger disaster).

3. Constructions of Military Masculinity in Reference to Weapon Systems

This third section focuses on the myths of heroes and constructions of belligerent masculinity in connection with gender roles and relations in war and peace. Special forms of social formation and interconnectivity will be a central theme, i.e. the relationship of soldiers with or as mediated by weapon systems. A case in point is the U-boat commander as an individual hero who simultaneously represents his crew. Similarly, the fighter pilot is seen as the lone warrior and a member of his squadron at the same time. Papers on the formation of the self-construction and the self-image of the soldier and metaphors of submarine warfare (wolves, packs, iron caskets) will be included as part of this section.

4. Museum-display and Memorialising between "Communicative" and "Cultural Memory"

This section will analyse the (dis)continuities in official cultures of memory: in other words, specific types of monuments, such as the U-boat Memorial in Möltenort, the Royal Air Force Memorial in London, or museums displaying air and sea wars or weapon systems. Beyond this level of analysis, the practices and patterns of remembering found in (inter)national communities of former U-boat crew members and fighter pilots, as well as their individual recollections, will be a central theme. By taking this perspective, it will be possible to reach a broader understanding of the interaction and blending of “collective” myths, popular culture, and public and private forms of remembering. 


As seats for participants are limited, interested parties are asked to register before April 15th 2009 at Conference Fee: 20 €


 Download the announcement poster here.

 Design: Thomas Robbers