PAPER SESSION 4 - THURSDAY 26/8, 5–7pm (UTC +8)
P4.4 – Women in Conflict
Christeen Schoepf (Australia) One Object – Many Voices: How Oral Histories can offer New Perspectives to the Biographies of Five Hundred Women named on a World War One Roll of Honor
The unique Cheer-Up Roll of Honour was created in 1920 by local artisan Miss Blanche Francis and contains the names of five hundred women who worked regularly at the Cheer-Up Hut in Adelaide, South Australia, for the duration of WW1. A forthcoming publication reveals the collective story of this group of women through the lens of the biographies, genealogies, and social narratives of each woman. Oral histories, however, have given them a voice and made them real, no longer mere names on a board or a document. Through them we can hear patriotic sentiments, laughter, apprehension and inevitably sorrow. This is due to the seminal research of oral historian Beth Robertson who in 1979 recorded the memories of thirty-nine South Australian women for her South Australian Women’s Responses to the First World War research project (SLSA OH 31). Several of them were workers at the Cheer-Up Hut while others had definitive opinions on those women who volunteered to work there. Like the women of the Cheer-Up Society, the women in Robertson’s cohort were demographically diverse, ranging in age from girls as young as fourteen to older married women in their thirties. Robertson also interviewed women who were teachers, army nurses, clerks, secretaries, students, and housewives throughout the war making these oral histories significant as a comparative tool. This paper seeks to present just some of the additional layers the revisiting of Robertson’s now thirty-five-year-old project has provided to the individual and collective narrative of the Cheer-Up Society and the women, a century after formation. This paper will further reveal how one object such as the Cheer-Up Roll of Honor can be the protagonist that brings together many previously silent voices relating stories of women’s work during war.
Christeen Schoepf is a Historical Archaeologist and author who uses cross disciplinary methodologies including genealogy, biography, prosopography and oral history to reveal the stories of objects and the people who made, used and discarded them. She facilitates oral history and genealogy workshops, creates exhibitions, and speaks internationally on her work.
Keywords: objects; war; women
Nermeen Al Nafra (Syria) The War on Syrian Women
The role of Syrian women has been central in the fight against extremism. This study addresses women’s narratives in their fight against extremist groups. The work presented in this study is conducted by Wathiqat Wattan, which adopts an oral history approach in order to learn about women’s suffering in their own words. This approach allows an authentic account about what happened, as we get to examine the various events through women’s lenses and through their interpretations of what happened. In addition, this paper goes beyond providing an account about women’s struggle during the Syrian fight against terrorism. In the second part, the paper draws on the implications of these events on women’s lives socially, economically, and psychologically. As a consequence of the war, the ratio of women to men in Syria is really high and therefore women would have a central role in the process of rebuilding the shattered Syrian society. Women are critical agents in establishing and spreading social norms and ethics. This study offers insight into the most significant trends women have chosen to highlight in their narrative, and it contextualizes their experiences in order to provide constructive conclusions.
Dr. Nermeen Al Nafra is the director of the “Women in Wartime” research project at Wathiqat Wattan Organization/Syria. She has an MA and PhD in Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham/UK. She is currently a Vice-dean at the Higher Institute for Translation and Interpreting at Damascus University/Syria.
Keywords: extremism; narrative; oral history; Syria; women
Kevin Blackburn (Singapore) The Missing Voices of the Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory
In 2002, Singapore became perhaps the first country in the world to conserve as heritage a former comfort station from the Japanese Occupation. Yet it is also the only country where comfort women were sexually enslaved by the Japanese military in World War II but there is no oral history testimony at all from any local women who were comfort women. Most oral history testimony about the comfort women of Singapore comes from accounts of local people who remember seeing them, not former comfort women themselves. While there is no known account by a local woman, there is scattered and brief testimony from Korean women who were brought to Singapore, such as Kim Bok-dong, who passed away in Seoul at the beginning of 2019 aged 92. Memories of the experiences of the comfort women in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation illustrate the contradictions in remembering women’s experiences during war as transnational history. For some nation-states, remembering the abuses of the human rights of women in sexual enslavement during war does not easily fit into official national narratives. Often these abuses of the human rights of women tend to be transnational. They produce what appear to be contradictory responses from nation-states. What role have the comfort women played in history and memory in Singapore?
Kevin Blackburn is an Associate Professor in History at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has co-authored with Karl Hack, Did Singapore Have to Fall? (Routledge, 2004) and War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (NUS Press, 2012).
Keywords: comfort women; Japanese; Singapore; war