How are wars portrayed in our literature, art and cinema? How are they remembered in our culture, our monuments and holidays? How does our collective memory of wars change over time?
These were just some of the questions professor Dr. Steve Trout set out to answer when he started the USA Center for the Study of War and Memory. Founded in 2012, the Center is the only initiative of its kind focused solely on the phenomenon of public memory in relation to war.
“When you talk about public memory, you talk about the way society processes its past, whether that’s historically factual or not,” explains Trout. “Often, of course, public memory has nothing to do with the facts, but still these perceptions have a real power, and they shape the way we think about the world we live in.”
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Trout joined South in 2011 as chair of the English department . Before that, he was a professor for 18 years at Fort Hays State University in Kansas.
“One of the things that attracted me to USA was the quality of the faculty,” he says. “As a research university, South is very open to new ideas. They were very open to my interest in the Center before I was even hired.”
As director of the Center for the Study of War and Memory, Trout leads a dynamic group of faculty spanning seven departments — communication, English, modern and classical languages and literature, history, psychology, sociology/anthropology/social work, and visual arts. He points out the rationale for the interdisciplinary nature of the center. “War is portrayed in many different forms in our society; literature, art, film, television, architecture and monuments, and the Internet.”
Together, these faculty members, along with research fellows from other universities across the nation, serve nationally and internationally as a resource for the scholarly study of war and remembrance in all its forms, hosting speakers, conferences and podcasts. The center also is committed to bringing its expertise to the local community. An upcoming project is an interactive library exhibit that will map war memorials in the Mobile area.
“War is a human problem that we are far from solving,” says Trout. “One of the ways to think about this problem is to consider this process of public memory. We tend to look at war based on our perceptions of past military conflicts, perceptions which may or may not bear any resemblance to the historical facts.”