Professor Olivier Luminet and Dr Pierre Bouchat

November 11, 1918 is a date that is well-known in our countries as the day when the Armistice for the end of WWI was signed between Germany and the countries that won the war. Commemorations are still happening in those countries, although the level of attendance for those commemorations is very low, together with the general interest for that topic in the media. These observations suggest that both communicative and cultural memory related to the end of WWI are not much present anymore. The current knowledge is merely a semantic knowledge learned through school and barely rehearsed annually when the commemorations occur.

This year commemorating the centenary of the Armistice might be different with a specific activation of the cultural memory sources. Media are likely to give a more extended coverage of the commemorations that will happen that day. For instance, RTBF, the public Belgian French-speaking broadcasting company will follow them extensively with live coverage. In addition, exhibitions are planned in different countries which won the war around that date. In  contrast with this revival of commemoration in victory countries, for countries that lost the war like Germany, Austria, or Hungary no exhibitions or extended media coverage are planned. While the level of knowledge related to November 11, 1918 is already extremely low, the absence of cultural memory activation is likely to make the gap of knowledge between winners and losers of the war even stronger.

This project investigates the current knowledge people have about the meaning of November 11, 1918 in one winning country (Belgium) and one losing country (Germany).  Within Belgium, an additional question will be to compare the current knowledge in the German-speaking part of the country as compared to the rest of the country. That part of Belgium was German before WWI and was annexed after WWI as a sanction against the German empire. As people in that area have a double identity, being Belgian together with being close to the German culture, it will be interesting to examine the effect of their social identity on their knowledge of November 11, 1918.

The method of the project is largely bottom-up, with the aim of collecting information regarding the spontaneous current knowledge of November 11 in general, and of November 11, 1918 in particular. The sources of knowledge of the respondents will also be investigated in order to distinguish cultural sources (school, movies, media reports, books, exhibitions, …) from communicative ones (discussions in the family, with friends of colleagues). As the level of knowledge for memories of the past is largely dependent of generations effects, we will interview people from 3 to 4 group ages with the oldest group being born before WWII, which is likely to influence their knowledge of WWI.