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Paul Jankowski in demand for expert commentary on the centennial of the Battle of Verdun

Mar. 10, 2016

Attention builds for Paul Jankowski’s Book, Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War, on the 100th anniversary of this storied battle of the Great War.

Paul Jankowski, Raymond Ginger Professor of History, has been in high demand of late on the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Verdun.   As the author of the award-winning book, Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War (Oxford University Press, 2014), versions of which have been published in French, Italian, German and Spanish, Professor Jankowski has become a highly sought-after source for expert commentary and counsel regarding the meaning and impact of this iconic battle of WWI.   

From the vantage point of 100 years later, there is a renewed desire among many to find some meaning in and to assess the lessons of a battle that lasted 300 days and took 300,000 French and German lives, thus becoming a symbol of the horrors of protracted industrialized warfare. 

Toward that end, many conferences, seminars, museum openings, and other commemorative events have been or will be held as these centennial months unfold.  In recent months, Prof. Jankowski has given or been asked to give talks at the French Embassy cultural service in New York, the French Consulate in Boston, the Public Library in Arlington, Virginia, and the World War I Historical Association in Norfolk, Virginia and has been interviewed by various European publications, including Le Figaro and Ouest-France in France, and El Païs, El Mundo, and El Correo in Spain. He has in addition contributed articles so far this year, requested by Desperta Ferro Contemporanea in Spain, The Historian in Britain, and by the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace in France.

Of particular note, Jankowski served as the historic advisor for a documentary film titled “Verdun: Ils Ne Passeront Pas,” which aired February 9th in France and Germany on ARTE stations (a kind of European PBS).  In a long and highly complimentary review of this documentary, the French newspaper Le Monde attributes much of the film’s strengths to its ties with Jankowski and his work. The reviewer notes, “Serge de Sampigny [the film’s director] had the good fortune of being advised by the American Historian, author of Verdun, Paul Jankowski.  Remaining faithful to the thesis of this unprecedented work, he endeavors to analyze the infernal logic that drives two warring parties to perpetrate confrontation as murderous as it was indecisive.”  

The Film, Television and Interactive Media Program (with the History Department) will be presenting a special screening of this documentary along with a Q & A with its director, Serge de Sampigny, and Professor Jankowski.  This event will be held at Brandeis on Wednesday, April 6 at 6:30 PM in the Wasserman Cinematheque located inside the Sachar International Center.

Professor Jankowski also served as one of several expert commentators in a BBC-produced two-part radio documentary, Verdun—The Sacred Wound, that first aired on February 17.

On this side of the Atlantic, Jankowski authored an op-ed for the New York Times titled, “World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle.”  Published on February 21st, 100 years to the day since the beginning of the German assault against French positions around the town of Verdun, Jankowski writes, “between an older narrative of heroism and a more recent one of pointless slaughter lies an ocean of ambiguity, mingling grandeur with absurdity.”

While Professor Jankowski has moved on to another book project, the battle of Verdun lasted nearly 10 months, finally ending on December 18, 1916.  No doubt for the remainder of this year, Professor Jankowski will continue to find his attention drawn to the scars of battle that have left their mark on the landscape and on the public psyche for these past 100 years.