I was quite tough on the IWM. Look, they are putting on a Falklands exhibit (which should support the sales of Forgotten Voices of the Falklands War). And here is what looks like a really interesting exhibition.
In different ways, Great War Fiction, Investigations of a Dog, Break of Day in the Trenches and Victoria’s Cross have all discussed the experience, costs and value of blogging. Esther at BODITT points out that in the reflexive, insular world of blogging, a certain degree of navel gazing is inevitable. But I feel the need to participate, despite her somewhat worldweary tone (and otherwise, I’d just be commenting, and I get told off for that) Victoria’s Cross argues that: ‘So, lecturers must blog more. Blogging is the start, it provides a visible rallying point for developing communities. They must get involved in networks and communities beyond the traditional university driven avenues. It is a priority.’
I wholeheartedly agree that the academic blog is a potentially hugely valuable tool – not just for rapid intellectual exchange between the expert, but in order to break down the authority of status and replace it with the authority of expertise. But everyone saying that lecturers should blog more needs to think about how we make decisions about our time. Read the rest of this entry »
An adapted version of a review for the Journal of Army Historical Research
This is an exhibition that will spark a great deal of thought and conversation, both about the history of camouflage and the purpose of the Imperial War Museum.
‘Camouflage’ has four sections – concealment, distortion, deception and advertisement. They chart the rise of camouflage over the twentieth century and its spread into the worlds of popular culture and fashion. Camouflage is defined very broadly, so that it includes not only a variety of DPM, but also the ‘escape boots’ manufactured for British aircrew, which could be cut down to resemble civilian shoes. A particular theme is the involvement of artists in the development of camouflage.
There are many points of interest for the expert and the non-expert alike. ‘Camouflage’ would therefore make a suitable excursion for readers and their long-suffering partners, friends and families. The exhibition opens with a greatcoat spattered with paint by the French artist and soldier Eugene Corbin: the progenitor of today’s camouflage uniforms. Towards its end is the camouflaged kit produced by the American army for pregnant soldiers. Even those familiar with the dazzle-patterns applied to British ships during the First World War will probably not have considered how these were developed. Here are the drawings and model ships produced to test out different designs. The latter are arrayed like a particularly well organised herd of miniature zebra in the corner of the room: each a work of art in its own right. ‘Deception’ features not only detailed descriptions of the creation of fake trees to act as observation posts on the Western Front during the First World War, but also amusing footage of British troops inflating, and then manoeuvring a decoy tank in 1944. Several reviewers have noted Roland Penrose’s slide of his lover Lee Miller, semi-naked and camouflaged, which was used to spice up his Home Guard lectures. Read the rest of this entry »
Draft review for Biography
Towards the end of the twentieth century, the interaction between war and culture became a major issue of historical interest. Historians of that century’s great conflicts are now as likely to study representation and imagination as wartime events themselves. The result has been a more complex understanding of how cultures were mobilised, how wars affected individuals and societies over the long term, and how key cultural artefacts were produced and preserved. Jay Winter has been a key figure in this historical movement, from his original work on socialism and the First World War, through a groundbreaking study of the war’s demographic impact on Britain, through to more recent works on the ways in which it was remembered. His self-evident passion, his breadth of reference and his intellectual originality, have served to inspire a legion of graduate students (myself amongst them). Rather like, in an earlier age, Basil Liddell Hart, Winter is now at the centre of his own world wide web, formed from his interactions with experts, opponents, colleagues and students. Read the rest of this entry »