A busy time of year: so a post to let everyone know that I’m doing more than cancelling seminars at the moment.
First, of course, it’s the start of term. That means it’s busy, with lots of new students to meet and lots of names to remember. Although I only run one undergraduate course at the moment, I lecture on two others, which are team taught. Perhaps predictably, I ended giving the first lecture on those as well. This got me back up to speed quickly I guess, but I always forget just how exhausting performing history is. But my classes this year seem bright and keen (well, it is only the first week) and my MA seminar has more students in it than ever before. And I have a new PhD student, about whom more anon.
Second, I’m trying to finish writing a chapter about the run up to the Second World War in Britain. After a summer of grappling with a huge reading list on appeasement, I’m struggling with trying to condense it down into something worth reading. And struggling even more because I’ve realised, in the course of the reading, that actually I want to devote as much space to British preparations (official and unofficial, physical and mental) for the war as I do to more traditional concerns about Chamberlain and foreign policy. I’m particularly interested in the effect, and lack of effect, of British conceptions of ‘modern’ (ie total) war. And I think that this is an area which tends to get left out of more popular histories.
Third and fourth, I’ve got two papers to write. One a contribution to a collected volume arising out of the Society for First World War Studies conference in Dublin last year on the First World War in Contemporary British Culture. The second a paper that I’m going to give in Calgary in November about the 90th anniversary of the Somme. Fortunately, some of the research for these two has dovetailed, although the outputs are different. I’ve only got on to writing the Dublin one at the moment: but I’m actually finding it a lot of fun. After battling with condensing Britain in the 1930s all day, it’s kinda pleasant to get on to writing about a topic where I already have expertise. What I’m doing is to look back at the conclusions I reached at the end of The Great War: Myth and Memory about how myths have changed over time, and apply them to last five or so years, which didn’t really get covered in the book. That gives me the chance to measure up some of my predictions, and to see if anything has changed.
Fifth, loads of not so exciting administrative stuff, including trying to renovate the QMUL History undergraduate admissions pages.
Sixth, I am responding to congratulatory emails. As some of you were kind enough to notice, I have been shortlisted for the THES Young Academic Author of the Year award 2006. I’m not hugely keen on the way I came across in the interview they did, but never mind. And as one of my colleagues kindly pointed out, in what I hope wasn’t a backhanded compliment: ‘making the shortlist is the main thing’. Thanks for the vote of confidence… Anyway, I ain’t preparing no victory speech yet.
Seventh (I did say I was busy), I’m getting ready to be interviewed by Michael Portillo for an episode of the BBC Radio 4/OU series Things We Forgot to Remember on 1918. The prospect of talking about things I’m supposed to know about on national radio has sent me scurrying back to my archives to check on things like ‘where did Haig actually lie in state?’ and ‘when exactly did they take that photo of Riqueval bridge?’ Which brings me to my key discovery of this evening: the history of the 46th Midland Division’s storming of the Hindenburg Line is online at archive.org. Very useful.
Things I’d like to put online in the next couple of weeks:
Another list of the PhDs that never were.
An account of my new PhD student’s work (with her permission)
A draft of the Somme paper
Some thoughts about preparations for war: dubiously pre-titled ‘Why German Munitions were close to Desmond Morton’s heart’*
*I do hope the two of you who get that gag are amused. And please don’t tell me that I’m not the first one to think of it.