11 November links

November 11, 2008

First, biggest and best: go and explore The First World War Digital Poetry Archive and The Great War Archive, both based at the University of Oxford. Go even if you don’t care about the First World War, just to revel in the high quality of the thought that has gone into creating such a wonderful resource. Go to have a look at the more than 6500 artefacts submitted by members of the public which are all now freely accessible and searchable. This is the thing that has made me happiest this week.

Evidence that a sub’s choice of headline can make an article significantly worse (if this were a student essay, you’d be writing ‘do not introduce new ideas into the conclusion when you haven’t examined them in the main body of the thesis’). But good to see Adrian Gregory’s new book getting mentioned.

Evidence that Mary Warnock is a philosopher, rather than a historian. And that the sort of people who comment on newspaper columns online don’t really understand that the purpose of history is discussion, not abuse and wild assertion (on every side). But from an academic standpoint, what a great case study of the way that ideas about the Great War are used passionately to support different worldviews.

Interesting to note the symbolism that surrounded the last veterans of the First World War laying their wreaths at the Cenotaph, aided as they were by younger, heroic veterans in uniform. And perhaps sad that in trying to honour their comrades, they should be co-opted quite so heavily into an official discourse.

And lastly, I get excited about First World War memorials: but not this excited.


Oxford DNB and National Archives podcasts

November 10, 2008

One of the things that should make one more optimistic about the future of the public history of the First World War is the large number of high quality primary and secondary sources being made available on the web. For example, here is a nicely presented collection of lives from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography covering different aspects of the war. And here are podcasts from the National Archives, with readings from interesting files (I rather like the archivist’s emphasis that actually, finding such good material is pretty rare – they obviously want to lower expectations before they get swamped with people demanding the same level of information on their relatives).


November 8, 2008

For the First World War historian, the approach of 11 November in a year ending ‘8 is always slightly tinged with an empathy for grouse on the 7 August or turkeys in the run up to Christmas. ‘Maybe this time round it will be okay… hold on, what’s that chap in the tweed with the gun doing?’ How will the war be remembered this time round, and will the remarkable boom in First World War studies (inside and outside the academy) have registered on the popular consciousness? Read the rest of this entry »

Strachan on ‘A Part of History’

November 6, 2008

Hew Strachan reviews the essays in A Part of History (Continuum, 2008), a book to which I contributed a chapter on remembrance, for the TLS. Hew’s criticisms of the book, and his demands for less insularity, are justified (quite glad I don’t get a mention, although I’d like to think that one of the principal points of what I wrote was that the British have remembered the war in insular terms, which is his case as well).

What I think he underestimates is the role of publishers and the media in feeding this insularity – the public demand is not perceived to be for texts that place the war in global or historical context.

Another distinguishing feature of A Part of History was a fierce attack on me by Julian Putkowski, based on selective and out of context quotation from this blog (which he identifies as my ‘personal website’). I found this quite distressing at the time – and it has certainly made me more reticent in posting, which may be no bad thing – but ultimately I was glad that the book could find space for such a range of opinion. It also highlighted for me the degree to which a gap exists in understanding about what blogging is within the historical community, and the ease with which one’s words, once posted up, can be cut and pasted into other people’s work, which probably leaves you more likely to be quoted, however angrily.

First World War Studies – Call for Papers

November 6, 2008

Call for Papers
‘Other Combatants, Other Fronts: Competing Histories of the First World War’
The 5th Conference of the International Society for First World War Studies
The Imperial War Museum
London, UK
10th to 12th September 2009

We would like to call your attention to the Fifth Conference of the International Society for First World War Studies, which will take place in association with the Imperial War Museum and War Studies, King’s College, London in September 2009. Since 2001, the International Society for First World War Studies has held successful conferences in Lyon, Oxford, Dublin and Washington DC.
Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Bomber Command – online sources – can you help?

November 6, 2008

In two months, I’ll have finished my sabbatical and be back to teaching and writing at the same time. The prospect is pretty terrifying. I will also be putting on two new courses – since I’m coming back half way through the academic year, I needed to offer one-semester units. One of these will be on the British army on the Western Front, and the other on Bomber Command in the Second World War. I am currently constructing a wordpress blog to support the latter, and I’ve been looking for good online sources to put on it or link to from it.

Some thoughts on the first ones to pop up on Google

The RAF’s Bomber Command 60th Anniversary site is a useful starting point, if predictably focused on units, commanders and famous raids. The ‘Background’ section has some good basic points and orders of battle. I rather like the cutaway picture of the Halifax bomber, which could be a good way to get students to visualise the fighting environment for Bomber Command aircrew (not too sure about the UFO come dinghy flying next to it though!)

Bob Baxter’s Bomber Command site is slightly more cluttered, but more obviously a labour of love. As well as details of planes and airfields, it also has quite a lot of veteran testimony and some interesting aiming point photographs from later on in the war.

The Bomber Command Association’s website is extremely professional looking. It focuses on individual stories – many of which are accessible in pop ups on different pages – and particularly the staggering nature of Bomber Command’s losses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t engage too deeply with some of the more potentially morally troubling aspects of British strategic bombing – which is presented here implicitly as purely a reaction to German aerial attacks and national crisis in 1940.

I’ll also be adding plenty of links to online sources for primary research on Britain in the middle part of the 20th century.

Has anybody got recommendations for sites they think are particularly good, or useful for teaching? I’d be particularly interested in collections of images, or German or American sites.

‘War’s a psychological thing, Perkins…’

November 6, 2008

An audio track of the sequence ‘Aftermyth of War’ from Beyond the Fringe.

I had forgotten how dense in allusions this is – everything from Robb Wilton to Diary for Timothy. It’s also interesting to hear where the audience are laughing – what had, by the early 1960s, achieved the sort of mythical status that made it common knowledge. How many of these jokes would still work, I wonder? Much of the humour is quite gently paced and reliant on the shared experience of those who’d experienced the war or its immediate aftermath as children, then had it reinterpreted back to them on screen. Today, if you’re not a fan of Humphrey Jennings, quite a lot of this sketch falls flat.