Teaching Bomber Command and the Western Front

January 26, 2009

It’s been a bit of a shock to the system returning to teaching as well as researching and writing after a year on sabbatical. Hence the even more erratic than usual posting. Because I’ve come back half-way through the teaching year, I’ve had to offer two new one semester courses. I’m teaching one on Bomber Command, and one on the British Army on the Western Front. I’ve been blogging (also intermittently) about the former – but please bear in mind if you visit that the purpose of this site is teaching. Whilst it is a bit of a slog writing two new lectures a week, both courses are helping me to think about my current writing, and as ever, when you try to explain something you think you know, you realise how much you still have to learn.

Next year, I’ll probably go back to teaching my existing full year courses, but I’ve begun to wonder whether there’d be some mileage in turning these two one semester units into a full year course – in which the first half would focus on the BEF 1914-18, and the second on Bomber Command. The two raise many of the same issues – British ways in warfare; command, leadership, management and control in modern war; attitudes to technology and its effect on war; the representation and mythologisation of the armed forces, war and combat – areas that I think I will continue working on for some time. Or are these two too obvious? Should I be teaching a combined course on the Royal Navy 1914-1918 and the RAF 1939-1945?


Things noted

February 4, 2008

The petition of 10 Downing St to make the study of history compulsory to 16 has been rejected. But there is going to be plentiful study of ‘citizenship’. What’s the difference between citizenship training and the study of history? One teaches you what the government thinks is good about the country, the other teaches you how to make up your own mind.

‘Kings of War‘ – the blog from the War Studies department, King’s College London. Horrible name, interesting content.

Although it’s inevitably linked to ‘citizenship education’ – sigh – the wonderfully interactive Food Stories website (click on interactive) drawing on the oral history department at the British Library’s project on food. I wonder if they want to put on a university course?


New Year things noted

January 6, 2008

Cross posted to Cliopatria and Trenchfever to keep things warm whilst many regular Cliopatricians are at the AHA.

Further reactions to the death of George Macdonald Fraser, including the question, ‘Should we mourn Flashman?’

Why where you put certain questions matters, in tests, in semesters, in lives, from Mixing Memory, via Gavin Robinson.

The Decision Hedgehog, for all those who’ve told that joke about why ‘working for this company is like screwing a hedgehog’…

Sad departure of 2007, Alan Eames, ‘the Indiana Jones of Beer’

Self-agrandising media corner, as I talk about doing a podcast for the OU and the BBC, with another corner for agrandising one of my PhDs, Jack McGowan, who spoke to BBC Radio 4 about newly declassified material from the National Archives.


I’m back!

December 18, 2007

It is very much to my embarassment that this is the first post in over three months. Yes, I am well aware that the web is full of blogs the principal content of which are posts lamenting ‘I really must write here more often…’, but allow me to explain. For me, the purpose of the blog has always been to encourage and improve work, not to create it. It’s a place to share ideas and spark creativity. Over the last few months, I’ve often found myself either doing the sort of administrative work that doesn’t need to be shared with anybody, or writing to deadlines in a way that precludes discussion. I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend some time abroad – including a trip to Australia, of which you can read an account here and here. And this alerted me to the fact that quite a few people read trenchfever. Strangely, far from encouraging me to write more, this blocked me for two reasons. First, I felt a responsibility to produce quality. Second, I became conscious as I went over deadlines that the blog is also a measure of my activity. What would those editors to whom I owed chapters think of my excuses if they could see perfectly well that I was producing the goods here?

Anyway, the chapters are finished, the term is done, and I’m about to start a year’s sabbatical in which I’m concentrating on my Second World War book. So the blog should resume its role as thoughtpad and discussion site.

There are a couple of things I want to talk about over the next few days, including publishers using the ‘net, my experience of doing a podcast for Timewatch and my plans for next year, but for now, some sites to share on the web.

My Queen Mary colleagues put their Borromei Bank research project on the web. It’s a remarkable medieval history resource – an entire set of banking records allowing the reconstruction of a trans-European economy – and exactly what the net was meant for. Here’s the explanation of why it matters so much. Here are the records themselves.

James Holland’s research site and blog detailing his work on the Second World War. An example of an independent historian using the web to create his own archive.

The Imperial War Museum’s brief online exhibition of its work recording memories of Greenham Common, which might be quite a useful resource for post 45 British history.


Points noted

August 28, 2007

Some links to follow, as I try to distract myself briefly from funding applications, the aftermath of clearing, and the temptations of eating even more biscuits.

A new blog from the National Inventory of War Memorials. Looks good.

Robert Fisk’s article from the Independent about the Armenian Genocide (sadly without the images from the paper edition). Nothing too new for those who already know something about it, but some interesting comments about remembrance.

For the next week you can listen again to Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, Virginia Nicholson’s Singled Out,about the ‘generation’ of women who never married because all the young men had been killed in the First World War. Although quite why you’d want to, unless you just want a good ahistoric cry, I’m not sure. The odd interesting story, but presented totally without critical analysis of the sources, statistical evidence, or counter-examples. Shockingly, Vera Brittain gets used (quel surprise) as an example of those who lost. Oh, except she did marry. Bah, now my radio has a great big dent in it from where I threw it across the room. A great case of how a romantic version of history can get on the radio when more accurate appraisals can’t.

Osprey publishing starts up its own blog and gets its staff to identify their favourite tank. Not quite sure whether I think that’s nicely tongue in cheek or embracing the stereotype a bit too eagerly. Oh all, right. Probably this one, because I’d always back the underdog.

Kevin Levin posts on the use of titles to attract readers. My own personal favourite, via the footnotes to Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction – W. Pieper, ed, Nazis on Speed: Drogen im 3. Reich (Loherbach, nd.). Alan Coren once supposedly delivered a manuscript to a publisher only to be told that it wouldn’t sell – the only books that sold were those that featured golf, cats or Nazis. His next book looked like this.

It’s been said before – what we need to get people to change their ideas about the First World War is a series of books featuring a dashing romantic hero, who shows the reader just how well British infantry tactics developed over the course of the conflict and who knows that he’s actually fighting a just war. The ‘Anti-Blackadder’ if you will. The sort of man who isn’t afraid to wear a dolman jacket and tight trousers. The sort of man who women want and men want to be. The sort of man who has a fanbase that demands the institution of a national day in honour of a fictional character. Time to start writing that novel, Dr Todman.


Keeping house

April 12, 2007

The teaching part of the year is almost over (lots of marking and some supervision left, but no more undergraduate seminars or lectures until the autumn), and the research and writing bit is beginning. So because I know that I’ll shortly become a total hermit, I thought I’d do a bit of tidying up and write a couple of posts so everyone realises I’m still alive. Added some blogs of note to the sidebar, moved Alan Allport’s site to the Resources section (which is how I think it’s set up), and amended my profile.
Of course, one point of the blog is to try to overcome the isolating tendencies of excessive archive time… But you get back what you put in.


Suggestions of a dog…

February 13, 2007

Gavin Robinson at Investigations of a Dog has floated the idea of a Military History Carnival. Gavin’s proposal is broad ranging, well thought out, and deserves support from all history bloggers as well as the forty odd who make up Clio’s military history blogroll. Pop over and contribute to the discussion.
Cross posted at Cliopatria