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.



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.

‘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.

BSA Memorial

October 6, 2008

Tomorrow night, I’ll be speaking to the Birmingham War Studies Seminar about British casualty figures for the Second World War. As a connected point of interest, therefore, here’s a site about the attempt to create a memorial to the workers killed when the BSA factory in Small Heath was bombed in November 1940. It’s an interesting example of the work of local commemoration, and I wonder whether the campaigners will enjoy more success as the Second World War slips over the boundary of lived memory.

90 Years of Remembrance

October 3, 2008

Beginning a push that has something of the last drive to victory about it, the BBC are gearing up for a multi-platform burst of remembrance this year. The website, run out of the ‘Religion’ section, interestingly enough, is promising a whole ‘campaign’:

With the aim of personalising the act of remembrance and bringing World War One vividly alive in the present, it will encourage individuals and families to look into the stories of their relatives that lived in the First World War through a variety of activities [shouldn’t there be a comma back there somewhere? I mean, I’m not surprised they lived through a variety of activities, I’m just not sure that’s what they mean]. From Oct 22nd:

  • Find out more about the events of the Great War on the website through the WW1 timeline and footage
  • Discover your WW1 family and local history through links to an array of family history sites
  • Post WW1 artefacts, photographs and memories about those who served to the online wall of remembrance
  • Browse the many WW1 stories already online including those of some familiar faces
  • View listings of all related programming on BBC television and radio throughout November with sneak previews available
  • Attend free remembrance events across the country on the weekend of the 8th and 9th of November
  • Sign up to BBC Remembrance’s texting service to receive the story of a local soldier who served in WW1

Although it’s only really supposed to get going on 22 October, some people have already added their thoughts.

Perhaps the most interesting feature at the moment is the archive of recordings from remembrance ceremonies at different points over the last sixty years.

Or you could watch Michael Palin tell you that a million Britons died in the First World War. The Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians are going to love being called British, I tell you.

More on the remembrance of the 90th anniversary of the war as it develops.

Is it the hairy legs that gave me away?

September 16, 2008

Hat-tip to the BFI’s contributions to youtube