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?


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.

Plagiarism 3

September 5, 2007

Version 1.2, drawing on comments below. I think that this will be a way to engage students with the ideas, to get them to decide that it’s wrong and work out why, and leave room for instructors to get across their own feelings on the subject. Probably more effective for that. Apologies for writing out links, but this will also be a paper coursepack and so they need to be usable in both forms. Now that I’ve drawn on other folks’ ideas, how should I credit them? My thought is to give a footnoted link in the coursepack to the discussion we’ve had here (not least as a further demonstration of writing, drafting and process). Read the rest of this entry »

Historical writing

August 16, 2007

The summer months typically see me doing a lot of writing, with the result that I restrict my use of the net a lot more, and my postings become ever more feeble. I notice that this happens to some other academic bloggers as well. In the meantime, I thought that I might post up some parts of the course pack I’m in the middle of updating for the history department. We have a compulsory course for undergraduates called Historical Writing, which introduces them to essay researching and writing skills at university level. The current version of the course was set up very well a couple of years ago by Dr Jon Bulaitis – but this year I’m responsible for it, and I’ve tried to tweak it a little – adding in a few things I care about, drawing on my own teaching experiences, and trying to fit the whole thing around the history of London over the ages. The pack that accompanies the course is more extensive than for others – it’s almost a textbook. I’ve been updating that as well.

Here is the section I’ve just been writing. I should point out this isn’t all rant: there are lots of exercises and tasks on each side, and the seminars deal with lots of material in an approachable fashion. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to spell out more explicitly than ever before why this offence makes us angry, and why it’s usually so stupid as well as so wrong. Comments, as ever, welcome
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Who do new undergraduates think we are?

April 20, 2007

‘The image of the lecturer, as well as sexist (see para 19), was also predominantly ‘ageist’. Students had the image of lecturers as predominantly bespectacled, middle-aged and wearing unfashionable, or even worn-out, clothes. Leather patches were frequently mentioned and some students believed that their lecturers would be either scruffy, or at least not stylish in appearance. It is not entirely clear how this image has become fixed but it may derive from representations of ‘the learned’ in popular culture which strongly emphasize ‘otherness’, even ‘other-worldliness’. Certainly, students did not expect lecturers to be like them!’

An excerpt from Eric Evans’ report on ‘Rethinking and Improving Lecturing in History’, available at the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology in summary and in full. Well worth a read, particularly for its comments on student expectations and means of developing effective, but individual, practice. Hat tip to Dr Virginia Davis.

(Cross posted at Cliopatria.)

Review of the autumn semester

February 12, 2007

A belated review, since it took me a while to receive and analyse the student data.
Undergraduate – delivered two new lectures, one on the Second World War, and one on Affluence and Social and Cultural Change for our British History since 1945 1st year course. I thought I did a better job on the second than the first – there was simply too much to fit in. The course organiser mentioned in his feedback that some students commented that lecturers spoke to quickly: I’m pretty sure that was me. I had tried to distil the war years down to 4 key themes. I think that next year, I might try to work out what the two big things the undergraduates need to know for the rest of the course are, and plug away at those. Since it’s the first lecture they have here, it perhaps needs to be easier to access (not least because of the likely hangover:sobriety ratio).
Britain in the Second World War course: very pleased with the course redesign, which I think will give the students a better sense of developing themes as they go through. The ‘themes essays’ which I introduced instead of course logs have worked really well: rather than the ‘parish meeting minutes’ which tended to be submitted before, students have really thought about links between seminars. Still some problems with the review essays, however – I need to spend more time making sure that students understand the requirements next time it’s taught. I haven’t been fully satisfied with the WebCT provision either – it’s still going to take another iteration of the course to fully integrate the online material with the taught seminars.
Masters: museum visits worked well I thought, but the Victors to Victims course needs to be revised before I teach it next year. At the moment, I feel as if it runs out of steam as it goes on. At the moment it’s taught in two chronological sections – one on the representation of each world war. It might be better if I did a couple of weeks at the beginning setting a framework, then carried the themes through both world wars.

Beyond the glass case

December 12, 2006

My MA course has its final seminar this week. Normally, we’d visit the Imperial War Museum as a group and I would walk students round, before we had the second half of the seminar in the café. This year, I have personal commitments which mean I’ll have to arrive at the Museum later than planned. But I thought I’d try to turn a problem into an advantage, by putting the emphasis more firmly than usual on the Museum itself, and by asking the students to interrogate the exhibits themselves. This also has the advantage of preventing me becoming a glorified guide. This is still the test version, so thank you to my students for being willing guinea pigs!

TCHM 007

Victors to Victims: Remembering the Two World Wars in Britain, 1950-2000.

Visit to Imperial War Museum, Friday 16th December 2006

This seminar is based around the representation of the Home Front in the Second World War. It also aims to draw together the thematic threads of the course by making you think about the structural, cultural, financial and historical influences on the representation of Britain’s experience of total war.

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