What Scholars Do Next: in light of the ‘What Tommy Did Next’ Symposium

FWW Network member Mike Hally, PhD doctoral candidate, Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict, University of Edinburgh, shares some insights after the recent ‘What Tommy Did Next’ symposium, including his hopes for the FWW Network to ‘join-up’ researchers working on parallel areas of First World War history (but often in complete ignorance of one another).

It was impressive to see the commitment and enthusiasm of 30 speakers and another 35 attendees at our symposium What Tommy Did Next – Veterans’ activities and organisations of the First World War in the UK and Beyond, on Saturday 18 March in Edinburgh.  One illustration of that commitment, is that not one speaker dropped out since we first published our programme, and only one single registered attendee didn’t turn up on the day (and with very good reason, which we were told about in advance).

As with other conferences in the last year or so, we were all struck by the range and diversity of original research being carried out on the First World War and its aftermath – but also by how much we didn’t know about this work until we got people together. It does seem that lots of people are carrying out fascinating new research, much of it based on new sources, yet often without knowing about others’ work in related fields. I certainly include my own studies into the origins of the veterans’ groups that preceded the British Legion within this observation.

So it was great that our event also saw the UK launch of the FWW Network, which is much-needed as a way of joining up all these research projects and connecting all the people doing them. After Jay Winter gave a characteristically deep and thought-provoking Keynote Address on ‘the Silences of the Men Who Served’, the stage was set for the steering committee of Oliver, Chris, Philippa, and David, alongside Sarah Lloyd from the Everyday Lives in War engagement centre, to set out the case for the Network and what it hopes to achieve, plus the welcome news that, because it has AHRC funding, no-one will need to pay a membership fee!

By the end of the day it was very clear that most of the people there want to stay in contact, and the FWW Network will be the means by which that can be achieved. I’m looking forward to that happening and continuing to grow the contacts initiated that day.  Perhaps an early task for the network will be to compile a searchable database of all these studies, the people working on them, keywords, related resources and so on?

Committee member Oliver Wilkinson responds: A key aim of the FWW Network is certainly to try to connect ECRs and PGRs working on the First World War. Therein we are currently looking at how to best us our website via a member’s section. We will certainly take on-board Mike’s suggestions of keywords and tags!

Introducing the FWW Network

This post, written by FWW Network founder member Dr Oli Wilkinson, originally appeared on the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities website. You can take a look at it by clicking this link.

One of the final things I did before submitting my PhD thesis was the ‘Acknowledgments’ section. The exercise enabled me to reflect upon my PhD journey and, as I termed it, to think about the challenges it had thrown at me. I thought this a clever reference to the title, ‘Challenging Captivity’, and themes of my doctorate, which had explored the challenges confronting captured British servicemen during the First World War and the strategies adopted by POWs in response. In that vein, I took the opportunity to identify the people and supports that had helped me rise to the challenge of the PhD.

One vital resource to me had been the thriving History Postgraduate Community at Lancaster University, of which I had been an active member, and which had aided in the development of my intellectual ideas, and providing opportunities to develop ‘career’ skills, via things like a postgraduate seminar series and an annual PGR led conference (Histfest). It has also provided friendships and informal support, opportunities for a beer and a moan in the bar, and countless off-the-cuff chats initiated by the question: ‘how’s it going?’. In these ways I could raise problems I was facing (the pressures to write; the demands of supervisors; research problems; upgrades; deadlines; teaching responsibilities), learning from the experiences of others who had dealt with those same issues. Moreover, my experience would seem to be a common one. Whilst perusing the ‘Acknowledgment’ sections of monographs, especially those books born from doctoral research, I have often seen authors similarly thank ‘their’ post-graduate communities. An active, supportive, network of PGRs would thus seem to be a good thing to help you deal the challenges that a PhD throws at you.

Group of Canadian POWs near Krefeld, Germany, 1917. Wikimedia Commons.

But what about post-completion? This context brings a raft of new challenges for the Early Career Researcher, especially one wishing to pursue an academic career. Nobody reading this post will be surprised to hear that the job market for positions in UK institutions is tough. The recently completed scholar quickly learns that it is not enough just to have a PhD. Indeed, any budding academic must fulfil a host of other requirements if they hope to gain ‘entry’ into the sector: a REF-able publication record; evidence of successful external funding bids; a proven ability of building IMPACT into your research activities; experience in working collaboratively with non-academic partners; a track record of teaching.

Yet, part of what makes the situation so tough is that the ECR must respond precisely at the point when they lose many of the props that had supported them during their PhD. Notable is the loss of a formal institutional affiliation. Commonly, that anchor is replaced by the insecurity of temporary, contracted, teaching posts, which do not hold the same advantages in terms of research support as permanent staff members (or as PhD students for that matter). Perversely, the lack of institutional affiliation impacts on your ability to gain the very things vital to getting a permanent post, such as your eligibility to apply for research funding or to gain experience in such things as co-designed/co-produced projects with non-academic partners. Indeed, without the security, support and resources of an institution, and without ongoing supervision or mentorship, it is difficult to know where you would start with such projects or how you could practically undertake one anyway.


The new national First World War Network for Early Career and Postgraduate Researchers (FWW Network), launching in Edinburgh on 18 March 2017, has been designed with the challenges facing current PGRs and ECRs in mind. It has been created by PGRs and recently completed ECRs, and it strives to be a supportive network for this community. In many ways, it is in the spirit of those post-graduate communities active in many universities. Yet, it is not tied to any one institution and, crucially, it extends its benefits into that post-completion context. It can do so because it is AHRC funded and backed by the practical supports of the five First World War Engagement Centres. Best of all its FREE to join for PGRs or ECRs working on any aspect of the First World War. Its core aim is to bring together researchers from across the country, providing a forum for members to promote their research interests, activities, and outputs. The hope is that by connecting scholars will foster research collaborations between members working on parallel topics and themes.

In addition, the network will offer formal supports and funding opportunities. These include the provision of relevant workshops and training opportunities. Here, the steering committee is actively seeking input from its membership to ascertain what sorts of training would be most useful. ‘Responsiveness’ is a watch-word for the venture; working with and for ECRs and PGRs. Moreover, in a reaction to the concerns of the current research context, the network seeks to provide opportunities for its members to get involved with collaborative research, thereby developing the research capacity (and employability) of our members. To these ends, we will help to link members with non-academic partners, act as a conduit to the supports offered by the Engagement Centres (including practical supports of space, resources, and mentorship), and provide seed-funds to assist ECRs wishing to undertake their own collaborative research project.

So if you are a PGR who is working on the First World War, or an ECR with a research interest in the field, then the FWW Network is for you. If you are based in Scotland why not come along to our launch on the on the 18th March, at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the PGR led symposium ‘What Tommy Did Next’ (http://www.what-tommy-did-next.org.uk/)? Registration for that event is still open and we would love to see you there. If you can’t make it, then follow-us on Twitter (@FwwNetwork), send us an email requesting to join (fwwnetwork@gmail.com), and be part of a new, supportive community for the next generation of leading First World War scholars!

Despatch Rider in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF), c.1918. Wikimedia Commons.

1918 – 2018: The End of the War & The Reshaping of a Century

Save the dates! Between 6 and 8 September 2018, the Centre for Historical Research at the University of Wolverhampton, in collaboration with the Western Front Association and the FWWNetwork, will be hosting a major international conference entitled 1918-2018: The End of the War and the Reshaping of a Century.

2018 represents a major milestone in the history of the First World War, not least because it marks the centenary anniversary of the end of the conflict. This encompassing conference seeks to spotlight the latest research on the events of 1918 as well as the global significance, consequences, and legacies of this watershed year. It encourages international perspectives and seeks to encompass a wide range of historical approaches as well as cross-disciplinary insights.

The event will feature keynote addresses from some of the leading academic authorities on the First World War and what came afterwards, along with panel sessions from established and emerging academic researchers. Moreover, the event is being developed in collaboration with heritage agencies, museums, art galleries, funders, schools and community groups involved in First World War research, remembrance and events. FWWNetwork will be working hard to support postgraduate students and early career researchers’ involvement in the event.

Keynote contributions include:

Professor Alison Fell (University of Leeds)

Dr Peter Frankopan (University of Oxford)

Professor John Horne (Trinity College Dublin)

Professor Sir Hew Strachan (University of St Andrews)

Professor Jay Winter (Yale University)

We ask you to ‘Save the Date’ and we invite expressions of interest from scholars (including early career and postgraduate researchers), independent researchers, organisations, groups and individuals interested in participating (as either contributor or attendee) in the conference.

A formal call for papers will follow in summer 2017.

Organising Committee:

The conference is being organised by: Professor Stephen Badsey, Professor John Buckley, Dr Simon Constantine, Dr Spencer Jones, Professor Gary Sheffield, Professor Laura Ugolini and Dr Oliver Wilkinson.


To register your interest or for any further enquires please contact:

Dr Oliver Wilkinson (O.Wilkinson@wlv.ac.uk)

Keep up-to-date with all the latest event news at our website (www.wlv.ac.uk/1918to2018) or by following us on twitter (@1918to2018)


FWWNetwork launches next weekend

The wait is almost over. On Saturday 18 March, the First World War Network will officially launch at the What Tommy Did Next… conference at the University of Edinburgh.

If you’re a postgraduate or an early career researcher, or an independent scholar, or attached to a heritage agency or community group, or anyone interested in studying the First World War and linking up with like-minded people to discuss collaborative projects, apply for funding and to take advantage of our training workshops, then please do come and say hi, and find out how you can be a part of our network.

Tickets for the conference are still available, see the conference website for details: http://www.what-tommy-did-next.org.uk/index.php

Can’t make it to Edinburgh? Don’t worry, you can still get in touch with us and join the network for FREE simply by emailing fwwnetwork@gmail.com.