Michael Noble is a PhD researcher based at the University of Nottingham. Since 2014 he has been the project co-ordinator at the Centre for Hidden Histories.
This post is based on January’s FWW network workshop, which took place at the University of Nottingham, and which had as its theme, Public Engagement in Research. It is a timely topic, given the launch of the FWW Network Collaborative Research Grant Scheme, but also a broad one. Any blog post that attempted to cover every aspect of academic public engagement would be doomed to failure. With that in mind, I intend to break it down into sub-topics. Later posts will address subjects such as developing a co-production project, navigating university administration systems and avoiding the ‘exploitation of goodwill’. If there are any other aspects of academic public engagement that you would like to see on this blog, please leave a note in the comments below or contact me on Twitter.
For now, I will concentrate on the fundamentals of public engagement; why is it important and how a researcher might go about establishing productive relationships with non-university partners.
With a particular focus on co-production, this first post is aimed at giving readers an insight into some of the methods for making this sort of collaboration a success. It is based on my experiences of brokering and managing university-community collaborations, supported by the Centre for Hidden Histories between 2014 and 2017.
The post is in two sections. The first attempts a (necessarily) loose definition of co-production and outlines its current importance in academic research. The second provides advice on forming productive relationships with non-university partners.
Co-production and academia
Public engagement is a broad, and ever more important topic. It has huge potential for research impact and significant relevance to the Research Excellence Framework (REF).[i] With the new Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) now in development, we can expect the concept to be around for some time to come and for public engagement to continue to be a core aspect of the academic’s work.
Researchers have described a ‘participatory turn’ through which traditional forms of knowledge transfer (whereby academics ‘transmit’ their research to non-academic audiences) evolved firstly into knowledge exchange (academics transmit research and receive non-academic knowledge and understanding in return) and more recently into full co-production (the academic and non-academic engage in fully collaborative activity).
In practical terms, it usually means an academic researcher and a non-academic partner coming together to collaborate on a research project for which they both take responsibility for completing. They share equally in its success.
Here are some examples:
An academic researcher collaborated with the parish council of a small Cheshire village to research the WW1 internment camp that had been established in (and since completely erased from) the village. They worked together to uncover evidence and collaborated on a public exhibition to share their findings.
This type of collaboration is still relatively new and there is little in the way of formal definition. Although there is a small literature on the topic, much of it is concerned with co-production in the public policy arena. However, whenever I have been asked what I mean by co-production, (it was a frequent question posed by people making applications to the co-production grant fund that I managed) I have said that it is the shared responsibility that makes it distinctive as ‘co-production’ rather than simple knowledge transfer or knowledge exchange.
Simply put, if either of the partners was to cease participating, the project itself would fail.
It is an incredibly rewarding approach to public engagement and, done properly, can yield greater benefits than ‘traditional’ research approaches. It can provide researchers with access to ideas and information, to resources and to insights that are otherwise not available as mainstream sources. Furthermore, it recognises the value of the individuals and communities in research and opens the gates of the academy a little bit further.
However, for it to work effectively, it is crucial that a solid relationship exists between the partners.
Building an effective relationship with a non-university partner
First, some advice. You, the researcher, should take ownership of your community relationships. Think of them as a personal asset and an aspect of your portfolio. Consider them in parallel with your publication record. Maintain them, transfer them, develop them. Own them.
Working relationships with non-university partners are valuable, even if they don’t all lead to collaborative projects. A network of contacts in heritage organisations, local authorities and the third sector can provide the researcher with access to information and knowledge that hasn’t reached the academy, or is unavailable in established archives. I have worked with non-university partners who, for example, possess private collections of historical documents, such as photographs and letters, or are members of a minority community that is of historical interest to researchers. These groups have been able to share their resources and knowledge and the ensuing relationships have been of immense value to both parties.
OK, so where do we start? How does a researcher build a relationship with a non-academic partner?
What is a non-academic partner?
It can be difficult to come up with a single definitional outline that covers all of the types of organisation with which you may collaborate as a researcher. They may be publicly funded organisations, charities, clubs or voluntary societies or even commercial organisations. The particular type will depend to a large extent on the nature of your research and you may also find that your funder has strict rules about which type of organisation you may collaborate with, particularly if some of the funding will be shared with the partner.
The type (and size) of the organisation is also somewhat important. For some organisations, the project will be a single activity among many that they do. An example would be a school that sets up a small group of pupils to take part in a project. For others, the project is the group; it is the reason that the group was established or represents the total current workload of the organisation. An example would be a local history group that has been established to commemorate a significant anniversary event.
The question of size and focus is important for your relationship -it will effect how largely you feature in their plans and whether the group has to balance its work on the project against other demands on its time. It may also have an impact on how ‘professional’ or ‘personal’ your partner regards their work and this will set the tone for your relationship. For instance, a school may have stricter finance rules but will be more dispassionate about the finances than a small network of local householders who have formed a project group and who are largely self-financed.
The most important element of this phase is the building of the relationship. There are some barriers to a successful university-community partnership and in some ways, it’s easier to provide a guide to success by describing these barriers and suggesting ways through them.
On the community side, you will find that some individuals and organisations have a mistrust or suspicion of universities or otherwise feel that they are not suited to collaborative work of this nature. In my experience, the underlying reasons for this fall into three main categories.
The partner feels proprietorial about their work/project/sources and fear that the university is going to come in and take over, or dominate the project to their exclusion.
Imposter syndrome. The partner worries that their work is of minor importance or that they are not qualified to carry out the project. They convince themselves that the university is mistaken in taking an interest and worry that they will be ‘found out’ before long.
Some potential partners have a mistrust of the state. They may come from a culture or society in which having the government (including state-supported institutions such as HEIs) taking an interest in you is something to be feared.
It takes time and effort to overcome these worries. It can be challenging and frustrating but it is worth pursuing and there are methods that you can use to put your new contact at ease.
Try to identify the reasons for the barrier. Don’t push (unless you feel it’s worth pursuing the reasons) but it might help when you come to offer reassurance as it can help you to have an open and constructive conversation.
Explain to your new partner what is in it for you. They may believe that you’re ultimately trying to snatch their historical collection of correspondence, while you’re sitting there mentally working out the impact factor that this it is worth to you. The best co-produced projects are ones in which each partner has a distinctive, but mutually dependent goal. It’s best to be honest about your goals from the outset.
Make yourself useful early on. This might be by sending them some formal research that you have discovered or forwarding them a relevant news article that triggers a conversation. As I’ve developed my own network, I’ve found that brokering a second relationship can be useful. One new contact of mine wanted to work with the Imperial War Museum. I was able to personally introduce them to the relevant person at IWM. This established my credentials and catalysed my relationship with the new partner.
Where possible, go to see the new contact in person. This can be tricky to manage with costs/time but it is well worth doing if you can. It’s always helpful to meet in a relaxed environment. My preference is always to suggest meeting in a coffee shop. They’re easy to find, usually conducive to quiet chat and offer an environment that sets people at their ease. Remember, you’re looking to develop a friendship. Find other topics to discuss and have a laugh with your new partner.
Throughout this, be aware of the timeframe. If you’re developing a project idea with a new partner, you will need to factor in the relationship building to the development time. This may take several months, and it may not be appropriate to write a formal proposal until after you have established the basis of a working relationship. It is for this reason that I suggest building a network as you develop your career and before you even have a project idea in mind. Some of the best projects I have seen have been developed by partners who have had a long-standing relationship and who created their project jointly.
Remember, the relationship is the most valuable product of all this effort. Even if you don’t succeed in launching a project, continue to nurture the relationship -other project ideas will come. The drive for co-production isn’t going to go away and, as a researcher with a rich network of non-university partners, you will be in the best position to meet its unique demands.
[i] [i] According to figures prepared by NCCPE, nearly half of REF2014 submissions cited public engagement as part of the path to impact.
The First World War Network is proud to be organising a one-day workshop on Saturday 24 March at the University of Hertfordshire alongside our colleagues and friends at War Through Other Stuff and the Everyday Lives in War AHRC First World War Public Engagement Centre.
Witnessing War has been scheduled to coincide with the University of Hertfordshire’s display of Beyond the Battlefields, an exhibition of photographs taken by the German photographer Käthe Buchler during the First World War. The workshop will include a series of talks from both academic researchers and those that have experienced conflict at first hand. There will also be an activity centering on Käthe Buchler’s photographs, giving participants the chance to interact with and respond to the images.
A full programme will be released shortly along with registration details. Attendance for First World War Network members at this fascinating event will, of course, be FREE, and travel bursaries will be available.
Joining the First World War Network is free. To join our rapidly expanding network of First World War researchers from a range of backgrounds, please see our ‘How to join’ page or click HERE.
Keep your eyes peeled here and on Twitter for further announcements!
We are delighted to announce the details for the next First World War Network workshop, which will be taking place at the University of Nottingham on Wednesday 17 January 2018.
Once again, the theme of the workshop has been chosen in direct response to the wishes of our members, and will focus on one of the most exciting areas of historical research: public engagement!
This is your chance to come and meet the next generation of First World War researchers, share your research in an informal, supportive atmosphere, learn about how public engagement works, and be the first to hear about the First World War Network’s own bespoke public engagement funding scheme!
Attendance for this event is free to members of the First World War Network, but numbers are strictly limited. Travel bursaries will be available, and the workshop will commence at 11am to reduce the need for attendees to arrange overnight accommodation.
Not yet a member of the First World War Network? Join today by visiting the link below and completing our introductory questionnaire:
Following our highly successful conference in February 2016, the steering committee behind FWWNetwork has been hard at work developing our plans to expand our small group into a national and international network for postgraduates and early career researchers with an interest in the study of the First World War. In January 2017, we were successful in our bid to secure funding to follow our aims, and we are delighted to announce that FWWNetwork will be working in partnership with the five existing AHRC First World War Engagement Centres to deliver networking opportunities and training workshops, provide funding to support collaborative research projects, and to organise an international conference on the centenary of the First World War in 2019.
FWWNetwork will formally launch at the What Tommy Did Next … Veterans’ Organisations of the First World War conference in Edinburgh, Saturday 18 March 2017. The conference website is: http://www.what-tommy-did-next.org.uk/
We would love to see as many postgraduates and early career researchers as possible at our launch event, and be delighted to hear your ideas and thoughts about what the network can do to develop and promote the study of the First World War both within and outside the academy. There will be plenty of opportunities on the day to hear from the steering committee, join up, and add your voice to what we expect to be a lively, diverse, and rewarding community of like-minded researchers from across the disciplinary spectrum.
For those of you unable to make it to Edinburgh, please follow us on Twitter @FwwNetwork, where we will continue to update you on the progress of the launch and the latest information regarding the network.
On the 26 & 27 February 2016, IWM North played host to the inaugural event organised by the First World War Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers Network (FWW Network). The conference committee comprised Philippa Read (Chair), Chris Phillips, David Swift and Oliver Wilkinson, with Nick Mansfield acting as a mentor. The group, set up in January 2014 as a self-sustaining off-shoot of IWM North’s Academic Network is dedicated to connecting early stage researchers working on any aspect of the First World War, in order to facilitate new debates, ideas and collaborations relating to the study of the conflict. We further aim to create partnerships between these scholars and organisations, groups, and individuals operating beyond the academy who can offer alternative insights and agendas, opening possibilities for the co-design and co-production of research. Our event, held in the Libeskind Room of IWM North was, therefore, designed to be inclusive.
It combined the latest academic scholarship from established and emerging researchers (30 research papers were delivered in parallel sessions over the two days alongside three keynote addresses by leading scholars in the field), with participation from heritage agencies, libraries, museums, archives, funding bodies, community groups and individual researchers. The academic contributions, which included substantial postgraduate involvement supported by Royal Historical Society bursaries, were augmented by information stands representing important archival repositories (The National Archives), museums (IWM; Leeds Museums & Galleries), organisations (Historic England), funding bodies (The Heritage Lottery Fund; AHRC First World War Engagement Centres), and ongoing commemorative projects (IWM Lives of the First World War).
Meanwhile, the conventions of the traditional academic conference were stretched thanks to performances and displays from creative artists inspired by the First World War. Social media was mobilized both to promote the event and to carry the ideas and debates taking place in Manchester to a wider audience via the network’s Twitter account (@FwwNetwork) and conference hashtag (#fwwcm16). As of 28 March 2016 the network’s Twitter account has 777 followers, is following 1,314, and has made 336 tweets). The five AHRC First World War Engagement Centres, who co-funded the event, were represented throughout the conference and contributed to the discussions and debates that it facilitated. Their participation consisted of papers offered by researchers linked to the various centres and an illuminating roundtable discussion between scholars, community researchers, archives and funding bodies. The conference was almost full to capacity with ninety two participants attending across the two days.
The conference was opened by Philippa Read (University of Leeds), chair of the FWW Network, who introduced the group and the rationale underpinning the event. The parallel panels then began with sessions dedicated to ‘Gender’ and ‘Precedents & Legacies’. In terms of the latter, the first paper was given by Nick Mansfield (University of Central Lancashire/Everyday Lives in the First World War) who has acted as mentor to the FWW Network since its creation. Nick discussed the parallels between different conflicts in his paper ‘Connections between Great Wars, 1642, 1805 and 1914’, particularly in terms of the public perceptions of war and its subsequent mythologisation. On the same panel, Jenny Macleod (University of Hull) analysed the importance of the Gallipoli Centenary for the Turkish, Australian and New Zealand states, and how commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign related to contemporaneous commemoration of the Armenia Genocide. Joel Morley (University of Essex) then discussed the treatment of the First World War by ex-servicemen in inter-war Britain, exploring the transmission of the conflict amongst the generation who would fight in the Second World War. His point about the paradigmatic horror that the conflict represented to later generations would recur throughout the conference. Hence, for example, he related how, due to hearing veterans’ testimonies of the trenches, many Britons in the 1939-45 war were determined to serve anywhere apart from in the infantry where – ironically – they would have been safer, at least before 1944!
On the parallel panel, ‘Gender’, Anna Branach-Kallas (Nicolaus Copernicus University) provided a comparative study of trauma, particularly family trauma, in novels of the Great War that have recently been published in England, France and Canada. She argued that while we usually associate the trauma of war with men at the front, the stress of the conflict transferred to relatives back home. In his paper, Jonathan Black (Kingston University) then argued that the North West of England is particularly rich in examples of more realistic and convincing representations of the British soldier in memorials to the war. In part, claimed Black, this owed something to a pre-existing tradition of memorial sculpture honouring the dead of the area from the second Anglo-Boer War. Black argued that influential images of the British male hero were created before 1914, linking the First World War to earlier conflicts and cultural representations of military masculinity in Britain. The final paper on this panel, by Jack Davies (University of Kent), drew upon the memoirs, newspapers and magazines of wounded soldiers to reveal the forgotten role of women as both disciplinarians and subverts in hospitals. He argued that women within hospitals helped to perpetuate deviant behaviour by aiding soldiers in circumventing military discipline. In addition, Davies claimed, soldiers were able to hide behind their wounds and disabilities to avoid not only military discipline but, to some extent, civilian justice as well.
The latter paper linked neatly to the third panel of the day, dedicated to ‘Disability’, in which Jason Bate (Falmouth University) offered a fascinating insight into the cultural memory of facially injured soldiers. Bate’s research uncovered personal photographs featuring facially injured soldiers taken in the years after the war, often depicting men at leisure or within familial settings, which contrasted sharply with the sterile and distancing photographs taken of their recuperation in hospital. Emily Bartlett (University of Kent) followed, discussing her investigations into the material legacy of charitable provisions for maimed soldiers in the inter-war period, particularly focusing upon the importance of cigarettes to charity in inter-war Britain. Overall, Bartlett claimed, the production, sale, and consumption of cigarettes provided comfort for disabled servicemen in interwar Britain and assisted their transition back to a civilian identity after the war.
In the parallel session, the two papers showcased centenary research projects taking place in the North West, both of which seek to discover new narratives about the impact of the war on communities in the region. Keith Vernon (University of Central Lancashire) outlined an ongoing project which is using the registers of the Harris Institute (the forerunner of the University of Central Lancashire) to explore the wartime experiences of non-combatants, especially women and adolescents, in Preston during the First World War. Partnering with ‘Preston Remembers’ (a Heritage Lottery Fund partnership project), the project aims to use the community research already conducted into the city’s war memorials, layering the wartime data of the Harris Registers, in an attempt to relate the wartime experiences of those non-combatants to the combatant experiences of the soldiers who have subsequently been recorded on community war memorials. The sophistication that such methods can achieve were indicated by the second paper, jointly delivered by Ian Gregory and Corinna Peniston-Bird (both of Lancaster University). Gregory and Bird discussed the Streets of Mourning Project, focused on the city of Lancaster. Here, digital humanities have been effectively used to map First World War casualties across the city, prompting an innovative investigation into the spatial dimensions of loss on the home front. The resulting data and maps, representing casualty densities, allows for considerable further investigation into questions such as patterns of habitation and enlistment, and familial patterns of recruitment during the war. Most powerfully, however, the project allows the deaths to be related to the communities affected.
At lunchtime, delegates moved through the museum’s main gallery space to the Watershard Café where an impressive sculpture entitled ‘BLAST’ had been set up by Ian Kirkpatrick, an independent artist, and Lucy Moore, curator at Leeds Museum and Galleries. The sculpture was one of a series created by Kirkpatrick during his residency with Leeds Museums and Galleries. It depicted a British machine gunner, and was partly inspired by the goss china ornaments produced during the war. The art work adorning the figure was taken from war artefacts held in Leeds Museum’s collections. Kirkpatrick and Moore gave a brief overview of the sculpture and the ‘A Graphic War’ exhibition trail, which had explored the role of graphic design at home and on the front lines during the First World War, within which ‘BLAST’ had featured. Delegates were then able to peruse the sculpture and discuss the piece further with the artist. The sculpture remained on display in the Watershard Café during the full two days of the conference, and was thus viewed by public visitors to the museum as well as conference delegates.
The afternoon sessions began with parallel panels. In ‘Material Cultures’, Sonya Andrew (University of Manchester) began by discussing the development of two textile triptychs that were created to form visual narratives on the imprisonment of a conscientious objector in the First World War, and the impact of these on the CO’s family. Andrew examined the processes of recalling and commemorating conscientious objection, and the construction of visual narrative as an act of individual remembrance, from the perspective of the maker as author. She contrasted this with audience interpretations of the textiles when located in a range of buildings, such as church, gallery, bank and museum. Andrew’s presentation concluded by examining the impact of site on interpretations of the visual narrative, considering how the function of a building may contribute to shaping viewers’ perceptions of the images in the textiles. Hanna Smyth (University of Oxford) then analysed the Canadian and South African war memorials at Vimy and Delville Wood, and considered what they can reveal about the identities of the nations whose dead they honoured. For the Canadians, the memorial embodied the fusion of British and French identities; for the South Africans, of British and Afrikaner. However, neither memorial paid tribute to the indigenous peoples of either country.
Meanwhile, in ‘Forgotten Episodes’, Florence Largillière (Queen Mary University, London) explored French Jewish veterans of the First World War, examining the role of the conflict in perceptions and practices of antisemitism in the 1930s. Veterans felt they had proved their worth during the war. They had fought and many had died for France. They believed that they deserved to be treated as valued members of the French nation. Amidst growing antisemitism in 1930s Europe, French Jewish veterans reacted by reminding the nation of their participation in the Great War via overt displays of their patriotism. However, their efforts would not protect patriotic Jews from the 1940 Antisemitic Statute. French Jewish veterans became second-class citizens under the Vichy regime, despite their heroic accomplishments, their nationalist discourses, their medals, even their Legions of Honour. In the second paper of the session, Christophe Declercq (University College, London) gave an insight into the disappearance of the history of Belgian refugees in Britain during and after the First World War. One reason for the ‘forgetting’ of this mass migration of peoples was the mobility and transnational character of the Belgian exile, which Declercq related to Belgians disappearing from view to the current commemorative community projects.
The first day concluded with a keynote by Helen McCartney (King’s College, London) which examined whether the familiar narratives of the First World War have been challenged or reinforced by new commemorative projects. Through an analysis of two projects, the Tower of London poppy installation and the letter to the Unknown Soldier website and book, McCartney sought to establish how a variety of different local and national interest groups had interacted with commemorative projects. She argued that, alongside the dominant ‘futility script’ attached to commemorations of the conflict, there also exists an opposing ‘sacrificial narrative’ that stresses the debt owed to the fallen for our ongoing ‘freedom’. McCartney’s paper provided a hugely engaging, and very fitting keynote upon which to end the first day of the conference, and it attracted considerable further discussion in the question time that followed. As day one closed, it emphasised questions that resonated throughout the conference: Why should the First World War be remembered? Why is the centenary such an important moment? And, crucially, how should we remember the First World War?
Day two began with a powerful and thought provoking keynote address. Jay Winter (Yale University), delivered a paper which dealt with the conference’s key themes through a combination of humour, personal reflection, and a survey of the speaker’s long and distinguished career as a historian of the conflict. Winter raised questions relevant to practitioners of History in general, as well as those particularly concerned with the First World War. He began with the assertion that there is a tendency to revert to national narratives, based on national identities, in the research and remembrance of the First World War. He went on to trace key developments in the historiographical approaches to the conflict which led to the creation of transnational histories which, though challenging national identities and narratives, had major impacts in the way the war is remembered and commemorated. Indeed, Winter claimed that transnational history was local history, and that the transnational perspective he presented provided a better way to write national histories. He linked these developments to his experiences as an adviser at the Historial de la Grande Guerre, Peronne, allowing him to further examine the expansion of public history which has radically changed the landscape in which history is understood. Indeed, Winter stressed the compatibility of such public histories with academic scholarship, asserting the responsibilities that he feels academics have in the sphere of public history. Academic historians, he claimed, have a responsibility to ‘do’ public history or others will ‘do it worse!’ Winter’s paper both illuminated the first day’s discussions and ignited debates which continued throughout the second day.
Following the keynote, proceedings then moved to the day’s first set of parallel panels. Santanu Das (King’s College, London) began discussions in the ‘Global Perspectives’ panel by examining the importance of race, ethnicity and religion in commemorations in Britain, India, Pakistan and elsewhere. On a similar vein, Richard Smith (Goldsmith’s, London) discussed the memory and representation of West Indian servicemen fighting for Britain during the conflict. Therein, he situated these memories within recent media representations, especially those on the BBC, over the course of the war’s centenary. Representations of war experiences similarly characterised Burcin Cakir’s (Glasgow Caledonian University) paper as she spoke about the place of Gallipoli in Turkish literature and memorabilia, and the enduring significance of the landings for the Turkish regime today.
‘Faith’ constituted the theme of the parallel session, which began with Arabella Hobbs (University of Pennsylvania) seeking to place France’s attempts to come to terms with the war within the context of the nation’s relationship with the Catholic church. By examining post-war representations of the gueule cassée, Hobbs showed how Catholicism positioned itself as an indispensable force for healing in post-war France. Gethin Matthews (Swansea University) also focused on Christianity, within the context of Welsh non-conformity and the form and function of war memorials erected in Welsh chapels. Matthews’ paper drew heavily upon the speaker’s wide ranging research, and delegates were treated to a huge number of photographs, many from Matthews’ own collection, of the various memorials erected to Wales’ fallen. Catriona McCartney (University of Durham) drew the session to a close by examining the role of British Sunday Schools in the First World War. As bastions of Christianity in Britain both before and during the war, McCartney considered the role of the Sunday School on the home front, the impact of the war on the schools and, linking to the two previous papers in the panel, discussed how particular religious communities attempted to commemorate ‘their’ fallen in the war’s aftermath.
The days second set of parallel panels saw Geoff Cubitt (University of York) and Jessica Moody (University of Portsmouth) opening the ‘Cultural Representations’ panel by discussing their research into visitor experiences to First World War exhibitions at York Castle Museum and Scarborough Art Gallery. In the paper, Cubitt and Moody offered insights into the meanings attached to commemorative activities by members of the public, alongside highlighting some of the more amusing incidence of ignorance found among those who viewed the exhibitions. Their paper was followed by Suzie Hanna and Alisa Miller (Norwich University of the Arts) who discussed their novel work on an animated tribute to the ex-servicemen of the Great War. Hanna and Miller focused on remembering men who had survived the war, and illuminated challenges they faced in the post-war civilian landscape which seemed odd and alien to them following their war experiences. Their film, clips from which were played alongside discussions of the animation processes, thus raised important questions regarding the legacy of the conflict throughout the twentieth century.
The parallel session consisted of a roundtable discussion chaired by Alison Fell (University of Leeds) representing the Gateways to the AHRC First World War Engagement Centre. Participants also included Keith Lilley (Queen’s University, Belfast) representing the Living Legacies AHRC First World War Engagement Centre, Michael Noble (University of Nottingham) representing the Hidden Histories AHRC First World War Enjoyment Centre, Karen Brookfield representing the Heritage Lottery Fund, Rosemary Collins (Open University) speaking in relation to a centenary community project, and Liz Woolley as an independent researcher. Therein, the representatives of the AHRC First World War Engagement Centres provided an overview of the role of the centres, and the nature of their activities to date in support of First World War projects. Fell noted how her roles within the centre pushed her beyond her traditional ‘comfort zones’ via involvement in diverse projects and, as a consequence, had provided new directions and new insights for her own work. Lilley and Noble, meanwhile, stressed how the centres sought to begin with the community project, addressing the fundamental question of ‘What do community research projects want/need from academics?’ Here, answers could include access to the skills or specialisms or, equally, it might be simply that the centre can facilitate access to university resources or tools necessary to deliver a community project. Brookfield provided further information about the role of the Heritage Lottery Fund within the centres, as well as the other schemes through which organisations are able to support First World War community research. Collins provided an overview of a specific project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has explored the impact of the war on Radcliffe-on-Trent. Her contribution stressed the community role of such projects; arguing that they were not solely about uncovering the past but that they also served a contemporary social function, cohering communities in pursuit of ‘their’ histories. Woolley was able to give a further example of a community history project, the commemoration of the 66 men named on the war memorial in St Matthew’s Church in Grandpont, south Oxford, which provides a model of how other local communities could carry out similar projects. Along with the diverse experiences and insights offered by the panel members, the session afforded considerable time for discussion and questions. Once the floor was opened there were frank discussions between the various agencies and individuals represented at the event. Academic contributors, for example, spoke of the challenges and benefits of co-produced research; archives were able to provide insight into their activities, especially their community/public engagement agendas; independent scholars further illuminated the challenges, indeed the intimidation, that they encountered in undertaking First World War research.
Lunch was again held in the Watershard café, accessed through the main gallery space. However, early return to the Liberskind room afforded delegates the opportunity to view the conference’s second artistic offering. Dawn Cole introduced and then performed a dramatic piece entitled ‘The Silence of Knitting’. The performance was developed in response to the silence that is perceived during war, and was based on the archive of VAD Nurse Clarice Spratling. The knitting itself proved powerful, silencing the delegates (fortunately for the only time over the two days!).
After lunch, the final keynote paper of the conference was delivered by Maggie Andrews (University of Worcester). Andrews’ paper discussed the role of gender and the home front in the commemorations linked with the centenary, drawing upon her wide ranging experience of commemorative practices as part of the Voices of War and Peace AHRC First World War Engagement Centre. She noted that we tend to remember soldiers, particularly the fallen, through the lens of their domestic role: as husbands, fathers, and sons, rather than as armed and trained soldiers. This exposed how the domestic could be mobilised to make the battlefront more palatable. Andrews further engaged with fundamental questions about the impact of the present on interpretations of the past, exploring the multiple and malleable meanings about the war found in current commemorative activities. She provided a keynote which asked as many questions as it answered, and one which prompted much discussion both immediately after and for the rest of the conference, her ideas and evidence meshing well with the other keynote addresses.
Following Professor Andrews’ paper, the conference reverted back to parallel sessions. In ‘Commonwealth Commemorations’, Penny Edwell (Australian Defence Force Academy) provided a run-down of individual and community-based commemorative projects taking place in Australia, and considered the manner in which Australian national identities were being both challenged and confirmed by the commemoration. Her paper was followed by Teresa Iacobelli (Queen’s University, Kingston), whose paper focused on the significance of popular media and commemorations in determining evolving narratives of the war in Canada. The two papers covered similar ground and complemented one another, with multiple questions arising with relevance to both speakers.
In the parallel session, ‘Transmitted Legacies’, Jessica Hammett (University of Sussex) explored the role of small groups in remembering the First World War. Her paper investigated how First World War veterans mobilised an ex-service identity, based on their experiences in that conflict, whilst employed within civil defence during the Second World War. Interestingly, Hammett examined how the First World War was mobilised by these men in response to criticism directed at members of the civil defence during the Second World War. Here, her work related to other groups of ex-servicemen who sought to mobilise their First World War experiences to deal with post-war challenges, such as the French Jewish veterans as considered by Florence Largillière on day one. Vincent Trott (Open University) then offered his insights into the importance of interwar literature in forging memories of the war for men too young to have taken part. Exploring the authorial intent and reception of such literature, especially during the so-called war books boom of 1928-30, Trott contextualised the role of literature in imbuing the new generation with dominant ideas about war and about manhood which, ultimately, would impact on their experiences during the Second World War.
The final parallel sessions dealt with ‘Sites of Memory’ and ‘Uncomfortable Pasts’. In the former, Laura Brandon of the Canadian War Museum spoke of the recent controversy surrounding Canada’s ‘Never Forgotten’ National Memorial, while Emma Login (National Memorial Arboretum) provided an overview of changing attitudes to memorialisation in Peterborough over the one hundred years between 1914 and 2014. Both stressed the ongoing relevance of memorialising the First World War, and discussed the competing agendas and interests involved in these processes from the perspectives of Canadian and British ‘stakeholders’. ‘Uncomfortable Pasts’ began with a joint paper, by Matthias Meirlaen (Université Lille) and Karla Vanraepenbusch (Université Catholique de Louvain) on execution sites in occupied Belgium and France. They revealed the use of execution sites in France and Belgium after the war, and the methods by which civil authorities commemorated the memories of the executed, both on the sites themselves and in the cities of Antwerp, Liege and Lille. Emile Coetzee (North West University) continued the theme of commemoration, this time of a far less celebratory nature. Coetzee’s paper discussed the intriguing case of Wijand ‘Vic’ Hamman, an Afrikaner solider killed in the war, who was subsequently ignored by his home town. Coetzee’s paper illuminated the depth of feeling among the community of Lichtenburg towards the British, the residue of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 and the ongoing controversies of South African politics. Finally, Kamil Ruszala (Jagiellonian University) presented the final paper of the conference, and the only one to focus exclusively upon the Eastern Front. Ruszala discussed the work of the Austro-Hungarian Army in creating the ‘warrior cemeteries’ of the Gorlice-Tarnów battlefield. Drawing upon a range of architectural drawings of both realised and unrealised creations, Ruszala highlighted the use of heroic, mythological imagery in the cemeteries of the Austro-Hungarian armies, and emphasised the role of famous artists, sculptors and painters within the Kriegsgräberabteilung Krakau.
Following the papers, Oliver Wilkinson and Philippa Read brought the conference to a formal close by thanking all of the participants for a highly engaging, interesting and (we hoped) an enjoyable event. The organising committee is currently discussing routes to further disseminate the research findings and collaborations facilitated by the conference. Moreover, the FWW Network remains an active forum for early career and postgraduate research into the First World War. It intends to establish and maintain contact with researchers in these stages of their career, and to organise future events for both academic and wider audiences. On behalf of the network, and all those who participated or attended, our thanks are reiterated to the AHRC First World War Engagement Centres and the Royal Historical Society for their generous financial support which made the event possible.
We are pleased to announce that a very limited number of tickets are now available for our conference in February!
Tickets are priced at £35 per day for academics; £10 per day for postgraduate students, independent researchers, or others without academic affiliation. These discounted tickets are on offer courtesy of our generous financial supporters, the AHRC First World War Public Engagement Centres.
To apply for tickets, please email: email@example.com stating your name, institutional affiliation (if any), and the date(s) for which you wish to purchase tickets. Our organising committee will then be able to allocate tickets and provide you with the relevant booking information for you to complete your order.
Our conference programme is available here, or by following the link at the top of the page.
Please note that tickets will be issued on a first come, first serve basis and are very limited in number. We will update the website with a further post once each day of the conference has been completely sold out.
First of all, a huge, huge thank you to all those who submitted abstracts – and to those who assisted in spreading the word about our conference – the response has been exceptional.
The organising committee is now in the process of reviewing all submissions and will be meeting during the week ending Friday 14th August to finalise arrangements for the conference. We are fully aware of the needs of those intending to travel from overseas to make travel arrangements as quickly as possible, and we will endeavour to contact ALL applicants, both successful and unsuccessful, as soon as we can after this date.
The organising committee would like to thank you all for your patience during this period.