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Events


Juan Luis Vives and Thomas More: Humanism and Anglo-Spanish Cultural Relations in the Sixteenth Century

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Vives & MoroThe lives and interactions between Juan Luis Vives and Thomas More

Friday 13th February 2015, 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Wolfson Conference Suite, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London

Registration is open for this day conference, supported by the Spanish Embassy in London.  The conference coincides with a major exhibition in Valencia on the lives and the interactions between two central figures in English and Spanish life in the early sixteenth century, the humanists Sir Thomas More and Juan Luis Vives.

More was successively a lawyer, MP, councillor to Henry VIII, and Lord Chancellor whose opposition to the English Reformation led to his execution for treason. Vives, born in Valencia into a Jewish  family which had suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, came to  England in the 1520s to be tutor to Princess Mary (later Queen Mary  Tudor), and resided for some time in Oxford. He wrote extensively on psychology, medicine and education. The two men shared opinions, outlooks and approaches and Vives spent time at More’s home in Chelsea in 1526. This conference will examine their friendship and collaboration in the wider context of sixteenth-century humanism and Anglo-Spanish relations.

Speakers for the event include:

Prof. Eamon Duffy, Magdalene College, Cambridge
Prof. Glyn Redworth, University of Oxford
Prof. Rosa Vidal Doval, Queen Mary University, London
Prof. Bethany Aram, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Seville
Professor Enrique Garcia Hernan, Institute of History, Spanish National Research Council
Prof. Igor Pérez Tostado, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Seville

Registration:

Full Fee: £20
Student: £10

Registrations for the conference can be made online or by requesting a registration form from the Events office. The Registration fee will include attendance, tea/coffee and lunch.

Reviews in History fashion special

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Houndsditch1862x30Today is the first day of Fashion, the 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, and as usual, this means we’ll be publishing a series of fashion-related reviews over the next few weeks. We start this week with a book by one of the session chairs from the conference, Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England. Sally Tuckett recommends a volume which ensures that the dress of the historical majority is seen as being just as worthy of attention and analysis as that of the fashionable elite (no. 1790).

Next up is From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store by Vicki Howard, as Jan Whitaker looks at a new history of an American retail institution (no. 1789).

Then we turn to Tansy Hoskins’ Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. Esther Leslie reviews a book which suggests that the fashion industry is deadly, and that its seductions are lethal (no. 1788).

Finally we have Kimono: A Modern History by Terry Satsuki Milhaupt. Elizabeth Kramer believes this book persuasively challenges the myth of the kimono as a traditional, static garment (no. 1787).

Local History Summer School

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064_Towncentre - grayThis post has kindly been written for us by Professor Richard Hoyle, Director and General Editor of the Victoria County History.

One thing which is pretty certain is that everyone who attends this year’s local history conference sponsored by the IHR and VCH lived through a part of the twentieth century – quite probably a fair chunk of it. And yet this conference starts with the premise that the twentieth century is often the hardest and most elusive period for local historians to deal with, being of our own times, familiar, yet strangely out of reach. It saw enormous upheavals in institutions, ownership and landscape, and in individual experience. Many of the familiar sources to address these sources disappear – so estate records – whilst others loose much of their evidential value (newspapers). Many modern records are closed to users: others may not even exist, having been swept away by records management. Yet other possibilities emerge, notably oral history, and for no other period do we have such abundance of maps and, of course, photographs (including those taken from the air).

This is a conference is for everyone who wants to contribute to an emerging agenda of looking at the relatively recent past. It offers guidance on some of the sources whilst describing, through worked examples, how the researcher can make their own contribution to deepening knowledge and understanding of the twentieth century. It explores what is before us, and is sometimes too obvious to see.

For further information on the School programme or for an application form, please see: http://www.history.ac.uk/research-training/courses/summer-school-local-history-2015.

IHR Friends Film Evening – Henry V (1944)

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Professor Anne Curry_V1

Professor Anne Curry

2015 seems to be a year marking many notable anniversaries: 800 years since Magna Carta; 750 years since the first elected Parliament representing all of England; 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo; 50 years since the death of Sir Winston Churchill; and the First World War centenary remembrances continue.  This year also represents another momentous anniversary—600 years since the Battle of Agincourt.  To commemorate this milestone of the Hundred Years’ War, the Friends of the IHR are hosting a film evening on 16 March, showing Laurence Olivier’s acclaimed film, Henry V.  The evening will feature a guest lecture from Professor Anne Curry, an expert on medieval history and a prolific author on the Hundred Years’ War.

Agincourt-Henry V publicity poster_WikiCommons

Henry V Film Poster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_V_%E2%80% 93_1944_UK_film_poster.jpg)

Crafted in 1944, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, directed by and starring Olivier, is widely regarded as the first motion picture to successfully adapt Shakespeare from the stage to the screen.  In homage to the Bard, the movie opens with a production of Henry V at the Globe Theatre, and slowly transforms into a cinematic spectacle.  The viewer is then treated to a masterful mix of action—following the King’s campaign to Agincourt—and romance—as Henry attempts to court the French princess.  The action returns to the Globe as this Academy Award-winning film draws to a close.

The Friends of the IHR have been very loyal supporters of the Institute.  The funding they provide is integral to increasing the capacity of the IHR to promote and enhance the study of history in Britain.  As part of the mission to extend the reach of the IHR’s resources, charitable donations from the Friends have funded bursaries for many PhD students who are based outside London to access the Institute and undertake excellent research.  In addition, the Friends have subsidised numerous outstanding speakers to present insightful seminars, provided vital capital for the recently completed redevelopment, and delivered cornerstone funding for the IHR Library’s new Conservation Fund.  All of these help ensure that the IHR is able to offer the highest quality scholarship and resources.

Agincourt-Battle archers_WikkiCommons_small

Battle of Agincourt (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schlacht_von _Azincourt.jpg)

Much more than just financial supporters, however, the Friends form a social community of academics and all with a shared interest in history.  As such, the film evenings are a highlight of the Friends’ calendar.  These events offer a chance to engage with history through a medium other than books, to hear from experts in the field, and to partake in a critical discussion of the subject and an exchange of ideas.  Perhaps just as importantly, these events provide an opportunity to have a good time with like-minded people, enjoy some food and drink, and perhaps make some friends among the Friends. For information on how to join the Friends, please follow this link.

The event is open to all, but you are encouraged to book soon, as spaces are limited and going fast.  In addition to the film and lecture, there will be wine throughout and light supper to follow.

Venue: Wolfson Conference Suite, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

Talk/Screening: 5:30 pm

Light supper from: 8:00 pm

Tickets: £20 / £10 (students)

For information on how to register and to see the event poster, please click here.

London and the First World War Conference – 20-21 March 2015

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ww1 londonRegistration is now open for this major conference which will explore the ways in which London and its inhabitants were affected by, and involved in, the 1914-18 conflict. Organised by IWM (Imperial War Museums) in partnership with the Centre for Metropolitan History (IHR) as part of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, it will be held in the IHR new conference suite (20 March) and at IWM London on 21 March.

With a packed programme of wide-ranging papers, it is hoped that the conference will appeal to both academics and members of the public.  Bookended by plenary lectures by Dr Adrian Gregory (Pembroke College, Oxford) on ‘London: a wartime metropolis in comparative perspective’ and Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck, University of London) on ‘London in the First World War: questions of legacy’, there will also be  seven panel sessions over the two days, a conference reception on Friday evening, as well as the opportunity to view IWM London’s new First World War gallery before the Museum opens to the general public on Saturday.

On 20 March, the panel sessions will explore: ‘daily life and institutions’, with papers on local government and waste, policing and Kew Gardens; ‘enemy aliens’,  focusing on riots, internment, deportations and the rise and fall of Sir Edgar Speyer; ‘transport’ – public transport, the Metropolitan Railway, and women war workers in the streets and railway stations; the ‘Empire view’, from the standpoint of Australian visitors, New Zealanders in London and African and Caribbean colonial troops. On 21 March, the session on ‘dissent’, will include papers on the peace campaigner, Caroline Playne, The Herald newspaper and anti-war trade unionists, the impact on the Anglican Church, and the East London Federation of Suffragettes; ‘air war’ will look at the interrogation of captured Zeppelin air crew, aircraft manufacturing and curating ‘The First World War in the Air’ at the RAF Museum; the final session will focus on ‘leisure’ – memory, work and leisure, Chelsea FC, and importing London to the Front.

For the full programme and booking details, please visit: www.history.ac.uk/london-ww1

Fashion, the 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, 2-3 July 2015: Call for Papers

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fashionaach2In a major collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the IHR is taking Fashion as the theme for its annual conference in summer 2015. Fashion in history is a topic which has come of age in recent years, as scholars have turned to addressing what is chic and what is style over the ages and across different cultures. The history of fashion, and the role of fashion in history, is not just confined to the study of dress and costume, but encompasses design and innovation, taste and zeitgeist, treats as its subjects both people and objects, and crosses over into related disciplines such as the history of art and architecture, consumption, retailing and technology. And across the world, fashion brings together museums, graduate teaching programmes, learned societies and the fashion profession around a common set of interests and concerns. The IHR conference next year we hope will be a perfect showcase and a meeting-point for the wide spectrum of specialists in this exciting field.

Our plenary speakers include Christopher Breward (Edinburgh), Beverly Lemire (Alberta), Ulinka Rublack (Cambridge) and Valerie Steele (Fashion Institute of Technology, New York). Proposals for panels on the themes of dress, imitation and emulation, taste and style, body-art, the fashion-industry and its media, fashionability and trend-setting, catwalks, fairs and exhibitions, innovation in interior design, architecture and public space, fashion education and technology will be accepted down to the middle of December. Individual paper proposals will also be accepted. Panels should comprise three papers and a chair, and proposals must include the name and affiliation of the speakers, the title of the panel and the titles of the individual papers. Please send proposals by 15th December to IHR.Events@sas.ac.uk Decisions will be made known once the Programme Committee has met in early January 2015.

“The Great War at Home”: a Senate House Library Perspective

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Illustration: F.S. Brereton, With our Russian Allies (1916)

Illustration: F.S. Brereton, With our Russian Allies (1916)

This post was written for us by Karen Attar from Senate House Library Special Collections.

The conference “The Great War at Home” supplied an excellent opportunity for Senate House Library to provide a small complementary display. The only problem was how best to use a limited space. To the extent that we had a focus, that focus was publishing, and within the theme of publishing, Oxford University Press – especially timely in so far as a new History of Oxford University Press was published last year. In August 1914 seven members of the Modern History Faculty of the University of Oxford promptly set to and wrote Why We Are At War: Great Britain’s Case, in order to set forth the causes of war and the principles they believed to be at stake. This was the first of 87 OUP “pamphlets” about the War, although with 206 pages there was little of the pamphlet about it.

The Delegates of Oxford University Press approved the book’s publication on 16 October 1914, at their first meeting of the new academic year – by which time it was already in its third edition, the one displayed. The copy shown is from a collection of about 530 books and pamphlets pertaining to the War brought together by the pacifist historian Caroline Elizabeth Playne (1857-1948) in connection with the books she wrote about the conflict. The other OUP book shown is homage to Shakespeare for the tercentenary celebration of his birth: evidence of the continuation, albeit in severely limited form, of academic publishing during the war.

Children’s adventure stories set against the backdrop of the Great War and stereotypically full of valiant English youths and cowardly, underhand Germans, some of them spies, give insight into how in an unrealistic form the war pervaded children’s consciousness. An example of such literature was also displayed, With our Russian Allies by the extremely popular Frederick Sadleir Brereton.

All of these are examples of “The Great War in England”. We interpreted “home” more narrowly with Roll of War Service, 1914-1919, commemorating the losses in war of members of the University of London Officers Training Corps: seven officers and some 670 cadets.

In previous years Senate House Library’s contribution to the Anglo-American Conference of Historians has been purely to curate a display. This year the topic enabled the Library to give a conference paper, again seeing “home” as the host institution of the conference. Karen Attar, who had previously delved into the history of the Library during the Second World War, extended her researches backwards to the period 1914-1918 to talk about the University of London Library then. Documentary evidence is sparse compared with that for the Second World War, so that an initial fear was of not finding enough to say. There was no need to worry, and a twenty-minute talk expanded to fit forty minutes. Several interesting points emerged in the course of preliminary reading, such as better air raid precautions for the First World War than for the Second, and a suggestion that books would be safer on the central University’s premises in London than in Cambridge.

Local history and the First World War

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copyright Kellogg College, University of Oxford

Kate Tiller, founding fellow of Kellogg College, University of Oxford and chair of the British Association for Local History 

As the centenaries of 1914–18 finally come upon us, the challenges facing historians to research and interpret the impact of the First World War multiply. One is the need to investigate and understand the War more widely, recognising the importance of perspectives not previously considered significant, and turning attention to the Home Front; the wartime experiences of women and children; the economic, social, cultural and political consequences of the War; the Empire and dominion experience; and to military events beyond the Western Front.

Another challenge is to revisit and scrutinise deep-rooted, existing assumptions about the War. David Reynolds, in a recent, cogent dissection (The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century, 2013), characterises the British view of the First World War as particular. Centred on the trenches, on military events and heavily influenced by literature and poetry, it perpetuates a verdict that was influential at the time of the 50th anniversary. This sees the War in hindsight as a futile sacrifice, a bitter and costly conflict, which failed to end all wars and led to another, more clearly justifiable, World War only 21 years later.

A third challenge is that posed by the growing demand for a popular and public history of 1914–18, a history to be shared between generations and places, disseminated by broadcasters, heritage professionals and teachers, in classrooms and on field trips. Amidst the growing hype, threatening at times to tip into unreflective cliché or even centenary ‘celebration’, local history has a special and important part to play. As the challenges point First World War studies away from single-perspective, one-narrative accounts, local history offers a way to respond. Returning to the local experience and using and integrating the rich, direct contemporary evidence enables realities of wartime throughout British society to be rediscovered. We may unearth, preserve and record new evidence; generate fresh findings; pursue shared questions; encourage comparative thinking; and join up accounts of separate aspects of wartime and post-war experience within and between communities to move us on, as David Reynolds urges, to combine remembrance with greater historical understanding.

This is an ambitious agenda. Projects and publications are beginning to show how it can be fulfilled, and examples are reported here. More are promised, including events at Senate House and initiatives by the British Association for Local History (BALH), which aims to encourage and support the study of local history as an academic discipline and as a rewarding pursuit for grass roots historians, individuals and groups. The two organisations combined on 28 February for a joint Institute of Commonwealth Studies/BALH day on ‘Experiences of World War One: strangers, differences and locality’. Keynote speaker, Dr Catriona Pennell, emphasised that, although a national narrative of the War’s history had dominated earlier study, fuller understanding depends on adding local and international perspectives and being aware of the constant interconnectedness of all three elements – local, national and international.

This theme was played out during discussion of the interaction of local people in Britain with black and Indian troops from the Empire and Dominions. A mixture of newspapers, diaries, letters, recollections, photos and official records provided the evidence. Wartime connections came through local camps and hospitals. Racial stereotyping, mixed marriages and outbreaks of violence all figured, but meetings of cultures were not just made by war, with some networks of family links operating before 1914 and after 1918. Nor were all ex-servicemen white, UK residents, as demonstrated by several case studies of West Indian veterans returning to their homes in the Caribbean. There, November rituals of remembrance were kept at local war memorials, while island economies struggled, not least because of continuing debt burdens linked to their support for the mother country’s war effort. The local, national and international did indeed interact to form these experiences of the War.

Elsewhere, increasing publication of Home Front studies is bringing the non-military experience in the UK to the fore. From 1914, every kind of neighbourhood, village, town and region was touched, not only by the deaths and injuries of those going away to fight but also by the immediate demands and lasting changes felt by those who were ‘left behind’, and were willingly or unwillingly directly affected by war. The whole economy was mobilised, while massive volunteer effort was forthcoming. Local histories of this experience are showing the illuminating balance to be struck between detail and generalisation, and the potential for both comparison and understanding the particular. The latest Victoria County History Essex volume (XI, on Clacton, Walton and Frinton: North-East Essex Seaside Resorts, 2012) brings home, in its chapter on the War, the threat of invasion, air raids and the black-out, and the loss of holiday business that made for a very specific East Coast, seaside experience of 1914–18.

Another recent publication (Local Aspects of the Great War: Coventry and Warwickshire 1914–1919, 2012) reflects a more general range of Home Front research topics in ten related studies. The canvas chosen is one county (for these purposes Coventry and Warwickshire, but not Birmingham). As the editor, local historian Chris Holland, argues this scale of study allows a balance between detail and generalisation and the possibility of challenging commonly held views. It is an aim impressively achieved through examinations of an area including large and small towns, major industries, artisan and labouring families and rural, agricultural communities. The topics covered represent an agenda that will be useful to others looking to undertake local studies spanning the war years. The themes are the outbreak of war, Belgian refugees, recruitment, billeting, caring for the wounded, wartime industrial production, food, local tribunals for exemptions from military service, the ‘Spanish’ flu epidemic of 1918–19 and responses to the Armistice.

These are discussed with a telling and humane attention to the stories of individuals and families, while reminding the reader of how these experiences were a direct part of wider determinants and trends, from DORA (the Defence of the Realm Acts), to the formation of the Women’s Land Army, to the rise in the cost of living by nearly 50 per cent between 1914–16, to the addition of 3 million acres of land under cultivation. Alongside this are some equally striking local facts and figures. Kenilworth found land for, and established, 104 new allotments in one month. In Coventry, White and Poppe, a light engineering company employing 350 people in 1914, rapidly became one of the largest munitions factories in the country, having employed 30,000 by the end of the conflict. Its workers, including many women, filled 30 million fuses and 31 million detonators, while the firm also produced War Office vehicle engines. The whole operation included housing and hostels, canteens, allotments, a swimming pool, library and cinema. By 1917, VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment) were running 17 hospitals in Warwickshire, that in rural Kineton growing to provide 82 beds.

The work of the eight contributors highlights many realities, including the degree of pre-war preparation carried out by military and civil organisations, and the enormous practical complexity of coping with war conditions, from transport, to telegrams and post, to civilian medical services with large numbers of doctors and nurses on war service, to labour in shops, factories and fields. The role of women, revealing some resistance to their growing employment, is observed along with the degree of class tensions, from a strike at White and Poppe to apparently seamless assumptions of local leadership by traditional elites. A legion of committees and activities was organised, with an outpouring of voluntary effort aimed at ‘doing our bit’. How this was turned to effective action, and how far controlled locally or subsumed in centrally directed government initiatives is another recurrent theme.

Local studies also allow us to look afresh at the familiar. The main war memorial at Colchester, unveiled in 1923, is one of tens of thousands of local memorials in the British Isles. They are telling subjects for local research into the relationship between remembrance and community, as each place made its own decisions on how to commemorate their dead. Most war memorials took the form of permanent monuments, sometimes collective, sometimes to groups or individuals. Some favoured practical projects and buildings looking to the better future secured by the sacrifice of the dead. Although the creation of fitting tributes was a near universal response, the memorials themselves are far from uniform. Many record the names of individual combatants (presented in a significant variety of ways), but they also reflect the circumstances, attitudes, funds, tastes and sometimes disagreements of families and comrades, of influential local individuals and institutions, and of others in the wider circles of connection and remembrance which influenced the making of each structure.

The main First World War memorial in Colchester is just one of some forty in the town, a vivid reflection of the many community activities – school, work, church, sport, voluntary organisation – the dead of 1914–18 might have been part of. The collective and apparently democratic nature of the process of making Colchester’s main memorial is reflected in the 40 different groups, from the Scouts, to ‘Married Women’, to religious denominations, political parties, Freemasons, friendly societies, secondary schools, local employers and utility companies represented on the War Memorial Selection Committee. Formed as early as January 1919, it energetically debated six alternative forms of commemoration – public baths, school of art, purchasing Colchester castle, a memorial hall, a hospital wing and a monument. It was the last which won out, and the committee minutes detail the deliberations, fundraising, the purchase and gift of the site, choice and commissioning of the memorial with its statues of Victory, Peace and St George, the composition of the wording (referring to both the military dead and the other men and women ‘who stood for King and country & bearing arms or by their work helped to win the war’), and finally the elaborate unveiling ceremony.

The memorial became the focus of regular remembrance, those public rituals intended to ensure that the dead and what they died for remain in local consciousness. This too is rich ground for research. In November 1938 the mayor of Colchester, speaking at the war memorial, ‘invited his listeners to ask themselves whether or not the concept of remembrance had become meaningless and sentimental, and whether the sacrifices of the Fallen had been in vain’. Plaques have now been added to the monument to commemorate the dead of the (in a curiously understated phrase) ‘further war’ of 1939–45, and – in this army town – to soldiers killed since 1945 while on service or through terrorist acts.

Through its publications, BALH hopes to develop ideas and methods for local studies of wartime experience. These include a guide to researching local memorials and their significance (Remembrance and Community: War Memorials and Local History by Kate Tiller, 2013). Its quarterly newsletter Local History News is carrying a series of short articles on different themes, which can be read on www.balh.co.uk. Other publications are:

  • Memorials of war (Gill Draper) LHN103, spring 2012
  • Community responses to the outbreak of war, August 1914 (Catriona Pennell), LHN 104, summer 2012
  • The agricultural community at war, 1914–1918 (Bonnie White), LHN 105, autumn 2012
  • Soldiers’ letters and the First World War (Rachel Duffett), LHN 106, winter 2013
  • Women and work in the First World War (Deborah Thom), LHN 107, Spring 2013
  • Schools in the First World War (Tim Lomas), LHN 108, Summer 2013
  • The railwaymen who went to war: stories held at the National Railway Museum(Alison Kay), LHN 109, Autumn 2013
  • Service and sources: compiling local narratives of WW1 military history (Richard S. Grayson), LHN 110, Winter 2014
  • War resisters in Britain during the First World War: an opportunity for new research(Cyril Pearce), LHN 111, Spring 2014 (forthcoming)
  • Impact of the War on country estates (Allen Warren), LHN 112, Summer 2014 (forthcoming)
  • Impact of the War on London’s minorities (Jerry White), Autumn 2014 (forthcoming)
  • Local responses to food shortages (Karen Hunt), Winter 2015 (forthcoming)
  • Children’s experience of the FWW (Rosie Kennedy), Spring 2015 (forthcoming)

 

A flagship event will be this year’s Anglo-American Conference for Historians, ‘The Great War at home’, to be held at the IHR on 3–4 July. It will be jointly presented by IHR, BALH, the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) and the VCH (see anglo-american.history.ac.uk/). The theme is the impact of the War on the locality and local institutions, the family and social life, and the memorialisation of war in the built environment and in private life. It aims to gather together local and community historians, academics and graduate students to present and exchange their findings and ideas on all aspects of the impact of the War, in the UK and worldwide.

The conference will reflect the momentum and direction of work already underway. It will also point ahead, as a joint session, bringing together local historians from BALH, the Family and Community Historical Research Society and the AASLH, will explore shared interests and possibilities for an online network of local groups to research themes in Home Front studies. This will be another step towards realising the potential of local studies to respond to the challenges faced by historians of the First World War and its impact.

Anglo-American Conference 2014

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P1160460Preparations for the IHR’s 83rd annual Anglo-American Conference are in full swing now, with the conference just one week away.

This year’s Anglo-American Conference, The Great War at Home, will explore the impact of the First World War on home fronts across the spectrum of participants in the conflict – including those of Britain’s empire, her allies, and other combatant nations.

We have organised a formidable line-up of international scholars, with plenary lecturers including Jay Winter (Yale), Bill Nasson (Stellenbosch University), John Horne (Trinity College Dublin) and Christine Hallett (Manchester).

The socio-economic fabrics of contemporary societies were profoundly affected and altered by the conflict, with few neighbourhoods, towns or regions emerging untouched. A plethora of the challenges and changes faced on home fronts across the globe –  from recycling to food politics; the role of women to transport and technology – will be explored amongst the 27 panel sessions, 8 research showcase sessions, 3 roundtable sessions, policy forum, and archive film presentation which comprise this year’s Conference.

Check out the full programme here. To register, visit anglo-american.history.ac.uk/registration

‘Business as usual’: School life in Britain during the Great War

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The IHR library has an outstanding collection of university and school records. Following on the theme of this year’s Anglo-American conference, we’ve been looking at what they contain about the First World War. School registers often have lists of teachers and former pupils who served or were killed in the war. School histories and journals include more descriptive accounts, and there are some vivid records, sometimes poignant, but mostly emphasising how schools attempted to continue as usual.

school war serviceSeveral describe how school playing fields were ploughed up to be used as allotments worked on by the pupils: at St Peter’s School in York a ‘vegetable committee’ was formed (Raine, A., History of St Peter’s School, York, p.189). In A History of Kibworth Beauchamp Grammar School, we read how the congested state of the railways made it difficult to get equipment and books (p. 69). Availability of food is often an issue – Records (1909-1992) of the Ramsgate County School for Boys gives praise to Mrs Read: “the fact that we were able to have.. any dinners at all was largely due to the way she managed to secure food-stuffs in unorthodox ways” (p. 115).

The stress caused by the threat of air raids is a recurrent theme. Air raid shelters were created in cellars and cloakrooms and under school lawns. History of St Peter’s School tells of Zeppelin attacks in York and a boy being injured by shrapnel (p.189). At Ramsgate County School for Boys, a bomb fell on the tennis court, demolishing a summer house and breaking windows (p.100). In general people coped, and school life continued, though classes started a little late the morning after a raid (p.113).

The Book of the Blackheath High School gives two first-hand accounts by former pupils. The war affected not only the girls’ daily life at school but also their attitudes to the role of women in the future. At a school speech day, the Bishop of Woolwich said “Now.. is women’s chance to use wisely and well the great force and power of work of which this War has shewn them to be possessed” (p.170).

The girls were keen to help with war work. A former sixth former describes how “It was difficult to read for the University when one was consumed by a desire to go out and do something of immediate use..”, but “well-equipped women would be needed in the post-war future, so we stayed on” (p.171). One girl was called up for service in France and “was seen off by an admiring and envious crowd of seniors who could have given all they possessed to have been going too” (p. 172).

School diary

Girls at the school helped out in their own time by working in allotments, canteens, and factories, packing parcels, and doing Red Cross work. Sixth formers knitted under the table to be “safe from the eyes of the Head and the Staff, who discouraged that mixture of fervid patriotism and intermittent reading which is apt to result in a low place on university scholarship lists” (p.172). Again, the “unchanged and steady way in which the life of the school went on” is emphasised. A younger pupil described school life as a relief from the troubles of the outside world (p. 176-7).

Other school histories recount the departure of male teachers to serve in the war and the arrival of female replacements, the activities of the officer training corps, war savings work, and the planning of memorials for former pupils and masters.

The material can be found in the Biographical section of the British collection. School records are also located in the record society series within the Scottish, Welsh and English local history sections.

Sources

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