A sad and momentous day at the IHR, as we bid farewell to one of our longest-standing colleagues, James ‘He’ll never leave’ Lees, who , after years of dogged and loyal service, was finally unable to resist the promise of untold riches and the lure of the bright lights, and is moving to Swindon…
Anyway, life must go on – and following the IHR’s successful conference last week, we’re continuing with our special issue of Great War at Home reviews. First up is Disturbing Practices: History, Sexuality and Women’s Experience of Modern War, 1914-18 by Laura Doan. Kevin Guyan and Laura Doan discuss the latter’s book, which offers a clear and confident direction for how histories of sexuality could develop (no. 1622, with response here).
Next we turn to Robert Tombs and Emile Chabal’s Britain and France in Two World Wars: Truth, Myth and Memory, with Vincent Trott reviewing a broad and ambitious collection (no. 1621).
Then we have Civvies: Middle-class men on the English Home Front, 1914–18 by Laura Ugolini. Jessica Meyer believes the author has done a service to historians of gender of this period in providing a thoughtful introduction to a collection of important voices (no. 1620).
Finally, there is Beth Linker’s War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America. Jessica Adler thinks that this deeply researched, beautifully written, and tightly argued book should be required reading (no. 1619).
To facilitate the IHR’s return to the Senate House north block, it has now been confirmed that the library will close from Saturday 16th August to Saturday 30th August inclusive. Room bookings during this time will be unaffected.
We plan to reopen in the north block on Monday 1st September but please check the IHR website and blog for updates nearer the time.
We apologise for any disruption caused during the move, but look forward to welcoming you to the refurbished IHR. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to staff in the library enquiry office in the first instance, or contact us on email@example.com or 020 7862 8760.
Following on from last week’s launch of the library’s bequests webpage and in keeping with recent blog posts about our Canadian holdings, the IHR would like to take the opportunity to highlight a few examples of historic donations to our North American collections. The Institute’s extensive resources relating to the early history of Canada came into existence as a result of several large bequests and donations from private donors and public bodies during the 1920s and 30s. Of these donors, H.P. Biggar stands out for his efforts to promote Canadian studies at the IHR and in London more generally.
The Biggar Collection
Henry Percival Biggar (1872-1938) served as the European representative of the Public Archives of Canada in Ottawa during the first three decades of the 20th century. While in Europe he received a doctorate in history at Oxford and published several titles on European exploration in North America including The voyages of the Cabots (Paris, 1903), The Voyages of Jacques Cartier(Ottawa, 1924) and The Works of Samuel de Champlain (Toronto, 1922-1936).
Biggar was central to the acquisition campaign for the Public Archives and later participated in the organization of historical manuscripts in the national collection, a project he wrote about at length in the first two volumes of the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research. From 1905 he served as the European representative of the Department of Canadian Archives, a position he occupied until his death in 1938. He was instrumental in the founding of the Canadian Historical Society in 1922 and served as its first secretary. As secretary he oversaw the transcription of important manuscripts relevant to the early history of Canada held in Parisian and London archives for deposition in the Public Archives of Canada. Biggar was also an activist for Canadian and imperial charities in the capital, serving as the National Commissioner of the Canadian Red Cross Society during the early years of the Depression.
From 1921 onwards Biggar donated books from his personal library to the IHR. As a result, a number of the Colonial Collection’s strengths reflect his research interests in the areas of early European exploration of North America and the history of New France before the British conquest of 1759/60. Biggar’s largest donations of books and pamphlets arrived in the IHR over the course of the summer of 1926 and the winter of 1927. In 1938, the IHR library committee valued the Biggar Library, then consisting of 562 volumes and 256 pamphlets, at £950.
The Canadian Lectureship Fund Acquisitions
Throughout his years in London Biggar tirelessly promoted the professionalization and study of Canadian history in the UK. In 1926 he organized a fund to endow a lectureship in Canadian History at the University of London. Sadly, he was unable to collect enough money for a lectureship endowment before his death. The money raised for that purpose, however, did enable the IHR to significantly expand its colonial history holdings. In 1932 Biggar stipulated that the interest from the lectureship fund, then standing at £600, be used by the IHR library committee to ‘buy books to be presented to the Canadian section of the Institute library’. Many of the library’s holdings in the area of European exploration in North America were purchased through the Canadian Lectureship Fund including, for example, Paul Gaffarel’s, Histoire de la découverte de l’Amérique, 2 vols (Paris, 1892)and Henry Murphy’s The Voyage of Verrazzano (New York, 1870). Perhaps the most substantial additions to the library purchased under the aegis of the Lectureship fund were the initial two dozen volumes of the Rapport des Archives du Quebec series.
Provenance in the Biggar Collection
A presentation copy of Joseph-Guillaume Barthe’s (1816-1893) Le Canada Reconquis par la France(Paris, 1855) presented to the French illustrator and student of Delacroix, Maurice Sand (1823-1889) includes a letter from the author bound among the front flyleaves of the book. It is dated Quebec, 15 September 1867 and discusses a meeting between Barthe and Sand in Paris in 1861. La Canada Reconquis par la France argues for renewed French immigration to Quebec in order to rejuvenate French Canadian language and culture. 
The first volume of the IHR copy of Etienne Michel Faillon’s Histoire de la Colonie Francaise in Canada contains a long citation from the work in Biggar’s hand. It also contains a letter, bound among the front leaves, with information about the book.
Apologies for the delay in the weekly Reviews in History post – our Anglo-American Conference of Historians on ‘The Great War at Home’ started yesterday (check out the programme at http://anglo-american.history.ac.uk/files/2013/03/Anglo-American-conference-programme.pdf, or follow developments at #aach2014), and I was out all afternoon chairing a packed session on conscientious objectors and war resisters. Or ‘cranks’, if you’re Jeremy Paxman.
Anyway, to coincide with the conference, we’ll be publishing a series of reviews on related books, and our first batch are up today.
We begin with the Cambridge History of the First World War, edited by Jay Winter. Richard Grayson and the editor discuss a comprehensive, insightful and challenging collection, which can be considered an astonishing achievement (no. 1618, with response here)
Next up is Ross Davies’ ‘A Student in Arms’: Donald Hankey and Edwardian Society at War. Stuart Bell and the author discuss a new book on one of the most enigmatic personalities to feature in the narrative of the Great War (no. 1617, with response here).
Then we turn to The Soldiers’ Press: Trench Journals in the First World War by Graham Seal, which Adrian Bingham believes provides the most comprehensive and detailed overview thus far of a fascinating genre (no. 1616).
Finally we have The Aesthetics of Loss: German Women’s Art during the First World War by Claudia Siebrecht. Ann Murray finds this book identifies and underscores the vital importance of women’s art to our greater understanding of the First World War (no. 1615).
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.
Mercredi 14 avril 1915
Rue de la Régence, deux petites filles sautaient à la corde en chantant La Marseillaise. Des officiers allemands passèrent, entendirent, regardèrent…et sourirent. Et les deux petites continuèrent sans se douter qu’elles risquaient dex ans de prison!
[Wednesday, 14th April 1915
Rue de la Régence, two young girls were skipping rope singing La Marseillaise. Some German officers passed by, heard, watched…and smiled. And the two little girls continued without suspecting that they risked two years in prison!]
So wrote the Brussels-based journalist, play-wright and author Paul Max (1884-1944). His is one of many voices which can be found among the collections of the IHR library, which illustrate the varied reactions, both within government and society at large, to the German Empire’s occupation of Belgium from August 1914 to November 1918.
Initially Max’s account of life in Brussels is filled not only with vignettes of the German presence (as one might expect) but also more pleasant aspects, a trip to the theatre (13th March, 1915) or a day playing bowls (26th May 1915). Unfortunately, these types of entries are seldom made as the diary progresses with accounts of air raids (the 7th June 1915, the 7th September 1916 and the 27th September 1916, for example), swift arrests (22nd June 1915), rising prices and economic deprivation (1st February 1917, 8th November 1917, 15th October 1918) becoming the norm.
The diary of Constance Graeffe (1874-1950) also documents life in occupied Brussels but has a very different tone. With the knowledge that her and her German husband, Otto Graeffe, would eventually renounce their Belgian citizenship, becoming Reichsdeutschen on the 1st June 1917 one should not be too surprised that a major theme throughout her diary is the equivocation she displays between the fondness she has for Germany and the growing hostility she feels in Brussels:
I do not know how I shall bear all this feeling of hatred which pours out of every eye which rests on one, if one has the misfortune of being with any one who is German. I often wonder however that hatred will leave the Belgians? I must not think too much of all this or I would go mad. (17th June, 1915).
Her portrayal of suffering must be tempered, however, by her – almost eager – acceptance of Germany’s justification for its actions during the invasion. In the first months of the war, Graeffe would accept as fact the German explanation for its brutality during the invasion, the civilian guerrilla forces dubbed the Franc-tireurs:
…all along Belgium as the German came along…the men (not soldiers) & women & children began to shoot at them. (27th August 1914)
Mention of the Franc-tireurs is also made in other sources held by the IHR’s library, but in a very different context. The Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’invasion Allemande dans les provinces de Namur et de Luxembourgwas compiled and edited in the early 1920s by the abbot of Maredous, Norbert Nieuwland and Jean Schmitz, secretary to the bishop of Namur. The eight volume work offers a comprehensive account of the invasion but paints a very different picture than either Max’s or Graeffe’s diaries. As outlined by the editors, the work sought to, ‘montrer par des témoignages de première main, quel est le régime, quels sont les traitements que l’armée allemande a fait subir à la population civil durant l’invasion’, dedicating it, ‘à la mémoire de tous morts et martyrs’ (vol. 1, xi-xii). Given this statement of intent, such incidence such as the civilian massacres at Tamines and Dinant (to name only two) are described in hundreds of accounts published in each volume.
Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz (German diplomat and administrator based in Brussels 1914-1918)
Accounts from the German perspective tend not to dwell on these horrific events. The reports and memoirs by German diplomat and head of a Politische Abteilung throughout the occupation, Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz (1867-1939) mention little of the initial invasion, giving details, instead, on the day to day concerns of the German administration such as the staunch defiance of the Belgian Cardinal Mercier (Nov. 1915-Jan. 1916, pp. 164-168 & Aug. 1916-Jan. 1917, pp. 233-236) as well as the implementation of Flamenpolitik, a policy which sought to widen societal fissures between the Flemish and Walloon population, promoting the status of the Flemish (viz. Germanic) culture over the southern Francophone Walloons (Meine dreissig Dienstjahre, pp. 211-220; see also Les archives du Conseil de Flandre).
In terms of a legacy, the noted Belgian historian, Henri Pirenne (1862-1935) saw efforts to divide Belgium through policies such as Flamenpolitik as being ultimately futile. Although we have seen even in this tiny sample opinion was far from uniform (when is it ever?), looking back and reflecting on the German administration and the Belgium that emerged after war, Pirenne would conclude in 1928
L’administration imposée par l’Allemagne à la Belgique n’était que la conséquence de la victoire. Elle devait crouler avec la défaite et elle le fit tout d’une pièce et d’un seul coup…Matériellement le pays était ruiné, moralement il restait intact. (p. 272)
[The administration imposed by Germany on Belgium was only the consequence of victory. It crumbled with defeat and it collapsed in one fell swoop…Materially the state [Belgium] was ruined, morally it remained intact.]
All the material discussed above can be found in the IHR library’s Belgian, Low Countries Local, Military and International Relations collections and notice of any future acquisitions in this subject can be found on the library pages of the IHR website.
More details of events held at the IHR, including this year’s Anglo-American Conference, The Great War at Home, can be found on the Institute’s Events page.
Graeffe, Constance. “We who are so cosmopolitan”: the war diary of Constance Graeffe, 1914-1915, ed. Sophie de Schaepdrijver.
Lancken-Wakenitz, Oscar von der. Meine dreissig Dienstjahre 1888-1918 : Potsdam-Paris-Brüssel.
Lancken-Wakenitz, Oscar von der. Gouverner en Belgique occupée : Oscar von der Lancken-Wakenitz – rapports d’activité 1915-1918, ed. Michaël Amara et Hubert Roland.
Max, Paul. Journal de guerre de Paul Max : notes d’un Bruxellois pendant l’occupation (1914-1918), ed. Benoît Majerus & Sven Soupart.
Pirenne, Henri. La Belgique et la Guerre Mondiale.
Raad van Vlaanderen. Les archives du Conseil de Flandre, published by the Ligue nationale pour l’unité belge.
Schmitz, Jean & Nieuwland, Norbert (eds.). Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’invasion Allemande dans les provinces de Namur et de Luxembourg.
Over the spring and early summer we have been bringing together information on the history of the IHR library, and have now added a new section to the webpages which highlights the origins of some of our collections. In its early years the library was built up by actively seeking donations of books, and much of the collection was formed from bequests and gifts by individuals and organisations. They cross all sections of the library, from the many donations to the Canadian section by Henry Percival Biggar, via the large amount of local history material given by H Guy Harrison, to the controversial donation of 1937 from the German government which forms a large part of our German history collection. Special acquisition funds were created to support some collections, such as the Canadian Lectureship Fund, and in some cases donated books that were surplus to the IHR’s needs, because they were duplicates or outside the collection policy, were sold in order to boost the funds available for purchasing new material.
Many of the books that came to the IHR through bequests and donations carry fascinating evidence of their earlier provenance, in the form of dedications and inscriptions to individuals, earlier bindings, interesting book plates, or letters now bound into the volumes. The collection includes, for example, the beautifully bound volumes of the Vincent Wright collection, and David Douglas’s interleaved and annotated copy of J. Horace Round’s Calendar of documents preserved in France.
We are still finding things out about these collections and will be adding to the web pages as research continues. Keep an eye out, too, for blog posts which will highlight particular items of interest. For further information on how you can support our collections please speak to the IHR development office.
My colleagues in the library have already blogged about History Day, however I thought I’d follow it up from the perspective of the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) as I’ve had a number of enquiries which I can address here.
After an outline of the history of the Bibliography and its coverage I usually emphasise three points:-
1. The Bibliography has links (where possible and where institutional subscriptions allow) to a variety of sources including to full text via doi (digital object identifier); online collections of journals such as JSTOR and Project Muse; links to publishers; and links to other digital resources such as the National Register of Archives and union catalogues (e.g. Copac).
2. The ability to set up email alerts for specific subjects or authors or places (or a combination). Users can easily set up an email alert by following the instructions. The email alerts can then be managed by clicking on the “My email alerts” on the banner of the homepage. It’s a simple and effective way of keeping informed about developments in your research area (you’ll get an update three times per year). As an example I have an email alert for subject keyword “Intelligence” and period covered “1880-1945”.
3. The ability to export data to a range of reference tools, such as Microsoft Word, RefWorks, Endnote and Zotero. Again there are online tutorials for demonstrating how to use these tools.
Additionally from History Day, some useful tips were picked up from Paul Horsler (LSE) who discussed reference tools. He also made three key points. Use the reference manager as you start your research, you’ll become accustomed to it sooner and it will save a lot of time at the end of research. Choose a tool you feel comfortable with and one that is supported by your research institution (if in doubt, ask your librarian). And finally, as with all software, make sure you do backups – you don’t want to lose all that research.
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 andCommunity: 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.
I was all set to try and tie things in with the World Cup this week, but what with England already having disembarked at Luton there really doesn’t seem much point. Oh, and none of the books are football-related in any way…
So away from the ignominies of our sub-standard national team, and let us turn for reassurance instead to high-standard historical scholarship, beginning with Print and Public Politics in the English Revolution by Jason Peacey. David Magliocco and the author discuss an outstanding work combining archival mastery, theoretical sophistication, methodological innovation and lucid exposition (no. 1614, with response here).
Then we have Peter Watson’s The Age of Nothing: How We Have Sought to Live Since The Death of God. Beverley Southgate praises an extraordinarily successful wide-angled personal snapshot of the story of our efforts to live without God (no. 1613).
Next up is Canada and the End of the Imperial Dream by Neville Thompson, and Simon Potter believes this book offers a lively and readable illustration of how the British world perspective can enrich both British and Canadian histories (no. 1612).
Finally there is The Great Game, 1856-1907: Russo-British Relations in Central and East Asia by Evgeny Sergeev, which R. Charles Weller uses as the starting point for a lengthy review of Great Game historiography (no. 1611).