The Library has extremely strong collections relating to resistance to the First World War, and the exhibition is an opportunity to establish a distinct voice amidst the wider commemoration of the centenary of the conflict. Our holdings demonstrate dissent on multiple issues and from diverse motivations, as well as official government publications supporting the war effort. However, it is striking how these intractably opposed positions made strident appeals to very similar fundamental principles and ethics in order to support their arguments. These principles can be reduced to essential duties, which, while each sounding inviolable, are also incompatible, with the moral certainties they embody evaporating as they conflict. The exhibition will be structured around the four preeminent duties observable: Duty to God, Duty to King and Country, Duty to Humanity, and Duty to Conscience.
With all sides appealing to the same principles, under each theme there will be displayed official propaganda, mildly dissenting views and also materials that were regarded as illegal in their resistance.
As a case study in how these duties interact and contradict one another, we will lastly present material depicting how the Labour Party and the wider Left was torn apart by the Great War, with disputing factions making appeals to essentially the same duties and principles.
The exhibition seeks to highlight rare materials but also to demonstrate the breadth of our holdings, and will include:
- Contemporary government recruitment and propaganda posters
- Suppressed pamphlets which were officially destroye
- Rare books showing the 17th-18th century origins of pacifism
- Cartoons and mass-printed anti-war illustrations
- Manuscripts, including letters from the future George VI and Siegfried Sassoon
Evening events: These talks will begin at 6pm and be held in the Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room in Senate House Library.
15 January: Emily Johns, ‘Picturing resistance to the First World War: Emily Johns talks about the process of making a People’s History poster series’
(tbc) History Lab, ‘An Evening with History Lab: emerging research on the First World War’
19 March: Professor Ulrich Tiedau (UCL), ‘European duty and dissent: a Belgian example, Émile Cammaerts’
9 April: Cyril Pearce, ‘A re-appraisal of the complex history of Conscientious Objectors in Great Britain from the country’s leading researcher in the field’
14 May: David Blake, ‘Quaker contributions in the First World War’
Lunchtime events: These talks will start at 1pm and will be held in the Durning-Lawrence Library. Attendees may feel free to bring their sandwiches.
23 January: Richard Espley (SHL), ‘The survival of the suppressed: preserving banned pamphlets in the University Library’
17 February: Jordan Landes (SHL), ‘Albert Einstein and Arthur Stanley Eddington: a pacifist relationship’
11 March: Charlie Potter (SHL), ‘Bertrand Russell and the philosophy of pacifism’
15 April: Hester Swift (IALS), ‘A talk on international peace organisations’