Dr Lee Humber’s Project on WWI and Disability at Ruskin College, Oxford

On 22nd November 2016, Impact Fellow, Dr Larissa Allwork and Community Liaison Officer, Mike Noble visited Dr Lee Humber at Ruskin College, Oxford to find out about the progress of Humber’s collaborative project with Jess Tilling, coordinator at learning disability self-advocacy group, My Life My Choice (MLMC). Humber, a sociologist and learning disability historian is working with Tilling, a team of researchers with learning disabilities and their supporters in order to investigate what happened to former residents of what were known during the First World War era as ‘imbecile asylums’ in Oxfordshire and other local regions.  The project seeks to find biographical traces of individuals with learning disabilities who may have left to join the army or who otherwise contributed to the 1914-1918 conflict.  The project is entitled, ‘The Hidden History of the Labour Corps in the First World War:  Contributions to the War Effort Made by People with Learning Disabilities’.

The MLMC group have already participated in workshops at Ruskin College and have explored archival materials held at the Oxfordshire History Centre (St Luke’s Church, Cowley).  In the New Year, they are planning further research trips to the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock and the Imperial War Museum, London.

Lee Humber and My Life My Choice participants.
Lee Humber and My Life My Choice participants.

Impact: University and Community Partners Reflect on Centre for Hidden Histories Projects

Shared Experience Workshop, Derby, September 2016
Shared Experience Workshop, Derby, September 2016

On 19th September 2016, university and community participants in research projects funded by the Centre for Hidden Histories convened for a ‘Shared Experience Workshop’ at Derby Riverside Centre. The day was organised by Impact Fellow, Dr Larissa Allwork, Community Liaison Officer, Mike Noble and Centre for Hidden Histories, Principal Investigator, Professor John Beckett.  If the first report in this series highlighted the impact of the Centre for Hidden Histories, this second report focuses on the reflective process of learning from the Centre’s experiences. This reflective process is important because it contributes to the Centre’s aim of mapping out some best practice guidelines for the realisation of university/community partnerships which draw directly on grassroots experiences. These experiences highlight specific benefits, needs and challenges presented by the AHRC’s creation of the First World War Engagement Centres, in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund, in order to mark the 1914-1918 centenary.

To read Part Two of the Shared Experience Workshop Report, please click on the link below:

CHH Shared Experience Workshop Report Part Two


Impact: Remembrance Day Performance by Blue Coat Junior School

Blue Coat Choir
Blue Coat Junior School Choir

On Friday 11th November 2016, Larissa Allwork (Impact Fellow) and Mike Noble (Community Liaison Officer) marked Armistice Day by attending Blue Coat Church of England (Aided) Infant and Junior Schools’ Federation, World War One Commemoration event at St. Matthew’s Church, Walsall.  The morning commemoration event was performed to a full congregation of teachers, school pupils, parents and other community members.

A group of students led by project leader Jane Mason, have spent the past six months participating in a Heritage Lottery Funded project, researching information about the lives of soldiers linked to Walsall during the 1914-1918 conflict. Students have worked with a historian, composer, dramatist and media presenter to deepen their knowledge and awareness of the unique contribution that was made by people that lived in Walsall during the conflict- including those from  Asian and Afro-Caribbean countries.

The commemoration event – which lasted approximately forty five minutes – featured the children presenting drama, films, readings and poetry recitals. ‘Song Somme’ especially composed for the project by Colin King was performed by Blue Coat Junior School Choir. The commemoration also included two minutes of silence for remembering those that died during the 1914-1918 conflict.  Mike Noble and the University of Nottingham were also thanked for their involvement in the project. Head of Blue Coat Junior Infant Federation, Peter Prasadam praised the children’s dedication in realising the project: “This wonderful group of children from our school…have been working really hard over the past four months in a special project led by Jane Mason…Enjoy it but learn from it. Remember those lives of soldiers who lived so long ago, who gave so much for our country.” 


Blue Coat Students
Blue Coat Students in St Matthew’s Church

Impact: Community Challenge Fund Visit by Six Streets History Derby to the National Railway Museum, York

Six Streets Derby History Coach Trip.

Alongside the Centre for Hidden Histories Research Development Fund which has enabled academic/community partner projects (click here to see a full report), the Centre’s Community Challenge Fund has supported eighteen small community-led activities which have investigated ‘hidden’ World War One histories. The Community Challenge Fund has enabled groups to access research resources, technical facilities and/or expertise in order to develop new projects.  It has also assisted groups with organising public events or visits in support of their research. A recent Community Challenge Fund activity was, Six Streets History Derby’s visit to the National Railway Museum in York (3 September 2016).

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Study and Community Events: Leeds, October 2016

Study and Community Events: Leeds, October 2016

On 21st and 22nd October, the Centre was very pleased to support a pair of events in partnership with Leeds City Museum. The events, which were held as part of Black History Month, were designed to examine histories and perspectives that are often overlooked.

The Study Day
The Study Day

On the Friday, a study day, entitled ‘Global Perspectives on World War One, was held at the museum. Papers were presented from a variety of speakers on a wide range of topics including how Black Soldiers and the wider African and Caribbean communities helped Britain during two World Wars, the life of Leeds Pal, Private Jogendra Sen, Chinese Perspectives on the Great War and female nurses’ relationships with non-white soldiers.

Staff from the National Archives, provided insights into the material that they hold on West Africa and South Asia and discussed the challenges of researching this area of the war and the value of examining the war through the themes loyalty and dissent.

On the Saturday, the museum opened its magnificent Broderick Hall for a community day called ‘Peoples’ Pathways: Soldiers from Overseas in World War One’. This event was largely performance-based, with music, spoken word and interactive talks.

Russell Smith as 2nd Lt Walter Tull
Russell Smith as 2nd Lt Walter Tull

Community historian Jahan Mahmood brought items from his travelling military museum and gave an illuminating talk on Muslim perspectives on the war. Russell Smith performed a monologue in character as Walter Tull, footballer and British Army officer and the event was rounded off with a beautiful performance of the World War One inspired Sacred Songs by Alchemy and SAA UK.

The topics were intentionally varied but nevertheless a few connecting themes emerged. One was the sheer range of stories that can be told about the war; so many that it’s possible to see the First World War not as one conflict, but many. It is important to reflect on these multiple ways of seeing history, not least because it confirms the value in having so many people take the time to explore the aspect of the war that most interests them.

Another theme to emerge was the depth of history required to even begin exploring the war. Most of the sessions examined histories with connections to the histories of empire and colonialism. Any thorough reflection of the global First World War must necessarily begin with the history of the European empires and the patterns of movement and control that developed way before 1914. So too is the history of Black and Asian people in Britain. This is also a long-term history and one that supports the view that the First World War is but a moment in a far longer set of stories about how people, willingly or otherwise, come together and find themselves sharing a common, albeit distinctive, histories.