Dr Mark Jackson (Newcastle University), Research Associate Niveen Kassem and creative writing cultural organisation, Identity on Tyne, have been funded to uncover hidden histories within the Gertrude Bell Archive about Middle Eastern ethnic minorities during WWI.
The First World War and its aftermath saw the establishment of new nation states after the fall of the Ottoman Empire but this period also resulted in massacres, forced relocation and mass-movements of minorities. A century on, many parts of the region are still a war-zone and minority communities continue to suffer.
Using the Gertrude Bell Archive located at Newcastle University, the Beyond Destruction project engaged members of the minority Iraqi, Christian Assyrian communities from Northern England in their history in Iraq before and after WWI and since in the UK. Fostering inter-generational dialogue in relation to this history, the project encouraged community discussion of destroyed heritage sites in the Middle East, the importance of the preservation of languages such as Aramaic and Syriac as well as the uncovering of documents in the archive written by Gertrude Bell’s neighbor, Cyril Porter. Porter was a British Army engineer who was stationed in Iraq between 1914-1918. He frequently wrote back to his family in Carlisle. In one of these letters, Porter powerfully described hearing about what would become known as the Armenian genocide from witnesses who managed to survive. You can access this letter by clicking this link.
Reflecting on the significance of Centre for Hidden Histories funding for this project, the Beyond Destruction team commented:
“The funding you have provided has been very important to our work with the Middle Eastern communities for whom WWI had radical consequences. We have been able to engage communities from Iraq with Gertrude Bell archives and explore their responses and reading to these histories and how these histories resonate today. We have run successful workshops that provided the communities with the space to explore their voices, memories and identity in the shadow of the past. Our next plan is to reach out for more Middle Eastern communities living in Europe and beyond by developing sample size social media and the internet.”
This blog was co-written by the Beyond Destruction team and Larissa Allwork
On 13th September 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Dr Andy Davies and Madeline Heneghan, from Liverpool based community organisation, Writing on the Wall to discuss their Centre for Hidden Histories funded project on the 1919 race riots. Andy, Madeline and their group of volunteers have undertaken a detailed spatial mapping project of the events and locations of individuals affected by the postwar riots.
This mapping has been achieved through researching a recently donated archive which includes a collection of documents pertaining to the plight of black servicemen, seafarers and workers in Liverpool in 1919. Based on this archive, the group have created a map of the events of the 1919 race riots using an ArcGIS software package available at the University of Liverpool. Volunteers on the 1919 race riots project include individuals who are local to Liverpool, some of whom have have participated in previous Writing on the Wall initiatives. Others are Geography students from the University of Liverpool. Of the unique inter-generational dynamic that characterises this group, Madeline commented, “it’s a really nice group. Previous participants in Writing on the Wall projects have knowledge about the archive and the period. The younger students were enthusiastic about discovering the archive material for the first time and brought their technical skills to bear on the project.” For Andy, whose research seeks to understand how Liverpool can be understood as a postcolonial city, this sense of co-production is central to his ethos as a researcher: “One of the things that I want my academic research to be is something that is not just me sat in a university writing stuff…It’s not like we’re the leaders of the research. A lot of the time people come up with ideas among themselves.”
Once completed the map will be posted on the ‘From Great War to Race Riots’ website. However, members of the public can experience the group’s research findings as part of a special event which is being held to coincide with Black History Month 2017. On 22 October, Andy, Madeline and the team will be leading a walking tour through the city of Liverpool which will explore the history and urban geography of the 1919 race riots. The event will end with a public lecture by David Olusoga, author of Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016). For full details of this event and to book tickets, please follow this eventbrite link.
Andy hopes that this project will act as a springboard for future research networks and projects which will consider the global impacts of the 1919 race riots.
At the Centre for Hidden Histories led Discovery Day in Leicester (4 September 2017), I was fortunate to catch-up with Associate Professor Nigel Hunt about the ‘Belper in Wartime’ project. This project arose from a Centre for Hidden Histories event in Chesterfield. Nigel met Adrian Farmer, a representative of Belper’s World War One Working Group. At the start of the Centenary, this group had won a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to research the individuals listed on the Belper War Memorial and produce a community history book about ‘Belper in Wartime’. Nigel suggested that as a follow-on project, the Belper Working Group should collaborate with the Centre for Hidden Histories and research life in Belper after the First World War. A key research question would be to consider how men returning from the trenches adapted or struggled to reintegrate into postwar Belper community life. Newspapers have been a key source of information for this project as has witness testimony recorded from descendants.
On 10th September 2017, the ‘In the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time’ team held a free heritage open day for the public at Lofthouse Gate Working Men’s Club. The purpose of the day was to explore the hidden history of Lofthouse Park, one of Britain’s internment camps during the First World War. Now comprising a combination of housing estates, car parks and convenience stores, the site of Lofhouse Park is virtually unrecognisable from its World War One era incarnation. Dr Claudia Sternberg and David Stowe organised the day to provide descendants, local people and World War One history enthusiasts with the opportunity to engage with this difficult and often forgotten history.
David Stowe led a guided tour of the sites that would have comprised the former Lofthouse Park Internment camp where Germans, Turks and Austro-Hungarians were interned during the war. Participants in the tour were introduced to the testimony of Paul Cohen Portheim. They were also shown the sites of South Camp, North Camp and West Camp and told about the organisation of the institution, particularly the daily routine of its prisoners, many of whom were from the social elite of early nineteenth century, Anglo-German, German and European society. There is currently no commemorative plaque to mark the camp, but Claudia, Dave and illustrator Louise Atkinson have put together a map of Lofthouse Park to encourage members of the public to engage with its First World War history.
Led by Dr Nick Baron, The COREL Project (Curating Online Resources for Engagement and Learning) has been working with the Life Lines community group in order to develop an easy to use and accessible online platform for presenting textual materials. A work in progress, it is hoped that the final platform will enable the display of documents held by archives, libraries, museums or private collections. In the course of developing specifications and a prototype of the platform, the COREL project worked with World War One era documents contributed by Life Lines members as well as materials from the University of Nottingham’s Sir George Buchanan collection. As part of the co-productive elements of this project, Nick employed Culture Syndicates, a Nottingham based Heritage and Arts consultancy company. This was in order to assist with building the relationship with Life Lines and organising key activities like focus groups. I caught up with Nick and Charlotte Pratley, Director of Culture Syndicates. We discussed the contribution that companies like Culture Syndicates make to the co-production process between universities and community partners.