Event: Community, Identity and Commemoration: Britain and the First World War

Event: Community, Identity and Commemoration: Britain and the First World War

Community, Identity and Commemoration: Britain and the First World War

Friday 23 June, University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Room: TBA

The Passchendaele campaign, fought in the Flanders mud, provides many of the most enduring images of the Western Front. It also remains one of the most controversial battles of the War. At this public conference, the continuing reinterpretation of the battle will be discussed as we approach the 100th anniversary of the ‘Battle of Mud’.  The academic controversies concerning the Passchendaele campaign have often reflected differing viewpoints on British identity and the extent to which the War exemplified British values.  The conference will explore how the War impacted on Britain’s communities and the impact it has had on the evolution of a shared identity. It will examine the various ways in which Britain has marked the First World War centenary, examining the social, cultural and political influences that have shaped the commemorations. As the Silk Mill Museum hosts the Weeping Window, from the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ by Paul Cummins, the Conference at Derby University provides an opportunity to discuss what impact the centenary events have had on public knowledge and understanding of the Great War.

 

Timetable

13.00:    Welcome

13.15:    Dr Ian Whitehead: ‘The Battle of Mud’: Perspectives on the Passchendaele Campaign, 1917

14.00:    Break

14.15: Professor Paul Elliott: Derby Public Parks in the First World War and Beyond: Recovering a Hidden History of the Home Front

15.00:    Break

15.15:   Christopher Batten, BA (Hons): Life in Ruhleben Camp: Edwardian Britain in Microcosm

15.45:    Thomas Debaere, BA (Hons): Requiem: Foulds, Beaverbrook and a ‘British’ Festival of Remembrance

16.00:    Break

16.15:    Dr Kathleen McIlvenna: Communities, Government and Heritage: The Centenary of the First World War and Public

History

17.00:    Close

Remembering the Chilwell Munitions Explosion

Munitions workers at Chilwell
Munitions workers at Chilwell

Some of you may recall our blogpost on the Chilwell munitions factory explosion. The disaster, which occurred 97 years ago this week, destroyed much of the No. 6 Filling Factory, which had been used for adding the volatile chemicals to shells prior to shipment to the frontline. 134 people were killed and a further 250 injured and the blast could be felt as far away as West Bridgford.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the disaster, and hearing some of the recorded testimonies of people who remember it, you may be interested in a series of events organised by Excavate Community Theatre.

This weekend (4th and 5th July), an exhibition will be held in Beeston Town Square, with photographs and audio interviews from relatives of those who worked at the factory. A new play about the disaster will also be performed at 11am, 1pm and 3pm on the Saturday and 12pm and 2pm on the Sunday.

On Sunday, from 10am to 2pm, Chetwynd Barracks, which lies on the site of the factory, will be open to allow people to visit the memorial on the site and to see a small exhibition.Pedestrian entry will be from Chetwynd Road; vehicular entry from Swiney Way where photographic ID will be needed.

A series of related events will also be held at the White Lion pub in Beeston. On Saturday night, an evening of First World War storytelling will begin at 7.30pm (tickets £6 on the door, or £5 advance from the pub). On Sunday, the pub will hold a screening of the BBC film The Killing Factories,  with an introduction from the director Tony Roe. This will start at 7pm and will be free of charge.

The project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Broxtowe Borough Council.

Chilwell2For more information, please visit excavate.org.uk

The Revolution in Family History

IWM Private_TickleRecent years have seen a revolution in family history and amateur genealogy. The possibilities created by broadband internet, the digitisation of official and parish records and the advent of crowdsourcing have created an unprecedented boom in the pursuit of private histories. The popularity of programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? testifies to the the mainstream success of this once esoteric hobby. It has given more people a basic grounding in historical enquiry, and has encouraged the development of skills such as research, paleography and metadata tagging. It also has led to the creation of mini-archives, comprising collections of documents, photographs, artefacts and secondary material such as family trees and published (traditionally and online) material.

The Centenary of the First World War is the first major test of this ‘New Genealogy’. There are several reasons why. The war was such a landmark event, both in terms of national and international histories and for people’s family and personal lives. Generally people retain items that reflect landmark events in their lives –weddings, births of children and so on. The war was one such landmark event that happened to occur to millions of people at the same time.

In addition, the organisational demands of the two world wars form key nodes in personal history searches. Regimental records, war graves and the like provide ‘informational landmarks’ that amateur researchers use to navigate their way through the past. The mass mobilisation meant that for many people, lives that had hitherto been almost anonymous appear in aggregated records. Records that are often now accessible from the amateur researcher’s own home.

The centenary of the First World War is therefore operating as a ‘meta-informational landmark’. The enhanced focus that the centenary provides will create new interest and new opportunities. Projects such as the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War and the National Archives/IWM Operation: War Diary are not only giving people a chance to get involved in genealogical activities, they’re using some of the very techniques that have been developed during this revolution. The question remains, how can we make the revolution useful?

lives-of-the-first-world-war-300x300During the course of our project we have encountered people who have undertaken such research and who have gathered documents, photographs and other artefacts. They are often older members of the household who have embarked on their project in retirement and have been motivated to do so because they have a personal memory of some of the individuals concerned, assuming a combatant birth year range of c1868-1902. As this generation ages, we will encounter a ‘succession problem’ of what to do with such collections that are too small and/or esoteric to be absorbed into mainstream collections. A related issue is the atomised nature of these items. They reside in spare rooms, on living room walls and in attics and could be hiding information useful to professional historians. These archives, a combination of documentary information and material artefacts are of intense personal value to the people who have carefully curated them. But they have other value too. They are of use to professional historians who can use them in aggregate to build a picture of the social past.

Our aim is to develop activities that make use of the grassroots knowledge of community groups and individuals and the context-placing ability of professionals. For the amateur curators, the advantage would be in seeing their cherished material placed in its proper context. For the professionals, it would be access to the material that has been gathered. Furthermore, we work in partnership with local archives and record offices and national projects, such as the ones already named, to ensure that the material is also made available to the wider public.

We will shortly be launching our Family History Event, with the aim of seeking answers to some of these questions. Watch this space for details.

In the meantime, you may wish to look at Who Do You Think You Are Live, which runs until Saturday.

 

The Uses of Family History

As the centenary of the First World War sees family history come of age Michael Noble asks, what opportunities does this offer?

Recent years have IWM Private_Tickle seen a revolution in family history and amateur genealogy. The possibilities created by broadband internet, the digitisation of official and parish records and the advent of crowdsourcing have created an unprecedented boom in the pursuit of private histories. The popularity of programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? testifies to the the mainstream success of this once esoteric hobby.

During the course of our project we have encountered people who have undertaken family history research and who have gathered documents, photographs and other artefacts. They are often older members of the household who have embarked on their project in retirement and have been motivated to do so because they have a personal memory of some of the individuals concerned, assuming a combatant birth year range from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century. As this generation ages, we will encounter a ‘succession problem’ of what to do with such collections that are too small and/or esoteric to be absorbed into mainstream collections. A related issue is the atomised nature of these items. They reside in spare rooms, on living room walls and in attics and could be hiding information useful to professional historians.

Two key problems:
1. How do we ensure the preservation of historically valuable collections?
2. How do we give access to them to professional historians and other researchers?

These are questions for family history in general but the centenary of the war can bring it into focus. The world wars, like items such as the 1901 census, act as ‘informational nodes’ for family historians and many of their researches converge on this event. This, combined with media coverage of the centenary and crowdsourcing schemes such as Operation War Diary and Lives of the First World War, offer an opportunity to test the value of family history and a chance to make it useful to mainstream historians without, I hope, robbing it of its very real value to those individuals who have been doing so much work in this area in their free time.

LOFWW-Blog-624x411We are very keen to hear from people who have found or kept interesting First World War items and who are interesting in using them to foster a better understanding of the war, its effects and of the role of memory in family history and identity. We’re planning some events for 2015 that will help to ensure that these precious items continue to be of value as the war fades into history. If you have something to share, please get in touch.

Find My Past -Free Weekend

Always wanted to investigate your family’s past? This weekend might be your chance to start…logo

One of the most desirable outcomes of the centenary period is that people will take the time to find out more about how the war affected their family, their community and the country as whole. A particularly affecting method for doing this is to trace the records of your ancestors using genealogical tools.

Genealogy was once considered a difficult or even impossible task, requiring intrepid hunters to spend hours in dusty archives on often fruitless searches. Recent years have seen a revolution in the hobby and, with the advent of online resources, it has become easier than ever to trace your personal heritage. If you have never attempted this sort of detective work yourself, this Remembrance weekend may be the perfect chance to start.

Find My Past is one of the country’s most popular genealogy resources that provides access to 1.6 billion searchable records. A paid membership is usually required to access this material but this weekend you can do so for free.

From midday, Friday to midday on Monday, Find My Past are giving everyone the opportunity to explore record sets that include:

  • Millions of birth, marriage and death records

    DCHQ005869_tcm44-249454
    Many First World War images and documents can be found online
  • Millions of census records from all over the world
  • International travel and migration records
  • Military records, including WW1 collections

By accessing the Findmypast record sets, you’ll be able to unlock brand new information about your ancestors, allowing you to bring your past to life.

Find out more and register by visiting the Find My Past website.