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December
16
2014

Lost in Translation by Isaac Land

Posted by jaskelly under BISI, Blog, British and Irish Studies Intelligencer | Tags: historiography, translation | 0 Comments

My story, appropriately enough, begins with an unexpected meeting.  A historian based in Brittany crossed la Manche to present at a conference in Portsmouth.  He heard me speak, and at a pub afterwards, wrote down the name of one of his colleagues back home.  That handwritten note turned out to be a ticket to a path breaking article in my subfield by a historian who has published almost exclusively in French.  I have since devoted many hours to bringing his work to a larger English-speaking audience, laboriously working through his sentences (dictionary in hand), and blogging about why people need to pay attention to him.

If you would like the specific example, you can look at my blog postings here and here.  I would like to emphasize, though, that the issues I am raising apply equally well if the work in question had been published not in French, but in Bengali or Russian.

Most historians and other humanists passed a required language exam or two in the course of their path to the PhD.  Why aren’t more of us putting those skills to good use?  To answer that, we need to think more broadly about the incentives — or the lack thereof — for translation projects in academia.

Google Translate produces prose that too often resembles one of the forced monologues from Waiting for Godot.  Barring the advent of some earth-shaking new software, we can be certain that only a minority of peer-reviewed publications will get translated into English.  Which ones? Much of it will be driven by market forces.  For example, among French scholars, Alain Cabantous is a name to conjure with on anything connected with maritime or coastal matters.  None of that material has appeared in English, however.  Just one of Cabantous’ many books has been translated; not coincidentally, it is on the more colorful and marketable topic of blasphemy.

This month, the French novelist Patrick Modiano learned that he would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.  A BBC profile noted that he remains largely untranslated into English.  This should serve to remind us of how much terrific writing — of all sorts — hasn’t yet won the support of a big publishing house in the English-speaking world.

It’s always easy to blame publishers, but translators themselves may bear part of the responsibility as well.  Rather than just asking “what gets translated,” we should be asking “who are our translators?”  If we assume that only a fully bilingual individual is a translator worthy of the name, then whatever escapes the attention of this elite cadre will be accessible only to readers of the original language. There is no guarantee that the most historiographically interesting scholarship will even appear on a superstar translator’s radar.

In an ideal scenario, experts in various subfields would each seek out the best work in their areas of expertise and devote substantial time to translating and summarizing.  Yet in the real world, we must ask: how would all that effort be recognized and rewarded?

It’s fair to say that for most of us, reading even a single article in a foreign language is a bit of a gamble.  We read it slowly.  We could spend that time on something else.  We may devote the time, only to conclude that this particular piece of scholarship is undistinguished.  It’s not surprising that most of us wouldn’t assume the risk of a serious translation project unless a publisher invited us to take it on.

There are intermediate solutions, though.  I’ve already mentioned that blogging about untranslated scholarship is one option.  For those with some reading fluency and a good reason to make the effort, I would say: “Go for it!” Historians are a plain-spoken lot.  Their sentence structures are grammatically simple.  About one quarter of the words I have to look up turn out to be everyday academic lingo.  For example, échantillon is a sample (in the statistical sense) and a sillage (wake or furrow) in a historiographical context refers to scholarship that follows up on earlier trailblazing work.  These sorts of terms will recur, so I advise making up a handy glossary for quick reference.

As a blogger, I’m not presenting myself as a fully qualified and proficient translator.  I know enough to summarize the highlights and encourage others to delve deeper.  I’ve not turned my blog over entirely to my translation work; I translate when I have the time and inclination.  So the commitment is manageable.

Not everyone has a blog, of course. Consider, though, if you are writing a review essay or delivering a keynote address, could you do more to include perspectives from scholars who are not yet translated, but should be? What about conference panels devoted to a roundup of important untranslated work in an area that would interest attendees?  In most subfields, we don’t even know what we are missing.


About the author

Isaac Land is an Associate Professor of History at Indiana State University. He is the author of War, Nationalism, and the British Sailor, 1750-1850, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and can be reached at Isaac.Land@indstate.edu or on Twitter @IsaacLand2


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The NACBS and its Southern affiliate, the Southern Conference on British Studies, seek participation by scholars in all areas of British Studies for the 2015 meeting. We will meet in Little Rock, Arkansas, November 13-15, 2015 (in conjunction with the meeting of the Southern Historical Association). We solicit proposals for panels on Britain, the British Empire and the British world. Our interests range from the medieval to the modern. We welcome participation by scholars across the humanities and social sciences.


We invite panel proposals addressing selected themes, methodology, and pedagogy, as well as roundtable discussions of topical and thematic interest, including conversations among authors of recent books and reflections on landmark scholarship. We are particularly interested in submissions that have a broad chronological focus and/or interdisciplinary breadth. North American scholars, international scholars and Ph.D. students are all encouraged to submit proposals for consideration. Panels typically include three papers and a comment, and ideally a separate chair; roundtables customarily have four presentations, as well as a chair; proposals which only include papers will be less likely to succeed. We are not able to accommodate individual paper proposals; those with paper ideas may search for additional panelists on lists such as H-Albion or at venues such as the NACBS Facebook page. Applicants may also write to the Program Chair for suggestions (nacbsprogram@gmail.com).

In addition to the panels, this year we will be sponsoring a poster session. The posters will be exhibited throughout the conference, and there will be a scheduled time when presenters will be with their posters to allow for further discussion.

All scholars working in the field of British Studies are encouraged to apply for the 2015 conference. Panels that include both emerging and established scholars are encouraged; we welcome the participation of junior scholars and Ph.D. candidates beyond the qualifying stage. To foster intellectual interchange, we ask applicants to compose panels that feature participation from multiple institutions. No participant will be permitted to take part in more than one session.

All submissions are electronic, and need to be done in one sitting.   Before you start your submission, you should have the following information:

  1. Names, affiliations and email addresses for all panel participants.  PLEASE NOTE: We create the program from the submission, so please put the formal name of your university, not the local shorthand; names should be as they should appear on the program.  
  2. A brief summary CV for all participants, indicating education, current affiliations, and major publications.   (750 characters maximum)
  3. Title and Abstract for each paper or presentation.   Roundtables do not need titles, but if you have them, that is fine.  If there is no title, there should still be an abstract – i.e. “X will speak about this subject through the lens of this period/approach/region etc.
  4. POSTERS: Those proposing posters should enter organizer information and first presenter information only.

All communication will be through the organizer, who will be responsible for ensuring that members of the panel receive the information they need.


The submission website at http://nacbs.org/conference will open in mid-January; submissions will close as of March 3, 2015.

If you have questions about the submission process or suggestions for program development, please contact:

Phil Harling
NACBS Program Chair
Professor of History
University of Kentucky
Email: nacbsprogram@gmail.com


The National Library of Wales (NLW) is based in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales and is the national legal deposit library for Wales. Established in 1907, it is home to over six million printed books and journals, as well as many rare and historically significant manuscripts and varied archive collections relating to Wales and its people, including photographic, map and art collections. The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is also based at the Library. Since its establishment, the Library’s primary objective has been to develop and maintain the documentary heritage of Wales. As reflected in its Charter, the Library’s ‘mission’ is ‘to collect, preserve and give access to all kinds of forms of recorded knowledge, especially relating to Wales and the Welsh and Celtic peoples, for the benefit of the public, including those engaged in research and learning’. This commitment to collection, preservation and access is reflected in the Library’s enthusiastic adoption of digitization as a means of facilitating the broad dissemination of Welsh culture and heritage and delivering its strategic aim of providing ‘Knowledge for All’ (NLW Strategic Plan 2014–2017). 

NLW Research Programme

To address the challenges of delivering effective, usable and sustainable digital resources the Library established its own Research Programme in Digital Collections in 2011. The Programme’s main areas of focus include developing an understanding of the use, value and impact of the Library’s existing digital content; identifying ways of enhancing this content; and developing new collaborative digital projects that address specific research and educational needs. Research is undertaken on existing and emerging digital content through the application of interdisciplinary tools and methods. This work is further enhanced through collaboration with partner libraries, museums and archives, universities, and cultural heritage organisations that cross institutions, collections and disciplinary traditions. 

Underlying all of this work is NLW’s commitment to providing free and open access to its digital resources. The Library has embraced open standards allowing for data to be shared, used and re-used in multiple ways for research, teaching and community engagement purposes. This commitment to openness raises awareness of Welsh history and culture in Wales and beyond and reaffirms the Library’s position as ‘one of the great libraries of the world’.

In keeping with the open access initiative, NLW is in the early stages of opening up some of its raw data for others to download and interrogate for their own research purposes.  These data sets will come from some of our biggest collections and will be available during 2015 at http://data.llgc.org.uk

Among the Library’s most significant current digital resources are:

Welsh Newspapers Online (http://bit.ly/1rF1vmk)

In 2013, the Library launched Welsh Newspapers Online, a free, searchable digital archive of the historic newspapers of Wales dating from 1804 to 1919. The resource provides access to a wide range of over 100 Welsh newspapers in the Library’s holdings, both in English and Welsh, enabling researchers to examine this rich collection in ways that were not previously possible. Over one million pages have been scanned and processed using Optical Character Recognition to allow free-text searching of the entire corpus. 

Cymru1914 (http://bit.ly/1vpAoL6)

Cymru1914 is a JISC-funded project to digitize primary sources relating to the Welsh experience of the First World War and its impact on all aspects of Welsh life, language and culture. The project has brought together fragmented and often difficult to access materials from the libraries, archives, museums and special collections of Wales to form a consolidated digital collection of interest to researchers, students and the public on life in Wales during this significant period of change. The collection includes relevant newspapers, archives and manuscripts, photographs, journals and sound recordings.

Welsh Journals Online (http://bit.ly/1Bw6MgM)

Welsh Journals Online provides free access to a selection of nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century Welsh and Wales-related journals held at NLW and partner institutions. Researchers are able to browse and keyword-search the corpus, which covers a wide range of humanities, science and social-science subject areas.


Other collections of interest include the Library’s digitised wills and probate collection (http://bit.ly/1DRzVXZ). The collection includes over 190,000 wills and associated records that were proved in the Welsh ecclesiastical courts dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the introduction of civil probate in England and Wales on 12 January 1858. Researchers are able to view and search the collection for free using specific criteria. A variety of other digitised collections and manuscripts are also available via the NLW website. [Will of Thomas Johnes] 

Happy searching!

Paul McCann and Rhian James (both NLW).

All images provided by NLW.

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Statue of John Wilkes in Fetter LaneAmong the panoply of 18th-century ‘characters’, John Wilkes stands out as one of the most memorable. His twisted visage, which was such a gift to the caricaturists of the day, his libertine lifestyle and championing of radical causes are by themselves more than enough to warrant interest in him. To these may be added his mercurial character, at the one time a friend of the mob, at another an aspiring gentleman and patron of the arts. It is unsurprising, then, that he has attracted so much interest from a variety of angles. But there is another aspect of John Wilkes, for which he is perhaps less well known: Wilkes the tourist.

Wilkes the traveller in France and Italy is well documented, most notably in his own unfinished autobiography, his voluminous correspondence and two recent book-length studies.[1] Wilkes had fled to the continent in the winter of 1763 to avoid imprisonment over the North Briton number 45 affair and his publication of the pornographic Essay on Woman. He remained there, on and off, until 1768. The majority of his time was passed in Paris but there was also an extended tour of Italy, taking in Bologna, Rome and Naples, as well as a visit to Geneva and time spent with Voltaire.

On Wilkes’s return from exile he was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment in King’s Bench prison. It is to the period after this that his significance as a source for the history of travel in England is most obvious. At first his tireless journeyings were closely connected with his political campaigning, but latterly they were more dominated by leisure pursuits. He visited notable country houses and watering holes, as well as friends and acquaintances, mostly in the south of the country. Besides his correspondence, documentation for these peregrinations comes from his diaries, which he kept (with the odd interruption) between 1770 and 1797.[2] At first sight they are a little disappointing. They lack the repartee of his letters but they do reveal a good deal about the logistics of travel in the period. There were certain favoured destinations: Bath and Tunbridge Wells for his health, the Isle of Wight for relaxation. In December 1776, for example, Wilkes left his London residence in Prince’s Court for a sojourn at Bath. He left at 10 in the morning on the 7th and by 1.30pm had arrived at his first port of call, the Castle Inn at Salt Hill. The next day he left Salt Hill at 9am and by 11.30am was at Reading, 18 miles away, where he paused to change horses. He then proceeded for a further 17 miles to Speenhill, before continuing on the next 19-mile stage to Marlborough, where he passed the night. The next day two more stages of 14 and 19 miles respectively at last brought him to his lodgings in Bath. For Wilkes, this was a relatively leisurely journey. In August 1792 he journeyed back and forth from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth to dine with friends and acquaintances, enjoying swift crossings of just an hour each way.

The value of Wilkes’s diaries for the history of travel and tourism lies in the careful detail he provides of his trips. He notes his regular stopping places – some he liked, others were visited by accident, a few condemned as poor hostelries. Timings too are instructive. He could make it from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight in as little as 40 minutes on a good day and he names the captains who commanded the vessels on which he tended to rely. Wilkes’s later career may often be dismissed as one of relative mediocrity (the final 15 years of his life are dealt with summarily in Arthur Cash’s otherwise supremely detailed study in just 17 pages) but there is much about the history of travel in England that can still be mined from a study of Wilkes’s activities in his respectable twilight years.

 

Robin Eagles

Robin Eagles is a senior research fellow at the History of Parliament. His edition The Diaries of John Wilkes 1770-1797 (London Record Society, 2014) has recently been published through Boydell and he is now embarking on a study of Frederick, Prince of Wales.

 

 


 

[1] Arthur Cash, John Wilkes: the scandalous father of civil liberty (New Haven: Yale, 2006), ch.8; John Sainsbury, John Wilkes: the lives of a libertine (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 120-3, 179-81, 215-17.

[2] British Library, Add. MSS 30866; Robin Eagles, ed., The Diaries of John Wilkes 1770-1797 (Woodbridge: London Record Society, 2014).

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November
24
2014

CFP: PCCBS, Deadline Dec. 1

Posted by jaskelly under CFP, Regionals | Tags: pccbs |

PCCBS Annual Meeting

Deadline approaching!

  • Both individual papers and full or partial panel proposals accepted
  • DEADLINE: December 1
  • GRAD STUDENTS: Some funding available for those presenting papers to defray travel costs

The Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies (PCCBS) invites paper and panel proposals for its 42nd annual meeting, to be held at the M Resort Spa Casino, Las Vegas, NV, March 6-8, 2015.

Our program features keynotes by Tom Laqueur and Kathleen Wilson and a panel discussion with Peter Mandler on his new book, Return from the Natives. There also will be a panel discussion especially for graduate students on fellowships, publishing and the profession.

Proposals, individual or panel, should include a 200-word abstract for each paper plus a one-page cv for each participant. Proposals and cvs should be submitted via e-mail attachment in one single file by December 1, 2014 to: pccbsproposals@gmail.com

For more information please go to: www.pccbs.org


PCCBS Graduate Student Prize

The PCCBS invites entries from PhD students for the annual graduate student prize. The prize will be awarded at the upcoming PCCBS conference this March in Las Vegas, Nevada. The student and the advisor, or instructor must be current members of PCCBS. The submitted entry will have been presented at the PCCBS meeting in March 2014 at UC Riverside, or, in the case of a graduate student studying at a university within the PCCBS region, at any other conference during 2014, as long as the paper concerns a topic within the scope of British Studies. The submission should be the paper as delivered with the addition of necessary notes and citations, the total to not exceed 18 pages double spaced. The winner(s) will receive a monetary prize and be recognized at the annual PCCBS meetings.

Graduate Prize Submission: November 15, 2014

Please send electronic or hard copies with cover letter from advisor or instructor to each member of the prize committee:

Prof. Peter H. Hoffenberg, Chair peterh@hawaii.edu
History Department, Sakamaki Hall, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822

Ethan Shagan shagan@berkeley.edu

Rob McClain rmclain@fullerton.edu

 



October
2
2014

PCCBS Article Prize

Posted by jaskelly under Award, Prize | Tags: Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies, pccbs |

PCCBS Article Prize

The biennial prize for the best article published between 2012-14 by a member of the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies will be awarded at the Spring 2015 meeting in Las Vegas along with a cash award.

Article Prize Submission Deadline: November 15, 2014

Copies of the article in PDF form should be sent to all three committee members:


Stephen_H_Gregg.jpgOver the past couple of years I’ve been guiding some final year undergraduate students to create online digital editions of literary texts from the eighteenth century (see here, here, and here). To me, getting students to work with digital technology alongside eighteenth-century British Literature is now an exciting, but also essential, facet of my teaching. So I thought I would share how I got here with a brief overview of some developments, exercises and courses I’ve picked up in my own browsing over the past few years that teach eighteenth-century literature and are inspired by digital humanities.[1]

Digitisation

The huge acceleration of the digitisation of historical texts in the past decade and a half has been the catalyst for a trickle-down effect from research to teaching practices. Released in 2003, and as the biggest database of eighteenth-century material, Eighteenth-century Collections Online (ECCO) arguably generated some the first reflections on using digital resources to teach eighteenth-century literature at undergraduate level: see my own 2007 paper and the many posts on teaching with ECCO on Anna Batigelli’s Early Modern Online Bibliography blog. The issue of cost and accessibility aside, the exponential rise of such resources – such as the Burney Newpapers database, English Broadside Ballads, and Old Bailey Online – has enabled students to enrich their knowledge of eighteenth-century literary culture: they were able to see unusual and non-canonical texts, to examine literary works in the light of historical or cultural ideas specific to the period or even decade, and to pose invigorating questions about literary value. 

Blogging and Wikis

This initial phase crossed over with tutors and professors experimenting with writing assignments and the different engagement with literary texts that might be enabled by digital platforms such as the wiki or the blog post. See for example, the work of Tonya Howe (Marymount University); the course run by Emily M. N. Kugler (Colby College) Histories and Theories of the 18thC British Novel; and Prison Voices 1700-1900, which has for example, this piece on Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (this via Helen Rogers, Liverpool John Moores University). Adrianne Wadewitz (now sadly deceased) was also a leading experimenter using Wikipedia as a teaching tool.

Beyond the Blog

Sharon Alker (Whitman College) and Benjamin Pauley (Eastern Connecticut SU) reflected on using a variety of tools to teach Defoe including Second Life and Google maps. Laura Linker (High Point University) asks her Gothic novel students to use Google Earth to map narrative journeys, and even Second Life as a way of entering into characterization. In a course entitled ‘Remediating Samuel Johnson’, John O'Brien (University of Virginia) set up a collaborative digital anthology of Samuel Johnsons’ works using texts accessed via 18thConnect (significantly, a platform that begins to deal with the problem of access). John’s aim was explicitly student-centred: “m]y hunch is that students will have a good idea of what students like themselves need to know to make sense of challenging eighteenth-century texts.” Students of Rachel Sagner Buurma (Swarthmore College) experience hands-on work with a wonderful digital resource the Early Novels Database — see the students’ own blogs here. In a different course Rachel asks students to create experimental and imaginative bibliographical descriptions of unusual and non-canonical eighteenth-century novels, see here. 

Media shifts

Most fascinating are those courses and projects that use the very medium of digital technology to enable student to grasp the eighteenth-century’s own preoccupation with changing forms and media. As Rachael Scarborough King (New York University) suggests: “[d]rawing such connections between the experimentation and advances of eighteenth-century print culture and our own period of media transformation can offer a crucial foothold for students encountering eighteenth-century texts for the first time.” Rachel asks students to write blog posts incorporating different adaptations of English literature as a way of getting a sense of these texts’ original meaning, form and transmission. In a course devised by Mark Vareschi (Wisconsin-Madison) he sets an “experimental assignment in digital composition and adaptation” tasking students to tweet, 140 characters at a time Samuel Richardson’s Pamela as they were reading the novel. The course designed by Evan C. Davis (Hampden-Sydney College), Gutenberg to Google: Authorship and the Literature of Technology, also pays close attention to the form of literature in this period. In “Friday assignments” there are intriguing tasks such as comparing how we read via print and via e-readers, and using online resources about typography and the Letter M Press app to enable students to re-create and reflect upon the physicality of print in the hand-press era.

I’m about to run my own digital literary studies course focusing on the eighteenth century this coming academic year, and I’ve found the work of others in this field fascinating and tremendously inspiring.[2] My thanks to everyone for letting me link to their courses and students’ projects.


About Dr. Stephen H. Gregg

Dr Stephen H. Gregg is a senior lecturer in English Literature at Bath Spa University. He has published widely on Daniel Defoe and various aspects of eigteenth-century literature and is currently pursuing research on early eighteenth-century print culture and digital pedagogy.  Dr. Gregg’s blog is Manicule.  He can be reached via Twitter at @gregg_sh

 


 

[1] See Rachel Schneider’s blog post Eighteenth-Century Literature meets Twenty-First Century Tech, which reviewed the SHARP roundtable at ASECS 2014, organised by Katherine M. Quinsey, 'Wormius in the Land of Tweets: Archival Studies, Textual Editing, and the Wiki-trained Undergraduate.’ Quotations in this post are from the authors’ proposals for the Digital Humanities Caucus panel ‘Digital Pedagogies’, organised by Benjamin Pauley and Stephen H. Gregg.  The phrase ‘inspired by digital humanities’ is my deliberately broad definition that covers the wide variety of uses of digital technology and digital resources across the courses I’ve found. Since my particular interest is in eighteenth-century literature, if you are interested in syllabi that are focused on digital humanities beyond literature, or beyond the eighteenth century, then there are superb bibliographies here. Because I’m most interested in how these tools have been brought into the undergraduate classroom, I’ve not discussed here the (impressive and exemplary) graduate work in courses run by Lisa Maruca (see Mechanick Exercises), or Allison Muri’s Grub Street Project.  For an excellent set of tips and examples see Adeline Koh’s essay ‘Introducing Digital Humanities Work to Undergraduates.’

 

[2] In this context I should acknowledge my debt to George Williams (University of South Carolina Upstate). George’s own course – despite being an eighteenth-centuryist – is focused on an earlier media shift, and is organized around Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.


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Wilfred Owen from Poems (1920)Wilfred Owen was in France 1914, though not near the battlefields that his war poems would memorialise. He had been teaching English at the Berlitz School in Bordeaux since the autumn of 1913 and took up the post of tutor to Madame Léger and her daughter Nénette in July 1914. The Legers owned the Villa Lorenzo, near Bagnères-de-Bigorre in the La Gailleste valley at the foot of the Pyrenees, an idyllic location that impressed Owen from the time he stepped off the train on the 31st of July. “What luck!”, he wrote to his closest confidante, his mother Susan. His hosts were also enchanting. M Léger was a former engineer who had given up the profession for a career in the arts. Nénette was “perfectly a child” with “more than her fair share of intellect”. and she made her tutor “immensely happy”, declaring “Monsieur Owen est trés-joli garçon, n’est-ce-pas?” (Owen 1998, 116) Madame, he tells Susan, is “elegant rather than belle [...] with shapely features luxuriant coiffure, but is much too thin to be pretty” (Owen 1998, 116). But he has to reassure his mother that although Madame “has a considerable liking for me, both in a physical and intellectual sense”, he does not reciprocate “the former liking” (Owen 1998, 116).

After 4 August, war began to rage in Europe. By the time Owen was fully ensconced at Villa Lorenzo, Bagnères was overcome by the news: “Women were weeping all about; work was suspended. Nearly all the men have already departed.” He had “to declare” himself to the authorities and “get a permit to remain” (Owen 1998, 109). Yet he continued “to be immensely happy and famously well” (Owen 1998, 110), immersing himself in French literature and making the acquaintance of the poet Laurent Tailhade, who guided him to the work of Paul Verlaine, Gustav Flaubert and others. As the war carried on around him, Owen found that it “affects me less than it ought”, and argued that he could “ do no service to anybody by agitating for news or making dole over the slaughter.” He felt his “own life all the more precious and more dear in the presence of this deflowering of Europe” and commented that “the guns will effect a little useful weeding” (Owen 1998, 119). There is no poet of pity here. While he was not entirely oblivious to press rhetoric about shirking young Englishmen, he told his mother that the real reason he would go to fight — “what would hold me together on the battlefield” — was “the sense that I was perpetuating the language in which Keats and the rest of them wrote!” (Owen 1998, 130) It was only after his horrendous experiences on the Western Front in 1917 and his recovery from shellshock, that the Owen with whom we, in the early 21st century, are most familiar would emerge: “I came out here to help these boys — directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly by watching their suffering that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first.” (Owen 1998, 351)

Thus Owen’s letters of this early period of the war, and through most of 1915, reveal him weighing many options (including joining the French or the Italian army), as he continued to tutor in Bordeaux and attend courses at the University. It had been mooted that he accompany Madame Léger on a business trip to Canada, but instead, in December, he took up the post of tutor to two English boys, Johnny and Bobbie de la Touche at Mérignac. The boys were meant to return to their public school, Downside near Bath, but the threat of submarines in the Channel continually delayed their leaving until September 1915. After accompanying them back to England, Owen, in mid-October, enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles at its headquarters in London: “I don’t want the bore of training, I don’t want to wear khaki; nor yet save my honour before inquisitive grand-children fifty years hence. But I now do most intensely want to fight” (Owen 1998, 153).

Owen, Wilfred. 1998. Selected Letters. Edited by John Bell. Oxford: OUP.

 

About Dr. Jane Potter

Dr. Jane Potter is Senior Lecturer in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University. Her monograph Boys in Khaki, Girls in Print: Women's Literary Responses to the Great War 1914-1918 (OUP 2005; paperback 2007) was joint winner of the 2006 Women’s History Network Book Prize and she has published widely on many aspects of war literature, book history, and women's writing. Her current research is a collaborative project with Dr Carol Acton (St. Jerome's, University of Waterloo, Canada) entitled Working in a World of Hurt: Trauma and Resilience in the Narratives of Medical Personnel in Warzones (forthcoming, Manchester University Press, 2015). A Trustee of the Wilfred Owen Literary Estate, she is the author of Wilfred Owen: An Illustrated Life (Bodleian Library Publishing, 2014) and is currently working on a new edition of Owen's Selected Letters for Oxford University Press, due to be published in 2015.  

 

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WWI_Propaganda_-_Royal_Navy.jpgAs we mark the centenary of the Great War this August it reveals just how much this episode of our history continues to interest and influence our understanding of the past. However, the Great War continues to be studied primarily as a land-based conflict despite the Royal Navy’s crucial role. Ask someone about Jutland and they will probably look perplexed. Much remains to be done to put the navy back into the public memory of the war, and my own research is working towards this. It considers the personal experience of British sailors during the war as expressed in their diaries, particularly the collection held by the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth.[1] This blog will give a brief insight into my findings so far.

The poignant image of the Great War is of young men rushing to the colours full of patriotic fervour. Surprisingly, little research has been done on sailors’ displays of war enthusiasm. This is especially interesting as many sailors were not volunteers: the navy was a career in those days, and men joined at a young age.[2] Yet sailors’ diaries reveal excitement and celebrations amongst seamen when war was declared. Ships left port cheered by other vessels, and men proudly recorded their first encounters with German ships.[3] Further, diaries repeatedly refer to the “long awaited scrap” with the enemy.[4] When they did meet, British sailors boasted of the Germans’ poor gunnery in comparison with their own, and clearly there was a distinct belief in the Royal Navy’s superiority, which reflects the latent imperialistic sentiment in British society at the time.[5] Yet, not all were caught up with war fever; Walter Dennis recorded that he knew of a number of sailors who were relieved to get posted overseas away from any real action.[6]
However, prolonged warfare, understandably, had a noticeable effect upon sailors. Despite the distancing effect of technology, sailors remained part of the killing machine which some enthusiastically embraced, becoming numb to the brutalities of war.[7] Interestingly few historians have considered this. One sailor - known as Wood - recorded shelling Turkish forts at Gallipoli as “amusing”.[8] This is further demonstrated by the practice of collecting war souvenirs. Seamen often served in support of the army which allowed them ready access to items such as helmets, rifles and bullets.[9] The impact of curios has been widely considered amongst soldiers but, again, sailors have so far been overlooked.[10] Their obvious engagement in this practice suggests a desire for immediacy. It would be interesting to compare the diaries of artillerymen serving at the front, and see whether they encountered similar experiences.[11]

Yet, despite sailors’ interaction with killing, not all became numb to the brutalities. Witnessing the sinking of ships or even hearing about losses was traumatic. For example Walter Dennis recorded being ‘rather concerned’ as to the fate of one of his friends lost at sea.[12] Sailors were acutely aware that if their ships were sunk then death was likely, which made moments such as these particularly sobering. It is not surprising that some succumbed to psychological stresses, or in their words had ‘a tile loose’.[13] Sailors had to develop their own coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of everyday life; these were similar to those developed by soldiers, such as humour. Reflecting on battles many became flippant about the dangers they experienced. One diarist, Henry Welch, recalled: ‘One shell burst on the water’s edge… Ye gods! it was lovely – only a trifle further and there would have been a few gaps among us.’[14] Coping with pressure was essential.

It is clear that personal histories of the Great War continue to find a receptive audience as more people become interested in their own history. The opportunity is there for the navy to make up lost ground. The NMRNP’s on-going project, Hear My Story, is a step in the right direction and forms a new twentieth century exhibition collating personal memories and public interaction.[15] Another interesting project is the AHRC funded Gateways project which provides centres to encourage public interest through organized lectures and study days.[16] These projects show that there was much more to the Great War than mud, blood and the trenches. It is time to put the navy back in the picture and, as the diaries of Dennis, Fletcher, Welch and Wood show, each diary tells its own unique story, and there are many more to be uncovered.

Simon Smith read History at the University of Portsmouth followed by an MA in The History of War, Culture and Society. He is currently doing a PhD on Sailors and the Royal Navy c.1870-1939 as part of the University of Portsmouth's Port Towns and Urban Cultures project.


[1] The NMRNP holds approximately 200 diaries in its collection. Other comprehensive diary collections include the Imperial War Museum which has just re-opened with a new WW1 exhibition.
[2] For more information see Christopher McKee, Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945, (London: Harvard University Press, 2002) and Brian Lavery, Able Seamen: the lower deck of the Royal Navy, 1850-1939, (London: Conway, 2011).
[3] RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood.
[4] RNM 1980/115: Diary of Edwin Fletcher; RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood; RNM 1980/82: Diary of W Dawson; Diary of Walter Dennis.
[5] RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood.
[6] Diary of Walter Dennis. Diary digitalized by McMaster University, Ontario Canada and available at http://pw20c.mcmaster.ca.
[7] See Edgar Jones, “The Psychology of Killing: The Combat Experience of British Soldiers during the First World War”, Journal of Contemporary History, 41, 2, (2006), 233; Joanna Bourke, An intimate history of killing: face to face killing in twentieth-century warfare, (London: Granta Books, 1999), 7.
[8] RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood.
[9] Diary of Walter Dennis; RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood.
[10] See Jones, “Psychology”, and Bourke, An intimate history, for further information of the study of soldiers.
[11] The Imperial War Museum does hold artillerymen’s diaries but these have not yet been considered.
[12] Diary of Walter Dennis.
[13] Diary of Walter Dennis.
[14] DOC: Diary of Henry Welch.
[15] See http://www.nmrn.org.uk/explore/hms-hear-my-story for further information on this project.
[16] The Arts and Humanities Research Council – see www.kent.ac.uk/ww1 for further information on this project.

 


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