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Caroline Boswell

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The Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917— during the darkest days of World War I. Its creators envisioned crowded,glass-covered exhibits filled with the memorialized objects of a haunted generation — “even if they be of trifling character.” The founders crafted plans for a “Hall of Memories” that would commemorate every individual’s contribution. Their request for memorabilia flooded the IWM with mementos — the bedrock of the current collection — but no physical space could hold all the memories and artifacts of total war, and their vision had to be abandoned.

Just as the Museum’s founders desired to build a structure that honored those who fought, the directors of “The Lives of the First World War” aim to create a permanent digital memorial that archives the experiences of everyone in Britain and the British Commonwealth who participated in the war effort.  According to Luke Smith, the IWM’s Digital Lead, the site’s reliance on user-generated data continues the laborious process the Museum began in 1918. The “Lives of the First World War” allows the IWM to realize its founding vision a century later.

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Participating in “Lives of the First World War” is relatively easy for anyone familiar with digital archives. You simply sign up and identify those whom you wish to “Remember.” The site directs you on a hunt for evidence of your individual in its numerous digital records. A word of caution, readers: many of the records on the site cannot be accessed without subscribing, which costs either £6 a month or £50 a year. This practical decision limits what otherwise has the promise to be a truly remarkable attempt to crowd-source history. The fee, however, also allows you to create or join a “Community” designed to “Remember” a group of soldiers and/or civilians.  Possible organizations of “Communities” appear limitless: active users have created “Communities” of regiments, former schoolmates and hometowns, such as Smith’s own “Community,” “Ballydehob at War.”LOFFW_External_Reference.png

While the site does limit non-subscribers’ access to records, it encourages all users to provide “external evidence” of an
individual’s “Life Story.” Several “Lives” are already dotted with pictures, diaries and images of war memorials that users contributed from personal, local or Internet resources. Smith is quick to emphasize how much the project relies on user-generated “evidence” to document the lives of those who rarely appear in official records.  Female workers in munitions factories and soldiers from the Indian subcontinent seldom surface in accessible sources; thus, it is up to their families, communities and historians to ensure that their experiences are not forgotten.

While the primary mission of the project is to create a permanent digital memorial, the IWM also designed the site to serve as a resource for academic scholars. The project has an academic advisory group of roughly thirty scholars from the UK and Ireland, which includes archivists and digital humanists as well as leading historians. Professor Richard Grayson — whose pioneering study of the impact of war on West Belfast covers the experience of roughly 12,000 individuals — chairs the group. As Grayson noted in a blog post, the IWM’s digital program offers “an opportunity for academic historians to learn from the vast amount of expertise to be found among those working on First World War projects inspired by local or family interests.”

Keenly aware of the potential pitfalls of user-generated information, Smith and his team have “slacker-proofed” the site. With every entry — whether “Fact” or “Story” — the site prompts a user to note the origin of her information. All “Facts” must be tied to “evidence,” and users who wish to enter personal memories or anecdotes must do so through the “Stories” function. Though use of the terms “Fact” and “Story” may make historians cringe, the project directors believe the division helps users grasp basic standards of historical evidence. “We are trying to aim for something like academic standards of reference,” explains Smith, “without it feeling too academic.”

While the current infrastructure may be slightly burdensome, it holds great potential for history instructors. Introductory-level students could use the site to become familiar with the issues and practicalities of researching, recording and using historical evidence, while upper-division students could set their critical eyes on the site to examine its strengths and weaknesses. Students in the UK, Ireland, Canada, and, soon, Australia, can easily research individuals in external records and make important contributions to “Life Stories” without paying any fees. Over the next several years the site will incorporate additional records from across Britain and its former empire, and Smith sees the potential to include records from Britain’s allies — particularly the U.S. — but this would be several years down the road.

OperationWarDiary.pngPeople from all over the globe can freely participate in the IWM’s other crowd-sourced digital archive — “Operation War Diary” — which it launched in partnership with the National Archives and Zooniverse.  Collectively they have digitized 1.5 million pages of unit war diaries, and they are asking “Citizen Historians” to assist by tagging pages and their contents. The long process of tagging these diaries makes them ripe for use in courses. Deglamorizing historical research for students has its own benefits and student participation in the project also allows them to contribute to scholarship outside of the confines of the classroom. By its very nature, crowd-sourced digital history blurs the distinctions between “Citizen Historian,” student and academic, and it empowers students to approach the discipline as active participants versus passive learners.

The enthusiasm Smith expresses for these projects is contagious, and his vision of “The Lives of the First World War” is admirable. By emphasizing the inherent connections between public, digital and social history, these user-generated archives suggest a bright future for a field of British history that many have presumed to be on a sharp decline for decades. It will be interesting to see which scholars find the growing number of crowd-sourced projects valuable, and who will smile, nod and slip back into the dusty caverns (or sign into the exclusive online databases) of archives whose vastness and biases pose problems for the academic trying to capture the toil and triumph of everyday experience. For, even with the digitization of more and more archives (often at a steep price), who is there to enter the searchable metadata that makes them truly usable?

We would like to hear from you:  what is your opinion of crowd-sourced digitization projects? Would you use them in your own research and/or teaching?  

 

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Adam_Hochschild.jpgRenowned author Adam Hochschild’s most recent work To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) presented a heartbreaking tale of the mass slaughter of the First World War and a sympathetic portrayal of those who opposed the conflict. In this Q&A, he gives his thoughts on the book and offers his perspective on the role of the publicly engaged historian. 
 

Stephen Jackson: What was it about the subject that inspired you to write it, and what would you argue was your most important contribution to the historical discussion on the First World War?

Adam Hochschild: I’ve always been deeply fascinated by those who resisted the First World War, ever since I read a biography of Bertrand Russell as a teenager, and then later Sheila Rowbotham’s work on Alice Wheeldon. To have had the courage to speak out so boldly when there was such jingoism in the air deeply impressed me. I also found a very strong echo in those times of something I had been deeply involved in: the movement against the Vietnam War here in the United States. Then, too, a war divided members of families from each other; hence I was intrigued to see the divided families of Britain in 19141918, and used that as a narrative structure for my book. In the Vietnam era, too, we had an epidemic of government spying on citizens—when much later, using the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to get the records of surveillance on me by the FBI, CIA and military intelligence, they amounted to more than 100 pages and I was a very small fish in that movement. Hence it fascinated me to read the government surveillance records from Scotland Yard and military intelligence on the UK dissenters of 19141918. I felt I was seeing at work the same mindset as that of the FBI agents who reported on me.

I’m by no means the first person to write about those brave British dissenters. I certainly hope my book, and those of others, helps put them in the foreground as we remember the war. Paradoxically, most people today would agree that the First World War remade the world for the worse in almost every conceivable way, yet all our traditional ways of remembering it parades, monuments, museums, military cemeteries celebrate those who fought and not those who refused to fight.

Stephen Jackson: In the years since the publication of the work, what sort of feedback from the scholarly community and the general public did you receive? How do you think that contemporary events, especially a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, shaped the response to your work?

Adam Hochschild: I’ve always believed that you can write for a general audience and at the same time meet the highest scholarly standards for accuracy and the documenting of sources. This book got good reviews and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; at the same time many university history departments have been kind to me. I was writer-in-residence at the history department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst this past spring and will be doing a speaking tour of some half dozen campuses in the US and Europe this fall, talking about the war.

I’ve also heard from several descendants of people mentioned in the book one of the great pleasures of writing history, I’ve found. And sometimes, unexpectedly, I’ve heard from other people as well who are connected to this patch of history. After the book came out, an American mining company official whom I’d met a few years before in a godforsaken village in eastern Congo, wrote me that in 1917 his grandfather, a conscientious objector, had been hanged in effigy in his home town in Iowa.

And yes, I think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show what tragic mistakes one can make by not studying history more closely. How similar the illusion of President George W. Bush when he landed on that aircraft carrier in 2003 in front of the sign “Mission Accomplished” to the illusion of Kaiser Wilhelm II when he told his troops in August, 1914: “You will be home before the leaves fall from the trees.” 

Stephen Jackson: This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. What do you think is or should be the place of conscientious objectors and leftist anti-war activists in the public memory of World War I?

Adam Hochschild: None of these people were perfect, but on the central issue of their time, they were essentially right, and should be honored. Harry Patch, the last British veteran of the war to die 5 years ago, at 111 said it best: the war “was not worth it. It was not worth one life, let alone all the millions.” 

Stephen Jackson: How can scholars teaching undergraduate or graduate courses in British History or Modern European History incorporate non-traditional themes such as anti-war activism into lessons on the Great War?

Adam Hochschild: There are rich primary sources: the writings and speeches of outspoken war opponents, like Bertrand Russell and E.D. Morel in Britain, or Jane Addams and Eugene V. Debs in the United States. Periodicals that these anti-war movements published. Letters and memoirs by war resisters who went to prison, not just in the U.S. and Britain, but in other countries as well. I hope someone is thinking of pulling a collection of material like this together into a reader! And there are fine secondary sources as well. That list could be a long one, but I’ll just mention Jo Vellacott’s Bertrand Russell and the Pacifists in the First World War, a careful, well-written book I learned a lot from. 

Stephen Jackson: The 19th century German historian Leopold von Ranke famously said historians can “merely tell how it really was,” and should not judge the past nor attempt to give moral guidance for the present.  To End All Wars, and your work more generally, compellingly does just that. How would you describe your underlying philosophy for writing history? What role do you think that the historian — as an historian — should play in engaging in contemporary political and ethical discussions?

Adam Hochschild: Well, I’m certain in favor of telling it how it was and with the highest possible standards of accuracy. In real life, seldom are one’s heroes totally heroic or one’s villains totally villainous. In To End All Wars, for instance, the fiery pacifist Charlotte Despard had a kind of knee-jerk far-left reaction to everything that would have made her difficult to talk to, although I agree with her about the war. But her brother, Field Marshal Sir John French, though he exemplified the worst type of unthinking generalship in the field, seems to have been a warm-hearted person of great charm whom it would have been delightful to spend an evening with. One should enjoy such paradoxes and not try to deny them.

But beyond that, I think sometimes an historian can provide something that’s relevant to contemporary political discussions without having to hit people over the head with it. In my book, for example, I don’t talk about the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. But whenever I give a talk about the First World War, the first question anybody asks is: do you see an analogy? 

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August
12
2014

World War I and the British and Irish Studies Intelligencer

Posted by jaskelly under Announcement, BISI | Tags: blog, WWI | 0 Comments

BISI-Logo.pngThis week, the North American Conference on British Studies will begin publishing the British and Irish Studies Intelligencer (BISI).  BISI, with H-Albion, will become a central forum for discussions about the state of the field, methodological approaches, teaching, reports on conferences and symposia, videos, podcasts, and editorials focused on British Studies across the disciplines.   

Our inaugural series of posts focus on the history and historiography of World War I.  Upcoming posts include

--an interview with Adam Hochschild about history, memory, and activism
--an examination the Imperial War Museum’s crowdsourced project, “The Lives of the First World War”
--a story about Wilfred Owen and the early months of WWI
--a history of Canada’s First Nations and the course of WWI

Our blogging team and editorial board are looking forward to hearing from you, and we encourage you to engage with the blog posts using the comments boxes at the bottom of the pages.

 

About BISI

As a blog, BISI will include discussions about the state of the field, methodological approaches, teaching, reports on conferences and symposia, videos, podcasts, and editorials focused on British Studies across the disciplines.  BISI will host discussion forums, and it will provide a space for scholars to share their current research in a format that is accessible to the non-specialist.  

BISI has its origins in the British Studies Intelligencer, first published by the society in 1962 (a searchable digital archive is available through IUPUI).  The new platform marks a divergence from the Intelligencer's earlier newsletter formats, and it will allow NACBS members to engage with each other more regularly.

The BISI team encourages the British Studies community to submit blog posts (and re-posts) as well as offer suggestions for special projects or themes.

If you would like to contact BISI to discuss a potential blog post, make a submission, or offer to organize an online forum, please contact us at nacbsblog@gmail.com

 

The BISI Editorial Board and Bloggers

The BISI editorial board consists of

Elaine Chalus, Bath Spa University
Craig Hanson, Calvin College
Jason M. Kelly, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Isaac Land, Indiana State University

The BISI bloggers are

Caroline Boswell, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
Stephen Jackson, University of Sioux Falls


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Conference Registration information for the North American Conference on British Studies meeting in 2014 is now available here.  You can also read or download the draft conference program here.


BISI-Logo.pngThe North American Conference on British Studies has chosen the inaugural editorial board and blog team for its new blog dedicated to British Studies, the British and Irish Studies Intelligencer (BISI).

The BISI editorial board consists of

Elaine Chalus, Bath Spa University
Craig Hanson, Calvin College
Jason M. Kelly, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Isaac Land, Indiana State University

The BISI bloggers are

Caroline Boswell, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
Stephen Jackson, University of Sioux Falls

As a blog, BISI will include discussions about the state of the field, methodological approaches, teaching, reports on conferences and symposia, videos, podcasts, and editorials focused on British Studies across the disciplines.

BISI will host discussion forums, and it will provide a space for scholars to share their current research in a format that is accessible to the non-specialist.  

BISI has its origins in the British Studies Intelligencer, first published by the society in 1962.  The new platform marks a divergence from the Intelligencer's earlier newsletter formats, and it will allow NACBS members to engage with each other more regularly.

The BISI team encourages the British Studies community to submit blog posts (and re-posts) as well as offer suggestions for special projects or themes.

If you would like to contact BISI to discuss a potential blog post, make a submission, or offer to organize an online forum, please contact us at nacbsblog@gmail.com.

0 Comments Read full post »

July
15
2014

CFP: PCCBS 2015, March 6-8, 2015, Las Vegas, Nevada

Posted by jaskelly under CFP | Tags: pccbs |

CALL FOR PAPERS: PCCBS ANNUAL MEETING, March 6-8, 2015

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

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, Nevada, California, March 6-8, 2015  

The PCCBS invites papers representing all fields of British Studies -- broadly defined to include those who study the United Kingdom, its component parts and nationalities, as well as Britain's imperial cultures.  We welcome proposals from scholars and doctoral candidates in a wide range of disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, including History, Literature, Political Science, Philosophy, Religion, Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Theater Studies, and Art History.

Proposals for individual papers, partial panels, or complete panels are all welcome, although complete panel proposals are preferred.  We encourage the submission of proposals dealing with interdisciplinary topics, as well as panels on new pedagogies and technologies associated with British Studies.

The deadline for submission of proposals is DECEMBER 1, 2014.  Proposals should include a 200-word abstract for each paper plus a one-page c.v. for each participant.  Those submitting full or partial panel proposals should include a brief description of the panel plus a 1-page c.v. for the panel chair as well as for its commentator.  Please place the panel proposal, its constituent paper proposals, and all vitae in a single file, making certain that your contact information, especially e-mail addresses, are correct and current.  Proposals should be submitted via e-mail attachment by December 1, 2014, to: pccbsproposals@gmail.com

 

 


The North American Conference on British Studies invites applications for bloggers for The British and Irish Studies Intelligencer, the society’s online newsletter.

BISI is the NACBS’s primary forum for communication with its members and has its origins in the British Studies Intelligencer, first published by the society in 1962. The BISI Blog will include discussions about the state of the field, methodological approaches, teaching, reports on conferences and symposia, and editorials focused on British Studies across the disciplines. It will also provide a space for scholars to share their current research in a format that is accessible to the non-specialist.

BISI Bloggers serve the NACBS in a voluntary capacity. Bloggers must be members of the NACBS. Their responsibilities include commissioning and editing blog posts. Each blogger will be responsible for working with the NACBS webmaster to commission, edit, and submit at least 3 blog posts per month. Board members will serve 1-year terms with reappointment possible upon Editorial Board approval.

Please submit your CV and Letter of Application to jaskelly@iupui.edu by May 15, 2014.


The North American Conference on British Studies invites applications for The British and Irish Studies Intelligencer (BISI) Blog’s inaugural Board of Editors.

BISI is the NACBS’s primary forum for communication with its members and has its origins in the British Studies Intelligencer, first published by the society in 1962. The BISI Blog will include discussions about the state of the field, methodological approaches, teaching, and editorials focused on British Studies across the disciplines. It will also provide a space for scholars to share their current research in a format that is accessible to the non-specialist.

The BISI Blog Editorial Board is a voluntary position. Editors must be members of the NACBS. Their responsibilities include working with the NACBS webmaster to review submissions and commissioning new blog posts. Board members will serve 2-year terms with reappointment possible upon reapplication.

Please submit your CV and Letter of Application to jaskelly@iupui.edu by May 15, 2014.


The University of Pittsburgh is seeking an Assistant Editor for the Journal of British Studies (JBS) published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the North American Conference on British Studies. Will provide editorial and administrative assistance to Editor-designate, Dr. Holger Hoock, J. C. Amundson Professor of British History. Process incoming manuscripts on Editorial Manager. Help oversee peer review. Edit manuscripts accepted for publication, including editing for content, grammar; fact and cite checking; final copyediting; preparing copy for submission to publisher; reviewing proofs and galleys. Serve as a liaison among authors, Editor, Associate Editors, Editorial Board, and publisher. Take responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of editorial information and instructions for contributors on the journal’s website. Maintain JBS archiving policy. Collate annual report on submissions, acceptance rates, timetable for decisions, provenance of submissions. Assist Editor with professional responsibilities and with organizing journal-related academic events. Routine record keeping of expenses for mailing, telephone,supplies, travel, and administrative duties. Might supervise student workers. Candidates are encouraged to submit a sample of recent editing work. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and asked to complete a copyediting test. For informal inquiries, please contact Holger Hoock: hoock@pitt.edu

To learn more and to apply, please follow this link: https://www.pittsource.com/postings/79313


March
31
2014

PCCBS in Las Vegas, March 6-8, 2015

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

The next PCCBS annual conference will be held in Las Vegas, March 6-8, 2015 at the M RESORT∙SPA ∙CASINO, 12300 Las Vegas Boulevard, South.


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