Blaenau Gwent arts project celebration event

Aspiring Poets, musicians and artists from across Blaenau Gwent got together over video last month in a cultural celebration of their area, history and people.

The group are part of BG REACH (Blaenau Gwent Residents Engaging in Arts, Culture and Heritage) a celebration of the heritage, history and people of Blaenau Gwent past and present, led by Dr. Richard Marsden, Senior Lecturer and Staff Tutor in History. The group met for the first time in February 2020 at creative workshops in Aberbeeg. The pandemic cut short face-to-face sessions, but the group kept in touch over video and carried on working together.

‘Back then we didn’t anticipate the imminent challenges to come in the form of severe flooding and then a global pandemic,’ explains Sarah Roberts, the OU in Wales’ partnerships coordinator for south-east Wales. ‘But by working together and mainly down to the commitment and passion of people within the Aberbeeg community group, here we are today to share and celebrate some of the creative work that’s been happening during these challenging times.’

During the online celebration, the group shared a music project, poems, art and photography with each other and the Open University academics who had worked with them. Linc Cymru Housing Association staff, who also supported the project, were among the attendees alongside family and friends. Cynefin2, a video created and recorded remotely by the group during the pandemic which celebrates in words and music the beauty of the area, was also premiered during the event.

The BG REACH team hope to keep gathering more creative work which celebrates heritage in Blaenau Gwent. This can include photography, creative writing, artwork, or music which will be shown in an exhibition in 2021. If you live in the area and interested in sharing your work email to find out more.

Silvia De Renzi’s lectures in Italy

Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine Dr. Silvia De Renzi has give a number of talks in Italy. On 2 September she presented on ‘Teaching surgery in seventeenth-century Rome: Guglielmo Riva’s printed tables’ at the annual conference of the European Society of the History of Science held in Bologna. On 23 September she gave a lecture as part of the seminar series on the theme ‘Scienza, sapere, potere’ (Science, knowledge, power), organised by the consortium for postgraduate studies in history of the Universities of Udine and Trieste. The lecture was titled ‘Ippocrate sul Tevere:  medici, ambiente e politica a Roma nel XVII secolo’ (Hippocrates on the Tiber: physicians, environment and the politics of seventeenth-century Rome).

Karl Hack and Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations

Karl Hack published a book chapter and gave two papers in Singapore in 2019 as part of its bicentennial celebrations: 200 years form Sir Stamford Raffles landing on Singapore and founding it in its modern guise.

The papers were on ‘Special Branch and identifying communists’ at the National Museum of Singapore in November, and on ‘British Grand Strategies and Southeast Asia’ at the National University of Singapore-Rise of Asia Museum workshop at Haw Par Villa Singapore in December. The chapter on ‘We Shall Meet again: Britain’s return to Singapore 1945-46’ is in 200 Years of Singapore and the United Kingdom edited by Tommy Kohn and British High Commissioner for Singapore Scott Wightman. Karl was born at Changi, Singapore and worked in the city for more than a decade, so this forms part of his ongoing relationship with Singapore as his second home, and Southeast Asia as a region.


Dr Sandip Hazareesingh keynote address ‘Food Memories and Stories from Karnataka women farmers’

How historical research can contribute to international development challenges

Dr Sandip Hazareesingh delivered a keynote address titled ‘Food Memories and Stories from Karnataka women farmers’ at a GCRF event on ‘Food and Heritage’ at the University of Leeds on 10 January. The event was organised by Praxis, a recently set up project funded by AHRC-GCRF with the aim of championing the distinctive contribution that Arts and Humanities research can make to tackling urgent development issues.

New online resource on UK peace activism in the Cold War

On 21 November a new online resource for exploring the British peace movement during the height of the Cold War was launched, developed by our own Dr Luc-André Brunet. This resource, entitled ‘Peace Activism in the UK during the Cold War’, is a collaboration between The Open University and the Peace and Security project at LSE IDEAS, of which Dr Brunet is Co-Director. You can explore it here.

This online resource features newly digitised documents from the collection of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), housed at LSE Library, providing new insights into different aspects of the British peace movement in the 1980s. These are complemented with video commentary by activists, policymakers, and academics. Organised around six themes, the resource enables students, researchers, current activists, and members of the public to reassess peace activism in the Cold War and to draw lessons that can be applied to the international situation today.

The resource was launched with a public event at LSE on 22 November, featuring Dr Brunet, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson, and Sam Dudin from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Event details can be found here.

Royal Historical Society Symposium at The Open University, 17 May 2019

This Symposium sponsored by the Royal Historical Society reflected on how the war was commemorated in a range of different countries between 2013 and 2019. The centenary of the signing of most of the peace treaties related to the conflict in 2019 is an excellent vantage point to reflect on six years of commemoration and ask a number of important questions. How did different countries seek to commemorate the war? How did such commemoration differ, and why? Why did the origins of the war become a controversial topic once more? How did the centenary play out in countries that entered the war much later than others, and countries that were colonies during the wartime period? How did the war’s different end-points play out for national commemorations? How were the different national memories of the experience of the war reflected in planned and actual commemorative events? And, most importantly, what do we know now that we did not know before the centenary, and how might this affect the future trajectory of First World War studies? The Symposium addressed these questions, in particular examining what is different after six years of commemoration, debate, and publishing on the First World War on the occasion of the centenary. The symposium highlighted that the war was experienced differently, and is therefore remembered differently, by the various combatant nations and empires. Was commemoration perhaps less contentious in nations which had been on the winning side than among the losers of the war? We were treated to an excellent and thought-provoking keynote lecture from Professor Jay Winter, seven excellent papers and a roundtable discussion, as well as great contributions from our audience both in Milton Keynes and online.


10.00 – 10.15 Tea and Coffee

10.15 – 10.30 Welcome from Professor Annika Mombauer and Professor John Wolffe (The Open University)

10.30 – 11.30 Keynote Lecture

Professor Jay Winter (Yale University): ‘The Centenary of the Great War: Unfinished Business’

11.30 – 13.00 Panel 1: Europe

Dr Helen McCartney (King’s College London): ‘Commemoration of the First World War in Britain 2014-2018’

Dr Alison Carrol (Brunel University): ‘Local and National Commemorations of the First World War in France’

Professor Annika Mombauer (Open University): ‘2014: Germany remembers the First World War’

13.00 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 – 15.30 Panel 2: Africa and Asia

Dr John Slight (The Open University): ‘Commemorating the war in the Middle East during a time of turbulence’

Professor Santanu Das (Oxford University): ‘Centennial Commemoration in an age of Multiculturalism: The Case of South Asia’

Dr Anne Samson (Independent Scholar): ‘Who in Africa remembered? Who remembered Africa?’

15.30 –16.00 Tea and coffee break

16.00 – 16.30 ‘Commemoration in the Museum Sector’, Laura Clouting (Imperial War Museum)

16.30 – 17.30 Roundtable discussion

Mobilising Global Voices: Perspectives from the Global South

Dr Sandip Hazareesingh and collaborators from the Indian NGO Green Foundation were invited to present the research findings of their GCRF project Changing Farming Lives in South India, Past and Present at a conference on Mobilising Global Voices: Perspectives from the Global South, held at the House of Commons on 27-28 February 2019. Read Dr Hazareesingh’s blog below:

This event was jointly organised by UKRI-AHRC and the International Development Committee (IDC) of UK Parliament. The conference brought together development scholars and NGOs from the Global South, UK-based researchers, and UK Parliamentarians. Its main objective was to share ideas about achieving greater visibility and inclusion of globally diverse voices and perspectives with a view to improving UK Government (DFID) policy-making.

The IDC’s main role is to scrutinise the work of DFID by providing information and perspectives from a wide range of sources so as to ensure that policies are compliant with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As much of the IDC’s current focus is on monitoring and evaluating DFID’s work in the areas of Forced Displacement and Climate Change, its members were given a unique opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of collaborative north-south research projects on these themes using Arts and Humanities approaches. These methodologies included oral history, story-telling, street theatre, participatory video, creative writing, used by projects researching subjects such as Local Community Experiences of Displacement from Syria; Traditional Knowledge and the Revival of Millets for a Changing Climate in South India; Living with Typhoons and Insecurity in the Philippines; Resilient Pastoralism in Mongolia and Kenya.

Members of both IDC and AHRC expressed great delight at the information and insights provided by the presentations and voiced the hope that this event heralds a continuing and inclusive dialogue between researchers in both north and south and their parliaments. However, many of the researchers present expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of such events in changing or improving government policies. Indeed, some invited delegates from the south had been refused visas to travel to the UK. Personally, I made the point, to loud applause from the floor, that unless the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy is reversed and visa applications from the south approached with a radically different mindset, ‘voices from the south’ will remain marginalised and hopes for a deepening north-south dialogue on development voiced by the conference organisers might well prove unsustainable.

Harvesting water in South India, Bombay Agricultural Department Bulletin 1910. Image credit: British Library

Migration in colonial Africa and Asia Ferguson Centre event

On 2 July 2018 we held a very successful workshop on Colonial migration in Africa and Asia: historical connections and comparisons, organized by the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies.

Migration is one of the foundational pillars of the story of humanity. The study of migration has been energised in recent decades by new sources and frameworks such as transnational history and diaspora studies. Migration is a topic that engages the attention of scholars in numerous disciplines, including history, human geography, development and literature. Understanding migration in its myriad forms has an urgent contemporary relevance in light of current migration movements driven by factors such as conflict (inter-state, intra-state, and non-state), labour demands in a globalised world, and climate change. By bringing together scholars working on historical migration in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia during the colonial period, the event enabled area studies specialists who practice transnational history to engage in a productive intellectual dialogue with each other and attendees. The event aims to bridge the gap between scholars of Africa and Asia, and enable historical perspectives to inform research in other disciplines.

Humour in the First World War workshop

On 20 June we held a highly successful workshop, sponsored by the Open University’s War and Conflict in the Twentieth Century research group, that brought together over 20 scholars working on humour during the First World War. Whilst humour was an important feature of everyday life during the conflict, its significance has often been overlooked. Despite this, studies of trench newspapers, cartoons, and popular entertainment, for example, have begun to reveal how humour was used, both on the home and fighting fronts, for a variety of purposes. Through examining humorous responses to the war in a range of forms and contexts, this workshop promoted further discussion within this burgeoning area of research.


14.00 – 14.15      Registration and Opening Remarks

14.15 – 14.45      Emily Anderson (Newcastle): Humour and the Written Representation of the Great War, 1914 – 1918.

14.45 – 15.15      Vincent Trott (Open): American Humour and the Road to War: A Case Study of Life Magazine, 1914 – 1917.

15.15 – 15.45      Coffee Break

15.45 – 16.15      Emma Hanna (Kent): Fighting Fear with Humour: Songs and Singing in the RFC/RAF, 1914 1918

16.15 – 16.45      Julian Walker (UCL): Populist Satirical Magazines During the First World War

16.45 – 17.15      Closing Discussion

Emily Anderson (Newcastle): Humour and the Written Representation of the Great War, 1914 – 1918.

Abstract: An abundance of humorous Great War literature was written and published in the 1914-18 period. Humour appears in a multitude of different genres and texts about the conflict; there are even flashes of humour in writing that is otherwise solemn. On the relatively rare occasions on which such humorous texts are discussed, they tend to be seen as material for emotional relief, emphasis being placed on their potential for improving morale. This is in contrast to the war’s most famous, solemn literature, which has been extensively explored for its representational force. I give a number of examples from a variety of genres of how humour contributed to the depiction of life during the war, including a discussion of how different kinds of humour were especially well-suited to the portrayal of certain aspects of the conflict. I argue that forms of humorous literature that were well-established before the outbreak of the fighting were sufficiently robust to capture a range of war experiences. In doing so, I draw attention to the nuanced tones, complex pictures, and moving impressions of the war that humour often created.

Biography: Emily is a third year PhD student at Newcastle University, funded by the AHRC Northern Bridge partnership. Her research examines humour’s role in depicting the Great War in poetry, trench newspapers, short stories, and plays published in the 1914-18 period. She previously completed an MSc at The University of Edinburgh and a BA at the University of Cambridge.

Vincent Trott (Open): American Humour and the Road to War: A Case Study of Life Magazine, 1914 – 1917.

 Abstract: During the First World War, humorous magazines played an important role in galvanising popular support for the war effort across the combatant countries. They also shaped public opinion regarding the war in the United States, which remained neutral until 1917. One of the largest and most influential of these periodicals was Life magazine, which adopted a staunchly pro-Allied stance upon the war’s outbreak and soon began to argue the case for US intervention. Despite the significance of magazines like Life, the importance of humour and laughter during the First World War, and especially in the United States during this period, has often been overlooked by historians. This talk will discuss how Life used jokes, cartoons and satirical articles to influence public opinion during the First World War. It will also situate the magazine within the wider context of American publishing during the conflict, demonstrating how the industry helped to pave the way for US intervention.

Biography: Vincent Trott is Lecturer in History at the Open University, where his research focuses on the history and memory of the First World War, and on the history of publishing and reading in the twentieth century. His first book, Publishers, Readers and the Great War (Bloomsbury, 2017), explores the role of the publishing industry in shaping the memory of the First World War in Britain. He is currently researching humour during the First World War, with a particular focus on satirical periodicals.

Emma Hanna (Kent): Fighting Fear with Humour: Songs and Singing in the RFC/RAF, 1914 1918

 Abstract: Using song books, published memoirs and officers’ personal papers from a range of archives, the development and dissemination of the songs will be discussed in the context of RFC/RAF squadron culture. This analysis will show that music and songs – many of them humorous – had several key functions for men serving with the RFC/RAF to dissipate fear and anxiety, to maintain airmen’s morale and enhance the squadron’s esprit de corps.

Biography: Dr Emma Hanna is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of History at the University of Kent. Emma has published widely on First World War history including contemporary memory, memorialisation, the media and wartime culture. She is a Co-Investigator on two major research projects: Gateways to the First World War (AHRC, 2014-2019) and Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War: Learning & Legacies for the Future (AHRC, 2017-2020). Her second monograph – on music and morale in the British Forces 1914-18 – will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2019

 Julian Walker (UCL): Populist Satirical Magazines During the First World War

 Abstract: Though Punch is the most well-known satirical magazine of nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, other magazines, aimed at the lower-middle classes, had a much bigger circulation in the period leading up to the First World War. In 1914 there were a group of cheap magazines which, though they joined in the general patriotism, soon began to exploit the war for humour and social comment. Clear targets for satire can be specified: women in uniform; women’s roles in wartime; the family and marriage; and female sexuality. Less obviously, also being satirised are the citizen armies’ identification with khaki, wealthy men’s fascination with chorus-girls, the suffragist movement, flappers and knuts, competition between women within performance culture, and male sexuality. The fact that humour is directed at what might be expected to be seen as totally off limits – atrocities against civilians – questions the sense of the wartime inviolability of national and allied unity. The magazines sometimes appear to be operating with only loose editorial control, with contradictory messages; and regular sections on transgressive sexuality and sexual violence make analysis even more difficult, so that what initially appears to be robust humour reads more as a record of social comment on sexuality, power, and gender and class tension. Though the context of wartime is ever present, there is little topical reference to war events, other than as they affect the Home Front; thus the magazines show a side of the war in which the soldiers are seen through civilian eyes. But they throw up contradictions that confound easy explanations: despite circulation figures possibly three times as high as Punch, the magazines are hardly ever mentioned outside their own circle; the mastheads show soldier readers but the magazines barely mention events or life at the Front, though one soldier slang reference shows there can be no doubt of soldiers’ familiarity with the magazines; aimed at the supposedly respectable lower-middle classes fascinated with performance celebrities, their unrestrained joking about sex looks surprisingly modern; and though openly misogynistic they employed women writers and openly advertised contraceptive products for women. Close examination of these satirical magazines may reveal aspects of the Home Front that look more like post-war Berlin than Lyons teashop London.

Biography: Julian Walker has spent several years researching the language of the First World War, work which has produced Trench Talk (2012), written with Peter Doyle, and the Languages and the First World War project, currently based at UCL. This project stemmed from the international conference of that name in 2014, with two volumes of essays, and a second conference in London and Brussels in September 2018. His Words and the First World War, a contextual study of English during the conflict, was published in 2017. He is a workshop leader at the British Library, and lectures at a range of institutions on the history of printing.