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 ‚Äď 14.15 ¬†¬†¬†¬† Registration and Opening Remarks

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

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

15.15 ‚Äď 15.45 ¬†¬†¬†¬† Coffee Break

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

16.15 ‚Äď 16.45 ¬†¬†¬†¬† Julian Walker (UCL): Populist Satirical Magazines During the First World War

16.45 ‚Äď 17.15 ¬†¬†¬†¬† Closing Discussion

Emily Anderson (Newcastle): Humour and the Written Representation of the Great War, 1914 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď1918

¬†Abstract: Using song books, published memoirs and officers‚Äô 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‚Äôs morale and enhance the squadron‚Äôs¬†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 ‚Äď on music and morale in the British Forces 1914-18 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs roles in wartime; the family and marriage; and female sexuality. Less obviously, also being satirised are the citizen armies‚Äô identification with khaki, wealthy men‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď atrocities against civilians ‚Äď 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.

PhD Research Day 8 June 2018

Department of History

PhD Research Day

8 June 2018


The Open University, Library Seminar rooms 1-2

Contact: Marie-Claire Le Roux


10.15 Coffee and registration

10.30 Welcome

10.40 Joan Hornsby: The problem of pauperism in Axminster Union

11.10 Luc-Andre Brunet: Developing a publication record as a PhD student

11.40 Break

11.50 Elizabeth Wells: Westminster School’s Town Boy Ledgers: pupil voices from the early 19th century

12.20 Jack Taylor: Difficulties of evidence: sexual violence against men, c.1700-1900

13.00 Lunch

14.10 Angela Sutton-Vane: From private information to public history: the life-cycles and influences of police files       

14.40 Sam Aylett: The Museum of London’s permanent galleries, 1976: prosperity, trade

and empire

15.10 Coffee Break

15.30 Chris Williams How to broadcast history

16.00 End

Recovering the 19th Century Penal Landscape launch event

Recovering the 19th Century Penal Landscape, 6 July 2018
National Justice Museum, Nottingham, Smith Cooper Room

Join us on 6 July 2018 at the National Justice Museum in Nottingham for the launch of a new resource developed by the Centre – – a database of nineteenth-century prisons which contains critical information on the locations, size and archives of nearly 850 penal institutions.

We are delighted to host a number of eminent speakers with expertise on prisons past and present, including: Prof Sean McConville (Queen Mary University of London), Dr Paul Carter (The National Archives), Prof Barry Godfrey (University of Liverpool) Dr Maryse Tennant (Canterbury Christ Church University), Aiofe O’Connor (Find My Past), Nina Champion (Prisoners’ Education Trust) and Anita Dockley (Howard League for Penal Reform).

To download a programme, follow this link.

The event is free to attend, but places are limited. To register attendance, of for further information, please contact:, and/or Registration closes 22 June 2018. When registering, please provide full name, affiliation, any special dietary requirements and any other special requirements.

Luc-Andre Brunet wins Michael J. Hellyer Prize

Dr. Luc-Andr√© Brunet, Lecturer in Twentieth-Century European History, has been awarded the Michael J. Hellyer Prize by the British Association of Canadian Studies (BACS). The award is presented for the best paper given at the BACS annual conference. This year’s conference, held at Senate House, University of London, featured 61 papers delivered over three days. Luc’s paper, entitled ‘Pierre Trudeau’s 1983 Peace Initiative: An International History’ uses recently declassified archival sources from seven different countries to re-evaluate Canadian Prime Minister¬†Pierre Trudeau’s peace initiative, a major Canadian foreign policy venture that aimed at reducing Cold War tensions in the context of the so-called Euromissile Crisis. The paper is part of a book Luc is¬†currently writing for McGill-Queen’s University Press provisionally entitled Canada, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War.

Two-day AHRC-funded workshop on Sustainable Farming Practices Past and Present, Bangalore, India, 21-22 February 2018

The AHRC-funded Changing Farmers’ Lives Past and Present research project held its first event in Bangalore, co-organised by Dr. Sandip Hazareesingh, Director of the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies, Open University and the Karnataka based NGO Green Foundation. A variety of presentations by academic researchers and development practitioners explored the potential, first, of Arts and Humanities approaches, in particular aspects of oral history, stories, drama, and film, to document and support small farmer creativity in developing resilience to livelihood challenges in relation to food, biodiversity, and climate issues; and second, of participatory methods aimed at local community conservation of agricultural biodiversity and revival and control of indigenous seeds. Each session was followed by lively discussions. A very original feature of the Workshop was a visit to the Janadhanya Women’s Federation in nearby Terubeedi village. At the community seed bank centre, workshop participants met with local women farmers who presented their work on seed conservation and provided delicious tasters of some of the foods produced by the group, including millet-based papadoms and savoury snacks.

Crime, Policing and Technology in the 20th century seminar, Friday 10th November 2017

On Friday 10th November 2017, the International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice at the Open University will be hosting the next event in its regular seminar series. Four papers will be presented, paper titles and presenters are below. Full details of the seminar, including how to reserve a place, are in the document at the end of this blog post; please click on the link to access the document.

Alison Adam (Sheffield Hallam University)

Science in the service of detection: the British ‚Äėscientific aids‚Äô movement of the 1930s

Ian Burney (University of Manchester)

Spatters and Lies: Technologies of Truth in the Sam Sheppard Case, 1954-1966

Chris Williams (Open University)

The Home Office, Information and Communications, 1950-1975

Paul Lawrence (Open University)

The Curious Case of the Adoption of Photo-FIT

Crime Policing and Technology – Seminar Day Programme 10Nov2017


PhD Research Day 2017

A PhD research day took place in The Open University Library Seminar rooms 1-2, Milton Keynes, on 26 May 2017. The event was organised by Dr Silvia De Renzi and Dr Anna Plassart and provided OU History department PhD candidates an opportunity to present their work and exchange ideas.

For further details, see the full programme below.


  • 10.00: Registration and coffee
  • 10.20: Welcome and introduction
  • 10.30: Chris Mains, ‘Plots and religious conflicts in Elizabethan time: the view of Sir Robert Cecil’
  • 11.10: Katherine Lucas, ‘Developments in the political thinking of Wolfe Tone’
  • 11.50: Break
  • 12.00: Louise Ryland Epton, ‘Welfare provision in the late eighteenth century’
  • 12.40: Lunch
  • 14.00: Lucinda Borkett-Jones, ‘Representations of Anglo-German relations before the First World War’
  • 14.40: Sam Aylett, ‘Museums and the legacies of the British Empire: key questions and methods’
  • 15.20: Coffee break
  • 15.30: Tom Probert, ‘The changing historiography of counterinsurgency: from minimum to exemplary force’
  • 16.10: Concluding remarks


Criminal Justice History seminar, 24 March 2017

The Open University’s criminal justice history centre, (the ICPCJH) is holding the latest in its series of criminal justice history seminars on Friday 24 March 2017.  The event is being held in Library Seminar Rooms 1&2 , Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, from 10.30am to 3.30pm.

The speakers and topics are:

(11.15) Donald Fyson, Laval University, Canada ‚Äď ‚ÄúThe Spectacle of State Violence: Executions in Quebec, 1759-1872‚ÄĚ

(12.15) Maryse Tennant, Canterbury Christ Church ‚Äď ‚ÄúThe Police That Never Was: Peel, Melbourne and the Cheshire Constabulary (1829-1857)‚ÄĚ

(2.15) Chris Fevre, Dundee University –¬† ‚ÄúThe origins of black community resistance to policing in London, 1945-1959‚ÄĚ

To register a place please email If you are not an OU staff member or student you will need to pay ¬£10 for lunch.¬† Please send cheques made payable to ‚ÄėThe Open University‚Äô for the attention of Carol Fuller, School of History, Religious Studies, Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, MK7 6AA.

Women and Gender in Early Modern Britain and Ireland: A Conference in Honour of Anne Laurence

Organised by members of the History Department (Gemma Allen, Suzanne Forbes, Amanda Goodrich, Karl Hack, Janice Holmes and Neil Younger), ‘Women and Gender in Early Modern Britain and Ireland: A Conference in Honour of Anne Laurence’ was held at the Institute of Historical Research in London on the 4th June 2016.

Anne Laurence addressing delegates at the Women  Gender in Early Modern Britain and Ireland Conference
Anne Laurence addressing delegates at the conference

This highly successful event, attended by over sixty delegates, celebrated the research of a recently-retired member of the History Department, whilst showcasing new directions in women’s and gender history. Speakers included¬†Amanda Capern, Amy Erickson, James Daybell, Jane Humphries, Mary O’Dowd,¬†¬†Judith Spicksley,¬†Rosalind Carr, and Frances Nolan.¬†Follow this link to access the full conference programme.

Women and Gender Conference
Delegates at the Women and Gender Conference, 4 June 2016

Representing the History Department amongst the speakers was Gemma Allen who talked about her new research uncovering the important (but hitherto ignored) role of the early modern ambassadress, whilst Janice Holmes reflected on the significance of Anne Laurence’s long academic career.

Janice Holmes addressing delegates at the conference

Delegates described ‘feeling suitably inspired after a wonderful conference honouring the career of Anne Laurence’ and noted that it was ‘a privilege and a¬†pleasure to see such accomplished historians … in action’.

The Open University History Department and the conference organisers would like to thank all of the speakers and delegates for making the conference such a success.

Talk: Carolin Schmitz ‚ÄėCrossing healing spaces: the sick and their mobility in early modern Spain‚Äô

On 18 June 2015 our visiting PhD student in history Carolin Schmitz (Instituto de Historia de la Medicina y de la Ciencia “L√≥pez Pi√Īero”,¬†University of Valencia) gave a talk on ‚ÄėCrossing healing spaces:¬† the sick and their mobility in early modern Spain‚Äô. Carolin works on health care in early modern Spain. She is using trial records to recover the perceptions and actions taken by sick people seeking help and care.