Event History

Lucy Noakes, University of Brighton, speaks at @_UoW: “War on the Web”

Earlier this evening I attended this talk, see my “rough” notes below. Lucy Noakes was visiting the University of Winchester’s Modern History Research Centre.

BBC People’s War website 2003 – 2006.

Veteran memories, referred to as stories.

Cultural memory of the war!

Growing since 1960s. Defined variously Inc mythical debunking (least helpful). Not exclusive to people who have memories of an event. Politics propaganda etc. Underlying.

Term memory problematic. Joanna Bourke. Usually individually. Allowed or repressed according to social mores – or just for specific audiences. Hegemonic – fighting for dominance.

Ww2 constant point of reference – uses it’s been put to politically has been used in many different ways. People’s War – egalitarianism. 1960s-80s a struggle over meaning of the war – eg Patriotism for Falklands gulf war. Produced ideas to draw upon to qualify  war against terror etc. 7/7 – blitz comparison immediate & omnipresent. Partly Pre a weekend with extra day off re war!

Austerity – ww2 ideas of all in it together – being used in current crisis. DC needs reminding that last war – big move to the left. Symbols – stoicism, bravery, humour etc – policies drawn on great ideas of the past…

Memory & the Internet

Digital revolution… Growing accessibility & ubiquity – shaped role & social use of the media. Difference the web & other sites of memory. More transient – not intended to be a permanent public shared memory. Les permanent & more accessible. Material – physically imposing – specific space. New architectural vernacular… More modernist but still imposing. Designed with eye to posterity whilst saying something about culture. Experienced individually. Form can be widely different – eg try to emulate traditional sites. Traditional wall – what about able to search for names & own memories of war etc. Differnet but all shared public spaces. Behaviour diff – esp public/private space.. Emotion felt in public space or in private but made public by participating.

Websites – more participatory. May be edited but a space for otherwise marginalised or dominated memories. Sww memories – several thousand hits.    Contested memory becomes more contradictory & competing memories. Websites campaigning for physical memorials or help for specific groups.

Importance of war in peoples lives – living through history. Importance of warfare seen as important nationally at other times. National narratives with more family style memories.

The BBC website

To be archived by the British Library. Return to genealogy – families would research their families stories & that older people would not want to use technology. However – desire to tell the story – overcame any fears. Big events – encouraged contributions. Culture Online. Took buses to rural areas with 2000 volunteers – demonstrates keen interest continues. Varied style of stories – long short poems.

War continues to play part in private & public memory. Discord between 2. Continued primacy of the male combatant… Original idea was changed… 12% over 60s were using Internet at time but 80% users of the site were over 60. Hugely successful. Thought stories not worth telling or didn’t want to remember negative memories. However, liked a willing audience & a chance to tell stories.

Divided into 64 categories. Most evacuees, least women’s voluntary. Didn’t focus on historical fact – wanted stories & subjective interpretations.. Personal reflections & memories. Make visible what is usually less visible. Still absences – felt didn’t fit or… Eg only 36 conscientious objectors. None re homosexuality. Or made manageable using languages/symbols from the war – eg lights out over Britain.

Marked by fear… Has been marginalised. Eg wartime Blitz experience. Emphasises collectivity & stoicism (eg in films) rather than overriding fear. Stories emphasise the same… Repressed language of warfare 1950s. Woman’s story – catalogue of death & destruction .. But at end Hitler couldn’t get us down… Now expect counselling.

British character – seen at best during war – under pressure. Often used to negatively compare to modern day disasters. Men with active memories of active service… Particular tone – humorous understatement common to fighting men (& those from Liverpool but otherwise not humour). Descriptive language re effects on the body – quite new, eg re difficult injuries etc. Shares more of the ideas of recent films – eg Saving Private Ryan.. Handheld cameras, fear & random death – appears unmediated… Allows death to feature more positively. Would such visceral language have been used without such films?

Eg Remembrance Day – focuses on the fighting forces rather than other supporting services/civilian deaths. Plus eg service associations gives a specific memory.

No need to fight to have your story told as would in a museum but still easier if fits with dominant discourse. Cultural circuit public private stories – public frames private memories. Wanted to draw on stories for programme making. Dunkirk & D-Day particularly key – graphic realism.

Questions & Comments

Channel Islands often forgotten.

What about such websites available elsewhere?

Appeal for memories? For war? Different to memories of wartime?! Do marginal memories remain marginal? Eg sexual violence & rape in genocide. Does war set ‘boundaries’.

Stories cross referenced across categories. Still privileged are the land sea air memories. Post categorisation & can’t know how chosen.

Significance of Iraq war? Not released immediately but… Useful to have positive memories of war.

Mass Observation – responses to recent wars – all referred back to ww2.

Few comments under entries – several removed. Opens dialogue but decades old dialogue. What about new memories – exist – maybe not same funding.

Migration? Why people moved? Family histories. Results published as definitive answers from 18th C. But those who didn’t have families can’t tell a story. It’s all partial.

Continued sense of centrality – excludes all those who moved here since then.

What picture emerges from these stories – the White nation pulling together. Last legitimate war? All wars since don’t have population behind it since.

Do they say anything about Poland?

Where is Wales [lists England, Scotland, Isle of Man]?

Why no body language via video? Why text?

Can’t ask questions of them.


Lucy Noakes: ‘Gender and British National Identity in Wartime: A Study of the Links between Gender and National Identity in Britain in the Second World War, the Falklands War and the Gulf War’

Noakes, L. ‘Gender and British national identity in wartime: a study of the links between gender and national identity in Britain in the Second World War, the Falklands War and the Gulf War.’
D.Phil. thesis completed 1996, Sussex University

Particular use is made of Mass-Observation. This focuses on the representation of men and women as wartime citizens on the public stage. Considers how ideas from the Second World War were re-appropriated for later wars. The thesis concludes that images and memories of the Second World War, which are central to ideas of British national identity, often appear to be clearly shaped by gender.

Abstract: In each case, the thesis examines the links between gender and national identity in wartime, focusing on the representation of women and men as wartime citizens on the public stage, and the ways in which Mass-Observation correspondents’ wartime writing may have been shaped by their gender. The Second World War is identified as a key moment in dominant, contemporary ideas of British national identity, and the creation of a widely shared definition of national identity during the war itself, and its re-appropriation during the Falklands War and the Gulf War, is examined. The introductory Chapter explores relevant work on national identity, gender and wartime, and sets out the theories and viewpoints which have informed the arguments used here. The Second Chapter examines the role of the Second World War in British national identity in more depth, focusing on representations of the war in contemporary museum displays as a means of illustrating its importance. Chapters Three and Four return to the Second World War itself: Chapter Three examining the gendering of citizenship in the war through a study of army education material and women’s magazines, whilst Chapter Four looks at the wartime writings of Mass-Observation correspondents, considering ways in which the writing points towards gendered concepts of national identity. Chapter Five examines the shaping and gendering of national identity during the Falklands War through a study of daily newspaper and the writing of Mass-Observation correspondents. Chapter Six analyses newspaper coverage and Mass-Observation material from the Gulf War in the same way. The thesis concludes that images and memories of the Second World War, which are central to ideas of British national identity, often appear to be clearly shaped by gender.

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