November 25, 2009
Here are a few sources that you could use to bolster work on this part of the course:
For political attitudes, you could look at some of the posters prepared by the Conservative Party for the 1945 election
To get some moving images of what life was like, you could look at ‘Films From The Home Front’ or BFI InView
To find out more about politicians and people, you could look at the DNB’s own ‘Home Front’ page
For images, you could use the Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive
For an insight into the world of work, why not visit the TUC archives online?
Most of these are institutional sites, but you could also look at privately maintained ones such as ‘The Midnight Watch’ – lots of material on Fire Guards and ARP, or ‘Home Sweet Home Front’ (a very deep site, obviously a labour of love), and at those sites which focus on tighter geographical areas – for example, the Bath Blitz
November 25, 2009
This week in the lecture I talked about the ‘Battles’ of Britain and the Blitz. Although I was trying not to tread on the toes of seminar groups too much, inevitably the lecture was positioned in relation to ideas about 1940-41 being a defining moment of national unity and distinctly British heroism. I tried to adapt – rather than demolish – this mythic model in several ways: first by highlighting the importance of chronological development (ie invasion and spy scares predated the first, relatively light experiences of air attack, which in turn predated the Blitz), second by suggesting those places where the rhetoric of unity required the exclusion of individuals or groups, third by re-establishing the uncertainty, suffering and fear that also accompanied this period, fourth by suggesting that the ability to withstand this period of threat might owe as much or more to German incapacity as to British national spirit.
I thought I managed to get these ideas across pretty well, although one thing I hadn’t accounted for was the double reinforcement effect of my points about the ways in which the experience of the Blitz was class-determined coinciding with the same idea coming across strongly in the reading – with the result that class tended to get emphasised in the seminars more than geographical location. The urban-rural, east-west splits are probably as important in determining experience.
The seminars were okay. Some groups are still struggling to grasp the amount of preparation that needs to go in to running the session smoothly – but this is a learning experience! Slightly more worrying to me was that although I’d posted up a detailed set of suggestions about how to prepare, those groups that had done so often hadn’t followed it – particularly noticeable at the end of the seminar where students hadn’t planned how they’d conclude.
I’d prefer to tackle this as an issue of systemic, rather than individual, fault. In the long term, I can re-write the course so that students get taught about group-work and preparation more explicitly, and have their participation in seminars rewarded in terms of assessment. In the short term, perhaps I could make concrete suggestions in class about how to conclude, or even introduce a new requirement for groups to produce a ‘takeaway’ sheet to be handed out at the end of the session. But these seem quite authoritarian measures – I wonder how else I can encourage adequate preparation and engagement with the suggestions I’ve already put up?
November 18, 2009
Here’s another version of Britain under attack in 1940-41. Again, you can find out more at screenonline.
November 18, 2009
I’ll refer to this film in this morning’s lecture, and watching it might be useful preparation for the seminar. You can find out more about it at screenonline
November 13, 2009
(Cross posted to Trench Fever)
I’m always wary of jumping on the bandwagon and criticizing TV shows based on the marketing – and if the number of newspapers who picked this up is anything to go by, it’s been a very successful press release… but it’s hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the news that Channel 4’s 2010 season of ‘factual’ programmes will include a ‘science-history’ programme, ‘Blitz Street’:
To mark the 70th anniversary of this pivotal event in British history, Tony Robinson presents a four-part science and history series which gives just a flavour of what it must have been like to live under such constant bombardment, and explores, crucially, why the Blitz failed.
The series – coming to Channel 4 in early 2010 – constructs a typical row of terraced houses on a military base. With the help of Ministry of Defence scientists, the street is subjected to a range of real large-scale high explosives and incendiaries, similar to those used by the Luftwaffe. Using a wide range of scientific sensors and gauges, there are precise measurements of the blast waves and dangerous after effects of flying shrapnel.
The series follows the nightly cat and mouse battles that took place between the Luftwaffe in the air and Britain’s ground defences, with barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns. Also tested are the internal Morrison and garden Anderson shelters.
Blitz Street explores the profound psychological phenomenon that was the ‘Blitz Spirit’. A large number of eye-witnesses, many of them speaking for the first time, recount their amazing stories of survival.
And that kneejerk reaction is of course that this is not just tasteless but poorly thought out (surely Tony Robinson hasn’t exhausted the national supply of buried ruins so completely that he has to create them as well as dig them up?) and not terribly informative (is the solution to the ‘Blitz Spirit’ really to be found in the blast effects of German bombs?) Read the rest of this entry »
November 13, 2009
It is perhaps worth noting that next week’s set reading is available as a pdf direct from the journal Cercles.
November 5, 2009
This week in the lecture I moved from grand strategy to talk about the home front, and began with the nine months of the ‘Bore War’. I was eager to highlight the gap between expectations and realities, the combination of preparation and ignorance with which the British approached the coming conflict, and the problems for the government of trying to mobilize the home front in the particular political, social and military conditions of 1939-40. Read the rest of this entry »