Week 10 reflection

December 16, 2009

Another guest post by Dr McCarthy:

In this week’s lecture I attempted to tackle the massive subject of the war’s impact on family life in Britain. As soon as I sat down to draft the lecture I realised the scale of the task I had set myself; such a rich and fascinating topic could lead in any number of directions and there were serious choices to be made about how to organise a wealth of material and suggestive sub-themes into 50 minutes. I decided to focus on three key areas: relations between parents and children; relations between husbands and wives; and the position of women within the family.  What I hoped to do was get students thinking about how military imperatives, the physical transformation of the economy and the expansion of the state affected everyday domestic life, and how we might, as historians, begin to access the personal or emotional experience of the British people. I was keen to emphasise the diversity of experience – not all children were evacuated, not all marriages broke down, not all women went into the factories – whilst at the same time making some valid general observations, for example, about the hyper-mobility of the population during war; the emergence of the family as the object of social policy; and the stresses of prolonged separation for husbands and wives. I tried to leave students with the ‘takeway’ thought that, despite all the strains and pressures, family life did survive, although the balance of power within the household may, for some at least, have subtly shifted as a result of wartime experiences.

I’m not sure that I quite achieved all of that, and I rather ran out of time towards the end, forcing me to cut short my remarks on the industrial conscription of women and the ‘combat taboo’ which prevented women from bearing arms (historically an important marker of citizenship). I tried to follow this up in the seminar groups, as both are crucial for thinking about the ways in which understandings and enactments of wartime citizenship were differentiated by gender. I also played two of my groups the film which failed to materialise in the lecture: John Grierson’s ‘They Also Serve’, a 10-min short produced for the MoI in 1940 and addressed to ‘The Housewives of Britain’. It stimulated some interesting discussion about how women’s domestic responsibilities were being reframed as a form of national service, and also about the idealised image of the home projected in wartime propaganda. It’s available for viewing on the BFI’s InView if anyone else would like to take a look…


Book Review questions

December 9, 2009

There was a question about book reviews in one of my seminars today – ‘How can we bring in talking about other books in our reviews when we’ve got so much else to do? There doesn’t seem to be enough space.’

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Entries for the Queen Mary Companion to Britain in the Second World War

December 8, 2009

This is some guidance for the many students to whom this is a new form of assessment.

As historians, we don’t always want to read a massive book to get the basics of a key theme, argument, event or personality. Sometimes, particularly when we’re just starting on a subject, or a piece of understanding is crucial but tangential, we want to get a grip on it quickly. This is where we might make use of a Companion – a collection of short pieces of writing that seek to explain the most important aspects of a subject clearly and concisely, and which can act as a brief introduction not just to the events, but to the ways historians have interpreted them. A Companion entry might be short (often shorter than the lengths in this assignment), but writing one is not easy. You have to condense a lot of knowledge into a small space, interest and even entertain the reader, and lay the groundwork for them to understand further reading on the topic. You should not underestimate how difficult this will be: you will have to make use of your skills of writing and editing, as well as making decisions about what to put in and what to leave out. Read the rest of this entry »

Week 9 reflection

December 8, 2009

This week’s lecture and seminar concentrated on the economy. In the lecture, I tried to give the big picture of how the economy adapted to war, which I painted largely in terms of state intervention. I described four different ‘cranes’ used to mobilise industry and society for war: investment in munitions production; control of key resources (including raw materials and labour); anti-inflationary policies; and the development of political and bureaucratic systems to gather data and prioritise allocations. I forgot to say that I think this is a particularly useful metaphor because it gets across the idea of economic efforts being inter-connected and balanced. Read the rest of this entry »

IWM on YouTube

December 1, 2009

The IWM has its own YouTube channel – not a lot of information about the films on offer – they need to look at how good the BFI’s version is – but this might be a useful source of visual material.


Book review suggestions

December 1, 2009

One of the seminar students last week suggested that I should make some comments about the reviews from last year’s Bomber Command course that are available on this site. Why did I choose them, and what was good about them?

I’m a bit uncomfortable about this for two reasons – first, pedagogically, I think it’s better for students to work out for themselves what makes these interesting, but imperfect, models, and second, ethically, I asked these students for permission to post their work up, not to discuss it in detail. So what follows is deliberately a bit general when it comes to critiquing them.

Nevertheless, I can see this might be a useful exercise, especially for those who haven’t done this sort of assessment before. So let me highlight some strong points:  Read the rest of this entry »

Week 8 Reflection

December 1, 2009

A guest post by Helen McCarthy:

In today’s lecture I tried to address the question of political transformation during WWII by interrogating the notion of consensus, a key category in historiography of the Home Front. Essentially, I wanted to get students warmed up for their seminars by pushing them to think about the relationship between the collective social experience of ‘total war’ and political change: how far did the transformations taking place in social relations under wartime conditions bring about a decisive shift in the centre of gravity of British political life? Read the rest of this entry »