If you were to ask most people in the UK to picture a scene from the First World War, the chances are they’d imagine a skinny Tommy, clad in drab tunic and puttees, wielding a rifle and suffering in the Flanders mud. But that image only tells part of the story.
The conflict was a global one that drew in participants from around the world, many of whom never even set foot in Western Europe. As the world’s first experience of ‘Total War’, the conflict ushered in monumental changes that had, and continue to have, an impact on the lives of people around the world, both inside and outside theatres of war.
Even for non-combatants, the war had an internationalised aspect. Belgian refugees had to adapt to life in the UK while Germans in Britain were treated with suspicion, hostility and had to cope with the effects of long-term internment.
In addition, the war had many personally hidden aspects, not least the lasting traumatic stress that would affect its participants, combatants and non-combatants alike, for many decades afterwards. These are the issues that this Centre has been set up to address.
The Centre’s particular goal is to foster ongoing partnerships between university researchers and community groups. Its work includes hosting public workshops and film screenings, providing advice and guidance to community researchers and offering direct support to members of its network of partners.
Since 2014, the Centre has led or supported more than 20 co-produced projects in which academic researchers collaborated with community organisations to jointly investigate aspects of the war that had not previously been considered in mainstream commemorations. Topics included the internment of ‘enemy aliens’, the treatment of Belgian refugees, the role played by people from the British Empire and the Labour Corps in Britain.
In 2018 and 2019 the Centre was focused on two distinctive projects:
The Trauma Workstream explored the extent to which the psychological condition of trauma has been integrated into community engagement with the First World War centenary. Trauma here is considered broadly to encompass a range of responses to the 1914-1918 conflict. From shell shocked soldiers recovering in specialist hospitals to cases of ‘barbed wire disease’ in ‘enemy alien’ internment camps; and from post-1918 literary and poetic representations of trauma to the contemporary family historian dealing with issues of vicarious trauma in the archive. The trauma workstream resulted in a research guide and series of national community workshops, designed to encourage family historians and community researchers to investigate this topic as part of their First World War history projects.
The Young People’s Learning Hub was an outreach scheme working with young people (11-25 years old) in each of the 12 regions of the UK. Its primary aim was to hold First World War research workshops with schools and young people’s voluntary groups. These sessions privilege the ideas of the young people themselves and give them the tools to pursue their own WW1 interests and ideas. The activities included examination of primary source documents, artistic and performance work, formal debating sessions and examination of period artefacts and locations.
A separate Participation Research Project led by Nottingham Trent University was conducted in parallel to the hub’s outreach programme. This was an in-depth project to investigate local aspects of the war. It was co-designed and co-produced with Farnborough Academy in Nottingham.
- Migration and displacement
- The experience of ‘others’ from countries and regions within Europe, Asia and the Commonwealth
- The impact and subsequent legacies of the war on diverse communities within Britain
- The effects of the war on German nationals in wartime Britain
- Civilian internment and military imprisonment
- The causes and effects of traumatic stress
Legacy Festivals 2019
The five engagement centres hosted a series of Legacy Festivals over the spring and summer months of 2019. The festivals were intended to enable participants and attendees to better understand the challenges and opportunities of collaborative work around history, heritage and commemoration.
Each festival was given a unique theme and was dedicated to reflecting on public history and heritage, exploring the different types of collaborative work that has been done around First World War subjects since 2014, and to thinking about future/potential collaborations and how community organisations and academics can continue working together to explore all aspects of the past.
• 22 and 23 March: Birmingham, Midland Arts Centre, theme ‘Diversity’
• 18-25 May: Belfast (multiple venues), theme ‘Shared heritage’
• 5 and 6 July: Cardiff (multiple venues), theme ‘Community activism’
• 30 and 31 August: Glasgow, Glasgow Women’s Library, theme ‘Women and war’
Public talk: Dr Nigel Hunt on Narratives and Stress: WHR Rivers’ Role in Helping Understand the Importance of Story in Psychology
Craiglockhart, Edinburgh 26 June 2019 Dr Hunt gave a lecture on the work of WHR Rivers at Craiglockhart during the war. Rivers tried to understand and treat the men who were sent there as ‘shell shock’ or ‘neurasthenic’ cases from the trenches of the war. His approach became widely known through the novels of Pat Barker, but his influence on psychology (and other disciplines) cuts across many fields. The talk focused on how Rivers’ work can inform our understanding of the importance of stories in resolving war trauma, even today.
Young People's Research Workshops
Twelve research workshops (covering each of the English regions, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) were delivered over the lifespan of the Young People’s Learning Hub in collaboration with schools, youth organisations and the UK-wide links established by the AHRC World War One Engagement Centre Networks. Each regional workshop was conducted across a series of dedicated sessions during which researchers from the hub, and or the wider engagement centre network, guided and supported the pupils in historical research analysis and presentation skills.
Centre for Hidden Histories
Young People's Learning Hub Co-ordinator
Impact Adviser (Trauma Workstream)
- Dr Larissa Allwork (University of Derby)
Research Assistants (Trauma Workstream)
- Andrea Kocurkova
- Shruti Raghuraman
The Centre is supported by a generous grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
It is one of five national World War One Engagement Centres founded to engage with communities as they seek to commemorate and reflect upon the century-long legacy of the First World War.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
Hidden Histories First World War blog