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Munitions of the Mind Posts

New Publication: David Budgen, British Children’s Literature and the First World War: Representations since 1914

2018 sees the publication of British Children’s Literature and the First World War by Dr David Budgen, Associate Lecturer in the School of History and member of the centre for War, Media and Society, University of Kent. Dr Budgen’s study focuses on changing perceptions of the First World War throughout the 20thcentury in children’s literature. Drawing on novels, school textbooks, and story papers, Budgen charts how perceptions of the conflict have changed from 1914 to its…

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ANNUAL LECTURE 2017/18: Commissars in the Republican Popular Army during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

Written by James Matthews.

On 17 July 1936, a faction of the Spanish army rose up against the Second Republic, triggering a violent conflict that developed into the Spanish Civil War as groups loyal to the government rallied to its defence. The military plotters essentially considered themselves to be defending traditional Spain from the threat of social revolution and regional separatism. In the days following the partially successful coup d’état, the two antagonistic camps scrambled to generate stopgap armed support. The forces available to the Republic immediately after the uprising were a disjointed combination of party and union-based volunteer militia, reinforced and at times led by members of both the Spanish security and armed forces. In Republican-held territory, the regular pre-war conscript army disintegrated and government authority in many places collapsed. Although some of these former soldiers joined the conflict as volunteer militiamen, the army effectively ceased to be a tool at the state’s disposal.

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Chronicling Trust in the Cold War

Written by Mark Hurst.

In a contemporary climate dominated by fake news, political spin and online legions of anonymous figures fighting information wars, it is apparent that a question repeatedly posed may come to define the era: What information do we trust? This was at the forefront of the campaigns conducted by human rights activists during the Cold War, who sought to support persecuted prisoners of conscience by obtaining reliable and trusted information on human rights violations and using this material to petition positions of power to put pressure on oppressive governments.

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What Eastern Bloc Dissidents can Teach us about ‘Living in Truth’

Written by Philip Boobbyer.

As Solzhenitsyn saw it, simple truths are always a threat to totalitarianism.

“Fake news” may be getting lots of headlines, but it is as old as the hills. Propagandists have relied on false evidence for centuries. Of course, not all propaganda campaigns are dishonest; indeed many efforts at persuading people of things are laudable. But the phenomenon of fake news and the “post-truth” culture in which it thrives are clearly a threat to democracy, and to the public sphere that democracy depends on to survive.

Everyone has a part to play in pushing back. Most of us probably assume that only other people fall prey to false or exaggerated news stories. This is complacent. Media historians emphasise that propaganda often exploits already-existing trends rather than creating new ones, making subtle use of half-truths as well as outright falsehoods – and it can be much harder to unpick half-truths than to demolish lies.

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Paris Underground: Subterranean Resistance and the Nazi Occupation

Lion de Belfort, Place Denfert-Rochereau

Written by Nigel Perrin.

Paris’s vast underground spaces have long been associated with revolution, resistance and clandestine activity of all kinds. Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables vividly depicted the city’s sewers (a stratum of the city he researched in some detail) as a literal and metaphorical underworld where criminals, fugitives and the dispossessed lurked under the feet of respectable citizens. But it is the 177 miles of interconnecting tunnels and quarries, commonly referred to as the “Catacombs” (despite only a tiny fraction ever being used to accommodate the dead) that have become suffused with a spirit of resistance. Here government troops pursued the revolutionaries of 1848 and the communards of 1871, and the far-Right Comité secret d’action révolutionnaire (better known as La Cagoule) planned to topple the Popular Front government of the 1930s by infiltrating the foundations of the Senate and other government buildings. In August 1944, the underground played a crucial role in a new uprising. From a disused air-raid shelter in Montparnasse, Henri Rol-Tanguy, the Paris chief of the Forces françaises de l’intérieur (FFI, the combined resistance forces operating under de Gaulle’s leadership), fought to liberate Paris from German occupation. His call to Parisians to rally to the barricades and defeat the oppressor held great cultural and historical resonance, while his heroic leadership came to exemplify the ingenuity and resourcefulness of a lightly-armed resistance against a much larger and better-equipped professional army.

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Occupations in the Age of Total War: Conference Report

Written by Oli Parken.

The Centre for the History of War, Media and Society welcomed colleagues across Europe and the US to the conference ‘Occupations in the Age of Total War: Micro Perspectives and Transnational Research’ in June 2017. The aim of the two-day event was to bridge the gap between structural and micro approaches to the occupational history of both world wars, pushing past conclusions made within national boundaries. The conference came in response to the publication of Nico Wouters’ monograph Mayoral Collaboration under Nazi Occupation: Belgium, the Netherlands and North France, 1938–46 (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke/New York, 2016) (University of Ghent and CegeSoma). Thus, the papers given expanded on Wouters’ methodological innovation of approaching ‘occupations’ through the lens of the micro and macro in the age of ‘total war’.

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The Merci Train: Remembering the World Wars in 52,000 Objects

Written by Ludivine Broch.

It is well-known that France and the French are haunted by the Second World War. Numerous studies have shown how memories of resistance, collaboration and deportation have risen, fallen and clashed since 1945. Yet these studies generally explore memory through the lens of political, judicial and cultural elites. How did people feel at the grassroots level? Did the French Resistance dominate their history and memory of the war, like it did at the national level?

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Mayoral Collaboration under Nazi Occupation

Written by Nico Wouters.

International comparative history is often discussed and welcomed but still rarely practised, including in First- and Second World War research. Even today, both fields of historical study remain predominantly national in orientation. However, when the empirical datasets for the selected national cases are sufficiently broad and rich, an international comparison has the potential to combine elements of micro-history with transnational analysis, yielding innovative results that can transcend the insights from exclusively national angles.

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Servicemen’s Music-Making and Morale in the British Forces, 1914-18

Written by Emma Hanna.

Pianos seem to be everywhere these days. Walking through St Pancras International station, one of the upright ‘street pianos’ are invariably being put through its paces by a variety of would-be pianists, belting out music of all kinds, from a Beethoven sonata, to Simon and Garfunkel, to the Lion King. Or you get to hear someone reminiscing on their school days with a rendition of Chop Sticks. Even the singer John Legend gave the beleaguered St Pancras piano a turn after a recent journey on Eurostar.

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