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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Is the Future of History Digital? : Online Resources

Written by Mario Draper.

Were someone to walk into any room of historians and mention the word ‘technology’, they would undoubtedly illicit a reaction. Contrary to popular opinion, it may not always be that of fear-induced negativity, but rather an increasing acceptance of how digital media can enhance what academics already do. Teaching and research are the bread and butter of the academic profession and both are becoming increasingly entwined with the world of online dissemination. One need look no further than the importance attached to pubic engagement elements of research; much of it achieved through the streaming of events, the writing of blog posts, the recording of TV shows and podcasts, never mind the casual posts, rants, and streams of consciousness so prevalent on social media.

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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Online Resources

Written by Megan Kelleher.

As COVID-19 continues to be a key discussion point worldwide, the heritage sector is continuing to adapt to suit the needs of the public. One such organisation is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who care for the graves and memorials of the 1.7 million men and women who died in the armed forces of the British Empire during the First and Second World Wars. While the CWGC’s work is often at the forefront of much of the commemorative services for key anniversaries of the two World Wars, much of the day to day work it conducts has only recently begun to be told to the public through their website and ever-increasing social media presence. Their digital output has grown dramatically in light of the current crisis, and details of a selection of some of these online resources are detailed below:

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War, Media and Society: Online Resources

Written by Kate Docking.

In light of the closure of libraries and archives around the word, generated by the current COVID-19 crisis, many historians are now utilising online resources for research purposes. For the study of the history of war, media, society, there is a wealth of enriching digital material at our fingertips; much of which is free to access and can be used at any time, from anywhere. A selection of these resources, which include online courses, archives, journals and magazines, blogs, podcasts, and online lectures, is detailed below.

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Annual Lecture 2019/20: Brief Encounters: Grieving and Remembering the Dead in Post-War Britain

Written by Ellena Matthews

On 29 January 2020, the Centre for War, Media and Society had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Lucy Noakes (Essex) to the University of Kent to present their annual lecture. The lecture coincided with the release of Professor Noakes’ new publication Dying for the Nation: Death, Grief and Bereavement in Second World War Britain.

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Spaces of War: Spatial Perspectives of Modern War and Conflict, Conference Report

Written by Oliver Parken.

Space plays a central role in the conduct and experience of war. Combat and violence are words which bring immediate associations to physical and imagined space––the First World War and the visceral imagery of the ‘Western Front’, for example. Yet as warfare transformed and expanded during the twentieth-century, so too did its spatial dimensions.  Organised jointly by Oliver Parken and Ellie Matthews, ‘Spaces of War: Spatial Perspectives of Modern War and Conflict’ sought to question the relationship between space and place in the context of modern warfare––exposing the myriad ‘sites’ through which space runs as a conceptual theme for scholars working on modern war and conflict. Although it was anticipated the event would stretch across a range of contexts, particularly in terms of time and culture, the final programme of papers focused on the twentieth-century and the experience/aftermath of the World Wars.

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Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age

Reviewed by Edward Corse.

Nick Cull’s introduction to Public Diplomacy is a great primer for practitioners of the art of influencing the people of other countries. This book builds on the overview of public diplomacy which the author created for the Foreign Office a decade ago, expanding its single chapter to eight and updating the argument for the digital age.  The volume brings together Cull’s expertise from his background as a historian and his more contemporary understanding of how governments today operate in this sphere in the digital age.

Cull calls this ‘public diplomacy’, a widely recognised term for this type of activity. However, its usage is in itself a matter of debate which Cull tackles head on. He starts with an interesting discussion about the term and alternatives which could be, and are, used by other scholars and practitioners. He dismisses the idea that public diplomacy is the same as propaganda. Cull writes ‘[p]ropaganda is about dictating your message to an audience and persuading them you are right. Public diplomacy is about listening to the other side and working to develop a relationship of mutual understanding’ (p. 1). Cull considers alternatives that are used by various authorities including ‘strategic communication’, ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘influence diplomacy’. All of these he suggests contain ‘baggage’ of some sort – with public diplomacy being the ‘least worst term’ (p. 2).

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Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans in 1945

Reviewed by Charlie Hall.

The question at the heart of Florian Huber’s book is: why did so many ‘ordinary Germans’ take their own lives at the end of the Second World War, in an act of mass suicide which has no parallel in modern conflict? There is no doubt that this is an important question, and one which promises to shed new light on the personal stories and experiences of individuals who lived (and died) in the Nazi age of extremes. However, while Huber’s work is a compelling, and often powerful, collection of stories, it struggles to reach a conclusion which satisfactorily answers this main question.

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Reflections on the Christmas Truce: Myth, Football and the Christmas of 1914

Written by Natasha Silk.

The Christmas Truce forms one of the central focal points for the modern memory and commemorations of the First World War. Terri Blom Crocker in her exploration of the subject, has suggested that behind this myth that all soldiers ceased hostilities in rebellion against war is actually a complicated story. She argues that through its mythology and position in modern memory it has become a reflection of modern anti-war sentiment. Within the cultural memory of this event, the idea that British and German soldiers played football up and down the frontline is the dominant narrative. As Stanley Weintraub explored in Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 (2001), there is evidence to suggest that there were a number of football matches in no man’s land between the British and the Germans, however, it was not widespread. Weintraub pointed to examples where the Germans refused to participate and the British played the matches alone. Yet, the idea that soldiers ceased hostilities and played football during the season of peace and goodwill to all men holds a certain charm for modern audiences. It allows for the myths and widespread interpretations which have existed since the war to endure. This being, that the soldiers of 1914 were just ordinary men fighting a war that they did not want, forced to fight by politicians who did not understand, or care, about the horrors of war.

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Censorship and Propaganda in World War I: A Comprehensive History

Reviewed by Pip Gregory.

Eberhard Demm’s Censorship and Propaganda takes on a vast task in attempting to provide a comprehensive insight into First World War propaganda. There is an abundance available out there, across all combatant nations, and its relationship with censorship adds further levels of complexity. There are studies that address aspects thereof, but tying that all together is a daunting task. Demm’s new book builds upon his fabulous articles for the online encyclopaedia 1914-1918, plus a number of other works. This new and highly comprehensive volume presents a depth of analysis around propaganda; its design, influence and those who controlled and contributed to it, as well as considering its impact, and legacy that has otherwise been lacking in other studies. Naturally, within Demm’s study of both censorship and propaganda there are aspects for which there is more evidence available, namely the propaganda, and others less so, but what evidence Demm has found he has utilised effectively to demonstrate the value of the widespread of wartime propaganda and its partner in (avoiding) crime, censorship.

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Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice

Reviewed by Kate Docking.

Reckonings, authored by Mary Fulbrook, analyses the various implications of Nazi atrocities on both an individual and state level. A key aspect of the book explores how the judicial punishment of those involved in National Socialist persecution in the decades following the war could vary vastly between states. The stories of Rudolf Zimmerman and Walter Thormeyer provide a particularly poignant example of this. Zimmerman lived a seemingly innocuous life before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Residing in a village near the city of Mielec in Poland, Zimmerman helped his father’s farming business. When the SS came to Mielec, Zimmerman soon became involved in Nazi atrocities; he murdered Jews, and was later also involved in selections and deportations. After the war, Zimmerman became a ‘model’ socialist citizen in East Germany; he even acquired awards for his work. However, Zimmerman’s dark past soon caught up with him. He was arrested by East German authorities in 1966, put on trial, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967. Walter Thormeyer, who was Zimmerman’s superior during the war, was tried in West Germany, and received a lesser sentence; he was condemned to twelve years in prison, in spite of the copious amount of evidence pertaining to his participation in murderous crimes. The cases of Thormeyer and Zimmerman are reflective of how East and West Germany often adopted different approaches to the handling of those involved in Nazi crimes; harsher punishments were (generally) dealt out in the GDR, whereas the Federal Republic embodied a more lenient approach.

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