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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Allied Communication to the Public during the Second World War: National and Transnational Networks

Reviewed by Will Butler.

This edited collection, which covers a diverse range of inter-related subjects, is a triumph, and a welcome collection to the study of the use of propaganda during the Second World War. It brings together a diverse range of scholars (both established and early career), who all tackle their subjects with aplomb, taking the reader on an exploration of their individual areas of study, without losing sight of the overall theme of the collection.

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Dying for the Nation: Death, Grief and Bereavement in Second World War Britain

Reviewed by Ellena Matthews.

Over the last 30 years an increasing number of historians have explored the social and cultural history of death in the twentieth century. Lucy Noakes’ Dying for the Nation builds upon these studies to show that an analysis of death in wartime enhances our understanding of the Second World War. Through examining how death impacts upon individuals, communities and the state, Noakes illustrates that the management of death, grief and bereavement shaped the impact of wartime loss during the war years and in the immediate post-war period.

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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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