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Munitions of the Mind Posts

“The rockets, dearie? Can’t say I’ve ever noticed them” – Londoners respond to the V-2

By Charlie Hall

Asking a historian to choose their favourite primary source is a cruel assignment indeed. Any piece of historical scholarship we embark on necessarily involves engagement with a great volume of primary material, especially those of us who work on the abundantly well-documented modern period. With whichever primary sources we look at, we hope that we will gain an insight into the past – not just how events unfolded, or why, but also how contemporaries reacted to these developments. This enables us to humanise historical actors and witnesses and to draw out their stories in a way that has resonance for modern readers.

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The Story of Propaganda in 50 Images

Reviewed by Tim Luckhurst

It was his genius in war, not propaganda, that ensured King Alexander III of Macedon (356-323 BC) would be remembered as Alexander the Great. But Alexander appreciated the power of reputation. He had himself depicted on coins as the son of Zeus and his image was replicated on statues, buildings and pottery. If Boris Johnson’s study of Classics twenty-three centuries later included focus on Alexander’s use of propaganda, Mr Johnson’s approach certainly lacks the ancient Macedonian’s precision.

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‘Back to the Roofs’: The Spatial Propaganda of Munich’s Olympic Stadium

Written by Peter Banks

From 11 to 21 August 2022, the multi-sport European Championships took place at Munich’s Olympic Park. Whilst this event occurs every four years, there is a particular historical resonance for this year’s championships for Munich, and Germany, as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Olympic Games held in Munich. Unfortunately, these Olympic Games will always be tainted by the terrorist attack carried out by the Palestinian group ‘Black September’ on the Israeli athletes in the Olympic village on 5 September 1972. However, the Munich games are also remembered and celebrated for how a new, democratic Germany was presented to the world only twenty-seven years after the end of the Second World War. Effectively utilised as a means of propaganda, the symbolic design of Munich’s Olympic stadium spatially exemplified this message and subsequently became a piece of iconic architecture. This is clearly illustrated by the slogan of this year’s European Championships, ‘Back to the Roofs’.

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From Putin Back to Lenin, and Then Further Back: How Russia Keeps Revisiting the Same Problems, and Why a Different Kind of Realism is Needed

Written by Philip Boobbyer

The problems countries face are often passed on unresolved from one generation to another. Over centuries Russia’s rulers have faced a recurring challenge: how to hold together a multi-ethnic state located across a vast expanse without natural borders. In this context, establishing a stable system of government has proved incredibly hard:  Russia’s imperial ambitions have often conflicted with the needs of nation-building.

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Antiquities in Palestine as Post War Propaganda

Written by Chloe Emmott

Palestine was viewed by most in Britain, and the wider western world, as ‘the Holy Land’, the cradle of Christianity. After Allenby’s victory in 1918 and the creation of the Mandate (1923-1948), the British promoted themselves as worthy protectors of this important heritage for the world, with the press perpetuating propaganda of the British liberating and developing Palestine after ‘it had been ruined by generations of Turkish rule’. (The Scotsman, 31 August 1921).

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Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ and Orientalism

Written by Haifa Mahabir

I hesitated on writing this piece, a critique of Frank Herbert’s seminal contribution to the literatures of speculative fiction. It feels a bit beneath the urgency of the topics we ordinarily lend our time to in lensing the Middle East and Northern Africa—the whole heart-breaking aftermath of foreign imperial ambitions. Our dispossession, and our grief. Our resistance.  A Saidian orientalist  critique of Dune is far too easy. Frank Herbert’s masterpiece of course, regarded as a foundational text of the Science Fiction genre, is inarguably rife with orientalist motifs and imagery.

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Decolonising the Palestine Exploration Fund

Written by Felicity Cobbing, Yasmeen Elkhoudary and Avantika Clark

As historians, we utilise various resources to conduct our research – none as important as the archives we dig around in for those all important “primary sources”. But archives are not neutral spaces. We asked the Palestine Exploration Fund to share with us the way in which they are approaching the idea of decolonisation and what it means for an institution with a colonial history.

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War, Media and the ‘Middle East’

Written by Anne Caldwell

From the very beginning, this special issue was intended to question our academic and media narratives of the “Middle East” (or Southwest Asia) – the Levant and Palestine in particular. From the archives we utilise to the culture we analyse and the news media we consume, our understanding of South-West Asia and North Africa (SWANA) is not without its biases. This has never been clearer than in the current cultural clash over decolonisation, amplified in this moment by the crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

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Tank: War Machine of the Battlefield, War Machine of the Mind

Written by Mark Connelly

As a teenager in the 1980s I was a great fan of Spitting Image. Every Monday morning in school there would be frenzied exchanges of the best lines and sketches. A firm favourite, which has entered the lexicon of my brother and I, was a May Day parade in Red Square. The puppets of the Soviet leadership were becoming mightily bored by the unending display of military might. Suddenly, one piped up with a game declaring, ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with T’ in the great cod-Russian accents which we all knew so well from Cold War spy dramas. A Politburo member got the answer: ‘Tank’ (pronounced, of course, ‘Tenk’). Having won the round, it was his turn, ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with A’. The answer was ‘another tank,’ next it was something beginning with ‘Y’, to which, of course, the response was ‘yet another tank’.

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Misinformation, Mass Observation and the Public Perception of the Norway Campaign, 1940

Written by Charles Taylor

If you ask the modern-day Briton about the Norway campaign of 1940, you will likely be met with a blank face or a simple shrug. Eclipsed by the evacuation of Dunkirk and the fall of France, Britain’s involvement in this theatre has undoubtedly drifted into the background of British memory of the Second World War. Though little known, the campaign holds many significances for the armed forces. Erupting on 9 April 1940 with Germany’s Operation Weserübung, Norway was the first land campaign of the Second World War for Britain, the earliest meeting of British and German troops on the battlefield, the first joint Allied land operation, and the first modern sea, land and air campaign. Despite these considerations, Britain’s military involvement remains all but forgotten, condemned as a humiliating background episode and often glazed over in the history books.

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