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.
From Waterloo to the Rhine: The British Army 1815-1945 is a free FutureLearn online course developed by two historians; Dr Mario Draper (University of Kent) and Dr William Butler (The National Archives). The course is open to anyone, with no prior experience or qualifications required, and has a duration of four weeks and a weekly study time of four hours. The course is also very interactive; the message boards provide a great platform for sharing ideas, enabling connections between those interested in military history. Those who complete the course will ultimately gain a comprehensive understanding of the British Army’s development. The course is available to start now, and you can register for it here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/waterloo-to-the-rhine
Another stimulating online course is the First World War: trauma and memory. Offered by the Open University and lasting for a duration of three weeks, this course explores physical and mental trauma during the First World War, focusing on the effects of the war on both combatants and civilians. Representations of the trauma of the First World War in art and literature is also an area of study. While some knowledge of the conflict might be useful to understand the context of some parts of the course, it is not required, and the course is free to participate in. You can sign up for it here now: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/the-first-world-war-trauma-and-memory/content-section-overview?active-tab=description-tab The International Encyclopaedia of the First World War could be utilised in tandem with this course; you can access it here: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/home/.
The National Archives have digitised many of their collections pertaining to war, media and society. You can select areas of interest on the online search catalogue, linked here: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/?research-category=online. British Army casualty lists, war diaries, service records and prisoner of war interview reports are among the sources accessible online, to name but a few. Records are free to download online. Another organisation with a comprehensive online archive is The Imperial War Museum. The IWM’s digitised material includes photographs, posters, and oral histories. You can search through their collections based on the period your search word is related to (for example, ‘Second World War’) and select a category (for example, ‘Posters’). I found the story of Kathleen Wigham, a British conscientious objector during the Second World War, to be very interesting (not least because it opened my eyes to the fact that women, as well as men, were conscientious objectors during the Second World War!). You can access it here: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80004720. You can use the IWM’s catalogue via this link: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections.
If you’re interested in utilising newspapers for research purposes, 36,773,050 is the incredible number of newspaper pages digitised by the British Newspaper Archive, offering a huge scope for research pertaining to war, media and society. You can access a range of different newspapers, such as the Liverpool Echo and the Belfast Telegraph; this archive is ideal if you are conducting research confined to a specific geographical area. The BNA’s chronological timespan is from 1770 to the present. You can view three pages for free when you sign up and, for £6.67 a month, you can access an unlimited number of pages. It is also worth checking whether your university is signed up. I used this archive extensively for my Master’s dissertation on the representation of female Holocaust perpetrators in British newspapers. You can access the BNA at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
Ever been curious about how war has been discussed in the British parliament? If so, then the Hansard archive, with digitised debates from 1803 onwards, is a fitting online resource. You can access the archive at https://hansard.parliament.uk/. To give a further indication of how this particular archive might be used, Ellis Spicer, a member of the Centre for War, Media and Society, utilised the Hansard archive to discover when the word ‘Holocaust’ was first used in parliamentary debates, as part of research for her PhD thesis about Holocaust survivor associations in the UK. On a related note, if you’re interested in testimony given by survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides, then the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive is an invaluable resource for scholars of genocide. Founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 with the aim of taping and preserving interviews with survivors of the Holocaust, the archive now has over 55,000 video testimonies pertaining to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide, and other genocides. Kent (and other universities) subscribe to this resource, and some of the testimonies – 3,000 in total – are open access. All you have to do is register to view them. See http://sfi.usc.edu/what-we-do/collections
Another excellent platform for online research on the Holocaust is digital resources collection of the Wiener Holocaust Library, accessible via https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/Digital-Resources. The Wiener Library is one of the world’s leading and most comprehensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era. The Holocaust Explained (https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/) managed by the Wiener Library, is a very useful resource aimed at teachers; it provides a comprehensive introduction to the Holocaust and has a vast collection of primary sources from the Library’s archive. The Library have produced a blog post detailing their online resources: https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/Blog?item=434&returnoffset=0. Another library with some useful online resources is The British Library, which has a free online collection of a multitude of different resources pertaining to the First World War, including articles authored by historians and a broad range of primary sources. You can access these sources at: https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one. For example, you can view the papers of Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse Rose Mary Savage here: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/documents-of-vad-nurse-rose-mary-savage. This collection thus offers plenty of scope for researching how particular individuals experienced the First World War.
Primary Source Collections
The Nazi Concentration Camps, developed by Professor Nikolaus Wachsmann at Birkbeck University of London, is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the Nazi concentration camps. The collection of different primary sources – ranging from written documents to videos – cover a wide range of topics, including camp perpetrators, relations between inmates in the camps, and the liberation of the camps. How Margarete Buber-Neumann, a former prisoner at Ravensbrück, perceived the female guards who worked at the camp is very interesting: ‘And many of them changed out of all recognition once they got into uniform. Top boots and a forage cap stuck out at an angle on their heads gave them a feeling of confidence and superiority’. You can access Buber-Neumann’s complete account at http://www.camps.bbk.ac.uk/documents.html, and you can view the rest of the collection for free at http://www.camps.bbk.ac.uk/. Another invaluable source relating to the history of the Third Reich (and German history since 1500 in general) is German History in Documents and Images, accessible via http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/.
Between June 2003 and January 2006, the BBC asked the public to contribute their memories of the Second World War to a website. The result is 47,000 stories and 15,000 images hosted on a website entitled ‘World War Two People’s War, that you can view, for free, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/. While it is not possible to search through the collection, it is usefully organised into sections that cover different aspects of life during the Second World War, such as ‘Bombing and the Blitz’. For example, the account of Irene Joan Russell, who was a member of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) and worked at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker during the war is very interesting (https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/07/a2907407.shtml). This is a fantastic resource; it is particularly useful for anyone interested in how people have articulated their memories of war.
The blog on which this overview of online resources is posted, Munitions for the Mind, has a wealth of posts pertaining to war, media and society, including book reviews of the latest cutting-edge work in the field, and reports about conferences and guest lectures, authored by both members of the Centre and guest bloggers. You can access the blog at https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/munitions-of-the-mind/. If you’re interested in reading about a specific aspect of military history, then I would recommend the research blog of the Defence Studies Department at Kings College London, Defence in Depth. The blog publishes a number of articles pertaining to the issues behind defence, many of which offer a perspective on contemporary events. See https://defenceindepth.co/about/. A very interesting recent article, authored by aviation historian Victoria Taylor, discusses the National Socialist Flyers Corps; the ‘preparatory school’ intended for the Luftwaffe during the Third Reich. You can read it using this link: https://defenceindepth.co/2019/07/12/fledgings-of-the-third-reich-the-national-socialist-flyers-corps/.
Balloons to Drones is an online scholarly platform that discusses different aspects of air power history, theory, and contemporary operations. This website offers articles, book reviews, and podcasts, all for free. See https://balloonstodrones.com/
The classic radio programme ‘In Our Time’ has a number of episodes pertaining to war, covering topics such as the history of modern warfare and the term ‘Just War’. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl. HistoryExtra (https://www.historyextra.com/article-type/podcast/) also has some great podcasts; there’s an interesting recent one about the role of women in war over time: https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-history/women-warriors-female-ancient-war-what-role-did-they-play-podcast/. I can also recommend a podcast with Richard Evans and Mary Fulbrook about the legacies of the Holocaust: https://www.historyextra.com/period/20th-century/legacies-holocaust-mary-fulbrook-richard-j-evans-podcast/. Historians hailing from the Centre for War, Media and Society at the University of Kent, Dr Mario Draper and Dr Charlie Hall have recently launched their own military history podcast. You can view the episodes here:
Episode 1: War and Empire
Episode 2: Europe between the Wars
Open Access Journals and Magazines
If you’re unable to access a physical copy of a book, sometimes reading a review of it can be the next best thing, and Reviews in History (https://reviews.history.ac.uk/) has a variety of open-access book reviews pertaining to war, media and society. Some of the members of the Centre for War, Media and Society here at Kent have written reviews! One of the latest reviews at the time of writing this post is Dr Adam Timmins review of Tim Bouverie’s new book Appeasing Hitler (https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/2380). The world-leading History magazine, History Today, has an ongoing essay series entitled Miscellanies. A free essay is released every Thursday; often the themes of these essays are connected to conflict, media and society. You can subscribe to have the essay sent to you every week. You can access Miscellanies using this link: https://www.historytoday.com/miscellanies. The British Journal for Military History is open-access; Sarah Ashbridge’s recent article entitled ‘Military Identification: Identity Discs and the Identification of British War Dead, 1914-1918’ is an example of the fascinating pieces you can read. See http://bjmh.gold.ac.uk/article/view/1359/1499
Historian Dan Hill is currently organising a ‘History from Home’ series of free online talks about military history which take place every Wednesday, live at 7.30pm. The subjects of the webinars are diverse, ranging from the Battle of the Somme to the Boer War. To find out more, go to https://www.danhillmilitaryhistorian.com/historyfromhome. You can also catch up with some of the previous talks via this link: https://www.danhillmilitaryhistorian.com/archive. Kate Jamieson, who specialises in naval history, recently gave a fascinating talk about the Battle of Trafalgar that you can access on this page.
There are also some fascinating lectures pertaining to the history of war, media and society available to watch, for free, on the Gresham College website. See https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch/?subject=history
While cultural sites are now closed due to coronavirus, you can still visit some history museums virtually! The Dunkirk 1940 museum is physically located in Fort Luton in Kent, but you can access it online at http://dunkirk1940.org/index.php?p=1_3_the-museum. You can also take a virtual tour of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam using this link: https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/secret-annex/.
Other tips for accessing resources:
In addition to looking at the online resources detailed above, here are some other tips that might help you access the sources you’d like to look at:
Ask the author: Sometimes it’s worth e-mailing the author of the article you’d like to read but don’t have access too, as people are often very pleased to hear that you are interested in their work, and will send you a copy of the article in PDF form.
Ask Twitter: I’m always happy to send over any articles I have access to via my institution to anyone, and others are often willing to do the same, so it’s worth putting a ‘call out’ on Twitter for the article or book chapter that you require, and someone might be able to send you a copy.
Think creatively: You might not be able to access the specific source you wanted, but is there another similar source you could look at? Sometimes analysing alternative sources can broaden your perspective, adding another dimension to your work.
In the current climate, it is expected that there’s going to be some disruption to research, and it’s important to ultimately prioritise your own health and wellbeing in these difficult and uncertain times.
Kate Docking is a PhD candidate in the Centre for the History of War, Media and Society and in the Centre for the History of Medicine. She is a member of the editorial team for Munitions of the Mind, and writes regularly for the blog.
Image Credit: 78 Keys by Alan Levine/Flickr, License: CC0 1.0 (Public Domain).