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CFP: ‘Keep Smiling Through’: British Humour and the Second World War

Two-day interdisciplinary symposium – 12/13 September 2019

University of Kent

In conjunction with Special Collections and Archive, home to the British Cartoon Archive

In wartime, as circumstances become increasingly bleak with military losses and civilian deaths mounting, something very distinctive happens to humour. There is an evident demand for an opportunity to laugh: a release from the increased working hours, the separation from loved ones, the dual burdens of work and maintaining a household, the fear of sustaining battle wounds and death. Indeed, war and comedy are intimately connected. In the Second World War, variety shows which included comedy sketches and humorous songs performed for servicemen provided an essential means of respite from both the boredom and the horror of battle, while home front popular culture, in the form of radio programmes, feature films, documentary films, newsreels, cartoons and songs, parodied the conflict and were crucial morale-boosters as the war evolved into a protracted struggle. But it was more than just a coping strategy and a form of escapism; it was also a key element of ‘Britishness’. As Sonya Rose asserts, humour served to define British national character, much of which was constructed in opposition to the humourless Nazis. And of course since 1945, the Second World War has sparked the imagination of scriptwriters. Unlike the First World War, the cultural memory of the later war is replete with stories about the conflict that use humour as a device.

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Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Collaborators: Conference Report

Written by Kate Docking. There has been a lack of meaningful scholarly engagement with the utility of the terms ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’, ‘bystanders’ and ‘collaborators’ as historical concepts. Too often, the word ‘perpetrator’ is used by historians without any explanation as to its meaning. But what exactly makes a ‘perpetrator’? How do we define a victim? Have the connotations of these terms changed over time or been overly politicised? Is it the job of the historian…

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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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