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Evidence, History and the Great War

Evidence, History and the Great War: Historians and the Impact of 1914-18

Edited by Gail Braybon
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Evidence, History and the Great War
    Book Description:

    In the English-speaking world the Great War maintains a tenacious grip on the public imagination, and also continues to draw historians to an event which has been interpreted variously as a symbol of modernity, the midwife to the twentieth century and an agent of social change. Although much 'common knowledge' about the war and its aftermath has included myth, simplification and generalisation, this has often been accepted uncritically by popular and academic writers alike.

    While Britain may have suffered a surfeit of war books, many telling much the same story, there is far less written about the impact of the Great War in other combatant nations. Its history was long suppressed in both fascist Italy and the communist Soviet Union: only recently have historians of Russia begun to examine a conflict which killed, maimed and displaced so many millions. Even in France and Germany the experience of 1914-18 has often been overshadowed by the Second World War.

    The war's social history is now ripe for reassessment and revision. The essays in this volume incorporate a European perspective, engage with the historiography of the war, and consider how the primary textural, oral and pictorial evidence has been used - or abused. Subjects include the politics of shellshock, the impact of war on women, the plight of refugees, food distribution in Berlin and portrait photography, all of which illuminate key debates in war history.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-183-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Note on Terminology
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-29)

    14–18: Retrouver la Guerreis the title Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker chose for their recent book on France and the Great War.¹ The word ‘retrouver’ can be translated as ‘recovering’, ‘regaining’, ‘refinding’, and more. It implies that something has been lost – and Audoin-Rouzeau and Becker do indeed discuss the war’s neglect in French national history – but also that this is an event to be looked at again, afresh. This is not a feeling confined to France. The 1914–18 War is seen as ripe for reconsideration and analysis amongst historians of other nations too. The organisers...

  6. 1 ‘Though in a Picture Only’: Portrait Photography and the Commemoration of the First World War
    (pp. 30-47)
    Catherine Moriarty

    The First World War memorial at Houilles, north west of Paris, takes the form of a high platform; upon it at one end a uniformed soldier, who is about to walk away and join his comrades, turns to gesture farewell to his child, who with a mirroring outstretched arm stands with its mother at the other end (Figure 1.1). The most striking feature of this memorial is the way in which the composition emphasises the space in between the soldier and his family. The spectator knows that this space, although barely a few feet, represents separation. In the instance depicted,...

  7. 2 Making Spectaculars: Museums and how we remember Gender in Wartime
    (pp. 48-66)
    Deborah Thom

    ‘Memory makers’ is what Suzanne Brandt calls museums and exhibitions of the First World War, and Gaynor Kavanagh suggests that museums make history, as well as shaping memory.¹ These authors have elegantly demonstrated some of the ways in which posterity’s sense of the experience of war is shaped by its public presentation, in glass cases, away from the dangers and excitements of the battlefield. They have also pointed out how material objects are an essential part of such presentation, which is never merely didactic or moralistic but includes the real thing in the shape of the kit the soldier wears,...

  8. 3 British ‘War Enthusiasm’ in 1914: a Reassessment
    (pp. 67-85)
    Adrian Gregory

    For over eighty years there has been a largely unexamined assumption about British popular attitudes at the outbreak of the First World War. Arthur Marwick summarises it succinctly, ‘British society in 1914 was strongly jingoistic and showed marked enthusiasm for the outbreak of war.’¹ Images of cheering crowds outside Buckingham Palace, of long lines outside recruiting offices and of soldiers marching away singing ‘Tipperary’ dominate folk memory. Peter Parker states the Government’s decision to enter the war was ‘a popular one and there is a feeling for some that it seemed that the holiday was to be extended indefinitely.’² Noel...

  9. 4 Winners or Losers: Women’s Symbolic Role in the War Story
    (pp. 86-112)
    Gail Braybon

    Robert Wohl, in his book on the so-called ‘lost generation’ of 1914, begins by inviting his readers to consider the myth:

    Generation of 1914 – close your eyes and a host of images leaps to mind: of students packing off to war with flowers in their rifles and patriotic songs on their lips, too young, too innocent to suspect what bloody rites of passage awaited them; of trench fighters whose twisted smiles and evasive glances revealed a close companionship with death …¹

    These images are important, for:

    [They] have a privileged place in our conception of the early twentieth century....

  10. 5 Liberating Women? Examining Gender, Morality and Sexuality in First World War Britain and France
    (pp. 113-134)
    Susan Grayzel

    In an image (Figure 5.1) appearing in the British periodical theBystanderin April 1918, two young women in the foreground are pictured smoking.¹ One of them, a window cleaner carrying a ladder and pail but wearing high-heeled shoes, helps the other woman, a bus conductress in a uniform consisting of a short skirt and puttees, to light her cigarette. In the background, a faint outline of an elderly woman in bonnet, shawl and nineteenth-century dress is seen collapsing in a younger woman’s arms. The caption below reads ‘“Oh! My Grandmother!” In her time girlswouldbe girls: but now...

  11. 6 The Great War and Gender Relations: the Case of French Women and the First World War Revisited
    (pp. 135-153)
    James McMillan

    In the 1970s and much of the 1980s, scholarly debate on the impact of the First World War on women centred largely on women’s ‘emancipation’, however that was defined. Most of the protagonists in the debate were historians who were influenced by either the rise of the ‘new social history’, or the emergence after 1968 of ‘second-wave’ feminism, or, more usually, by both. The research agenda of the relationship between war and social change, turning on the dynamics of the interaction between ‘total war’ and ‘mobilisation’, proved to be a productive one and, enlarged by the perspective of comparative urban...

  12. 7 Mental Cases: British Shellshock and the Politics of Interpretation
    (pp. 154-171)
    Laurinda Stryker

    What was shellshock? The question has been of concern to a wide range of observers and commentators. During the First World War, specialists variously equated shellshock with hereditary degeneracy, with neurological injury, and with nervous disorders; some military men insisted that it did not exist; and poets at times went so far as to view it as war-induced madness – not merely neurosis, but thoroughgoing insanity.¹ Even at the time, there was a tendency to imbue war neurosis with a metaphorical, symbolic dimension. In recent years, as historical examinations of shellshock have proliferated and as cinematic and literary portrayals of...

  13. 8 Food and the German Home Front: Evidence from Berlin
    (pp. 172-197)
    Keith Allen

    Focusing on the management of food supplies in the German capital, this essay considers the social consequences of war. Specifically, in the realm of food policy I show how German civil authorities between 1914 and 1918 forged alliances with segments of the urban public. This perspective allows me to challenge interpretations that attribute Germany’s loss in the First World War to the nation’s ostensibly undemocratic political culture.

    This essay draws attention to the paradoxical effects of wartime scarcity. As a diverse group of scholars have rightly insisted, hard times in wartime Germany engendered conflict. The inability of the German government...

  14. 9 The Epic and the Domestic: Women and War in Russia, 1914–1917
    (pp. 198-215)
    Peter Gatrell

    In her excellent recent collection of essays on gender and identity in war and peace, Billie Melman urges historians to transcend conventional views concerning the emancipatory potential (or otherwise) for women of total war, and to focus instead on contextualised discourses of gender. Such an approach, she maintains, will yield fresh insights into the ways in which the experiences of women were depicted in relation to those of men. In particular, it will encourage historians to elaborate the ways in which wartime discourse was connected to broader contemporary anxieties, notably about nation and ‘race’.¹

    Whatever opinion one holds of the...

  15. 10 Italian Women During the Great War
    (pp. 216-238)
    Simonetta Ortaggi

    Our memory of Italian women’s experience of the Great War has been influenced by Fascism in a number of ways. In the first place, Fascism liquidated the most energetic and militant Italian women who had opposed the war both in the countryside and the cities. Secondly, Fascism absorbed and undermined the drive towards emancipation which was inherent in movements such as the women’s Red Cross.¹ In addition, Fascism marked not only a serious step backwards for women and for the consciousness which had emerged during the war years, but more generally it purged the political and ideological debate, previously dominated...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 239-240)
  17. Index
    (pp. 241-248)