Centre for the History of War and Society

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Discovering WW1 History Department Widening Participation Project: Discovering the First World War

To what extent was the First World War a global conflict? What effect did it have on Brighton? These were the questions posed by the Widening Participation project 'Discovering the First World War' to groups of secondary school students during the recent spring semester.

 

Organised by Dr Claudia Siebrecht and Dr Jacob Norris and run in cooperation with the University’s Widening Participation division, Discovering the First World War aimed to examine the impact of the First World War on the local community in Brighton with a particular focus on how the global nature of the conflict came home to Brighton. The city’s proximity to the French coast and its designated status as a hub of imperial communications ensured it was transformed during the war. Soldiers from all over the world introduced a host of new influences during this period from baseball to Indian poetry.

Discovering WW1In order to gauge how local people experienced these influences, an audit of the archives held in The Keep was undertaken during the summer of 2014 by two recent History graduates – Flo Pollock and Natasha Silk – working on a Junior Research Associate (JRA) scheme for an initial period of two weeks. Following their successful identification of large numbers of relevant documents, the project moved into its next phase. Between October and December 2014, two History MA students - Angelica Arroyo and Kasia Tomasiewicz – and two current 3rd year History undergraduates – Grace Kelly and Eibhlin Priestley – carried out more detailed research in The Keep, identifying resources and ordering them into clear themes around which the project could be built. The results of this research were hundreds of pages of documents that related to four key themes; ‘The Costs of War’, ‘Everyday Life in Brighton’, ‘Prisoners of War’ and ‘Aliens and Empire’.

This material consisted of letters, industry reports, newspapers and photographs covering such subjects as Indian soldiers in Brighton, conscientious objectors, and initiatives between wounded soldiers and local children. These items were then digitised by the Project Manager – Dr Chris Kempshall - and collated into a virtual archive that could then be reproduced to provide a bespoke insight into the First World War in Brighton.

Discovering WW1In March 2015 three workshops were run using the newly created archive. These workshops involved one school from London –The Norwood School – alongside two local Brighton schools: Longhill and Cardinal Newman. Each workshop lasted for four hours, giving year 10 secondary school students the opportunity to dig into the new archive and discover how the First World War impacted on the city of Brighton and its surroundings. The four History students who had undertaken the research – Angelica, Kasia, Grace and Eibhlin - each participated in these sessions along with other undergraduate and MA students from the department. They acted as mentors for the secondary school students, helping them critically engage with the material to understand both the global nature of the war but also the constructed nature of historical records.

By the end of each workshop the school students had constructed their own illustrative case studies to explain how the First World War had impacted on both the people and the place of Brighton and to discuss how their own knowledge of the war had now changed and expanded to understand its global nature. The feedback from both the students and their teachers was overwhelmingly positive. As one of the students commented, “I enjoyed this activity because it was hands-on with a topic I find interesting”. Another student wrote, “I learnt about how the war isn’t confined to Britain, France and Germany. So many more countries and influences were involved”. Some of them even told us they are now considering a history degree at Sussex! Various plans are underway to make these workshops a regular fixture of the History Department calendar, as well as bring the archive to new audiences in the local area.

Chris Kempshall and Jacob Norris, April 2015