Although it is now a full 70 years since the close of the Second World War, there is little sign of a decline in either academic or public interest in the history of the war. In fact, there seems to have emerged a growing interest in the experiences not of those who held commands or public office, but rather of those who served and fought as ordinary soldiers and sailors.
In between small model spitfires and Sherman tank key rings, visitors browsing the shelves of the Imperial War Museum’s gift shop will find their gaze met by the reassuringly familiar smile of a round-faced rag doll, beaming from the side of a tote bag.
For all historians of this last, most violent, century some concern with matters of war and peace has been unavoidable.
In late 1909, a suffragette attacked the Asquith government’s youthful President of the Board of Trade, slashing his face with a whip as he prepared to give a speech in Bristol station. Briefly stunned, he fell toward the station’s tracks at the same moment a train pulled out of the station.
Who was the Welsh soldier of the late Middle Ages? What was the world from which he emerged, and for whom, and against whom, did he fight? Can it be claimed that he made a significant contribution to the way wars were fought during this period?
For more than 75 years the historiographical debate surrounding the appeasement policy of the 1930s has centred upon the notorious 1940 publication Guilty Men, in which a trio of left-leaning British journalists unleashed a vitriolic polemic castigating those men responsible for leading a hopelessly ill-prepared Britain into a catastrophic war.
Sonya Rose’s initial interest in national identity was sparked by the patriotic fervor that burst forth following the declaration of the first Iraq War (1990–1). ‘I wondered at how easily patriotic sentiment and the sense of belonging to a nation under threat – even if that threat was so far away – could be aroused’ (p. 285).
Historians of pretty well every field and period have long acknowledged that historical enquiry cannot (indeed, must not) be limited to describing the actions and experiences of elites.
In the latest of our occasional Reviews in History podcast series, Daniel Snowman talks to Professor Roy Foster about his recent book, Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923, as well as issues surrounding Anglo-Irish history, historiography and biography.
The social history of the navy is a rapidly developing field and there is a recent trend for studies which seek to uncover the complex and varied personal experiences of officers and sailors, as well as to trace broader trends in cultural representation.