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Are you interested in gaining an insight into the early days of air combat?

Fig.1. World War One: Aviation Comes of Age

This free, open, interactive and connected online course is about to start. It runs for only three weeks and will take a couple of hours a week to do, a little longer to take part in, and as long as you like to indulge.

From First World War

Fig. 2. Gustav Hammel – an early aeronaut who my grandfather saw fly in age 13

I’m doing it to refresh my knowledge from my late grandfather who say the very earliest aviators as a boy and then after 18 months as a machine gunner on the Western Front successfully transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to train as a pilot.

The course is led by a retired former senior RAF officer, Dr Peter Gray with whom I’ve already had a lecture courtesy of the MA in Military History, also with the University of Birmingham. His lecture was on how to read and review a book, and on how to write a competent essay. I’ve been respectively three, then one then ? marks shy of a distinction with my essays so he got me pointed in the right direction.

These courses are known as MOOCs for ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ because courtesy of the Internet they are global and can attract thousands of participants and ‘open’ because they are free to do and talk about … the other two are obvious. An off-putting acronym for a set of rich, multi-media webpages designed for learning? Lord Reith of the BBC, one of the founding fathers of the BBC, would have approved as these MOOCs from FutureLearn entertain, inform and educate.

Anyway, the course is about to start. It is open to anyone, and it is free. So see you there?

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The stunning story of a First World War Tank crew

Fig. 1 Episode 3 of ‘Our World War’

There are many reasons to watch this 45 minute drama made by BBC Documentaries:

1) It is a gripping piece of entertainment that incorporates modern music to help evoke the feelings and tone.

2) The sense of what it meant to take part in this conflict to Britain then, and today, is palpable

3) For a piece of screen writing I can think of little that is so sharp, so succinct, so remarkable …

4) You don’t think of it as a documentary. This isn’t docu-drama, so much as drama that seamlessly includes a few animated maps and subtitles as does many a movie or TV series these days

5) You too will be recommending that people watch it.

6) The series so far is excellent, this episode stands out as brilliant – I was left weeping in sadness and joy, while reflecting the violent conflict, though not on this scale, is still very much a contemporary issue.

7) You have this week to watch it. (What seems to happen then is that towards the end of the series it will be offered as a DVD)

1914 Evening

 Fig.1 Screen grab from a news report style presentation on why Britain went to war 100 years ago / at midnight tonight.

I stumbled upon all of this by chance. Who’d imagine the BBC Parliamentary Channel would produce an evening of documentaries, talks and lectures. Former foreign secretaries reflect on the important role Edward Grey in 1914 took to keep Britain out of a continental conflict. I hope it’s all on the iPlayer as every word is worth sharing.

Did everyone used to speak English with a foreign accent in the past?

Fig.1. Images from my Google Pics gallery

We are collectively being tipped into a centenary marking of the First World War where all ‘foreigners’ speak english with an accent; we have German, Russian, French … we have Serbian and Austro-Hungarian ‘english’. We even have Americans voiced by English actors speaking … english with an American accent.

I remember my son asking if everything was ‘black and white’ in the olden days; that until recently people grew up in a black and white world. Will a young generation watching TV on the centenary of the First World War imagine that language difference is simply a matter of accent?

It’s all compromise and accommodation

It’s very much the BBC perspective: which as the ONLY public service broadcaster the world has tries so hard to represent everyone. I have my say here – Jonathan Vernon on Hastings 1918

WBC anyone?

The World or Globe or Earth or … whatever ‘Broadcasting Company’?

For all or any failings the effort, transparently at least, to strive for ‘truth’ based on evidence of what is going on.

The Open University has been, was and should take the lead. I wonder, with concern that the legacy of Michael Bean has been to trim back too hard and so diminish us to a voice from the corner of the empire.

I hope the next Vice Chancellor will be a global figure. Bill Clinton comes to mind.

‘Read in a subject until you can hear the people speak’.

E H Carr.

It has taken a forty years but I feel I have the voice of the soldier of the First World War – and the officer, and the girlfriends and mothers at home.

Why the BBC series ‘The Great War’ (1964) has not withstood the test of time.

Fig.1 Freeze frame from the ‘Great War’ title sequence

The Great War’ television history series produced by the BBC in the early 1960s has not stood the test of time and so does not warrant broadcast 50 years on. I can give four reasons why it is dated; 1) as an artefact; 2) because of the social context in which the BBC produced and transmitted the series fifty years ago and, 3) how it compares to series produced to mark subsequent commemorative First World War milestones and 4) coverage planned by the BBC for the period 2013-19.

If ‘the work of the historian closely mirrors the society in which he works’ (Carr, 1991) the ‘The Great War’ needs to be seen in the context of the early 1960s when there was an outburst of publications as well as radio, TV and theatre on the First World War. Whilst ‘The Great War’, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the First World War, stood out for the reception it received and audience sizes it should not be seen in isolation.

The BBC producer, Tony Essex, who conceived of and produced ‘The Great War’, was not an historian, but a hands-on filmmaker. (Hanna 2002:02) He devised the thematic approach of ‘The Great War’ and demanded a literary style from its writer (Hanna 2002:35). He saw the series as an epic tragedy, a story ‘as great as that of the Bible. (Hanna 2002:38). He personally ensured the inclusion of ‘the war poets’ even suggesting that a poem commissioned from Siegfried Sassoon would feature in the opening sequence of every episode (Hanna 2002:36). As a ‘creative’ producer his intentions are most clear in Episode 17, where ‘Passchendaele’ is told as a horror story with music that would be fitting in a Hitchcock thriller while the narration describes the hideousness of the worst nightmare – being wounded and slipping off the duckboards to drown in the mud. This is the tragic story that Essex wished to tell; the emotional appeal too strong for a reasoned and object history. The few seconds that is the title sequence, was designed by the producer to be an ‘Alice in Wonderland-like’ tumble down a rabbit hole that lands you on a snarling skull attached to a flesh and cloth tattered body is evocative of what follows, Hanna (2002 pp.38-45). For viewers in 1964, Essex preached to the converted, fuelling the view that the war was a futile waste of young heroic lives. Essex aimed to ‘proselytize, if not instruct’. Hanna (2002:32) writes that the visual and emotional impact carried by the images ‘cemented … war myths already embedded in Britain’s cultural landscape’, something that greatly frustrated the lead writer John Terraine as, overwhelmed by the film’s images and music, audiences missed his revisionist views of Haig and his interpretation of the Somme and Passchendaele as an historian. John Terraine was the lead writer who wrote thirteen of the 26 episodes and co-wrote another two. Keegan (1978 pp. 664-5) describes Terraine as ‘the Enoch Powell of British Military Historians’. The historical adviser Liddell Hart fell out with Terraine and quit the series., Hanna (2002:32) Liddell Hart published his complaints in an open letter in The Times disagreeing with how Terraine portrayed Haig and wrote about the Somme and Passchendaele. Strachan (1991 pp. 41-67) While Danchev states that Terraine is the author of a ‘prevailing orthodoxy’ (Strachan, 1991). Perhaps Correlli Barnett, one of the writers on ‘The Great War’, was right when he said that ‘television history is too superficial and ‘précised’ to be anything other than popularisation.’ Barnett (2006:7)

John Terraine said that writing for TV was different to writing history for print (Hanna 2002:51). Television, especially as broadcast in the early 1960s in Britain was to sit down to view a passing event (Moran, 2013). This rarity helped lodge it in the national psyche. Television is no longer like that.

According to Grieves (2002), Terraine drew largely on the official histories and quasi-official memoirs and according to Hew Strachan, Terraine only saw the war in terms of a ‘westerner.’ For a western audience then, and a British one, in 1964, the lessons and experiences of ‘The Great War’ as expressed satisfied the prevailing beliefs; these would not satisfy the views of a British audience in 2014 that is better educated, increasingly professional and multi-cultural.

It is the interplay of images, music and words that delivers the ‘epic tragedy’ that Essex desired, the impression left with viewers not always that desired by the writers. In Episode 9, whatever John Terraine wanted to say in revisionist terms about Haig fighting a war of attrition, the ‘literary’ prose dramatized by the narration of Sir Michael Redgrave and backed by music composed by Wilfred Josephs that sounds like a pastiche of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for strings Op. 11 leaves viewers with this sense of ‘futility and loss’ (Hanna, 2002:7) – the overwhelming feelings experienced by audiences. For an historical perspective, although ideas such as ‘Britain’s new army was growing old and wise in battle’, (Disc 4) were well grounded, the choice of images from the archive footage that the production team were limited to, made it are hard idea either to show, or to convince others of, for this different production techniques and approaches would be required, for example the conflicting views of historians openly debated, something future programmes on the First World War would do. Only through pausing and replaying a DVD can you wonder about such lines as these: ‘Every citizen fought his private war of independence when he decided to uproot from Europe’, which rather ignores the population that was already there, or African-Americans who had been taken there as slaves; or how to stirring and patriotic Elgar-like music we learn of the role of the US ‘Making the world safe for democracy’ and ‘Fighting for the Anglo-Saxon race to save the world.’ In 1964 the cold war threatened the world, and such lines would be evocative for audiences then, that they could be in 2014.

In 2014 the audience, not the press are the ‘produsers’ – (Bruns, 2006) they both ‘produce’ and ‘use’ digital media; they are the reviewers and where they find fault or points of contention they will stop, review, scrutinise, compose their thoughts and share online. If broadcast ‘The Great War’ would generate considerable debate though it is doubtful that viewers would conclude, with the exception of A.A. Gill and his Sunday Times readers, that it has ‘stood the test of time’. A.A.Gill is critical of anything on the First World War that is not ‘The Great War’. (Hanna, 2002:55) For the fiftieth anniversary of the First World War, as for subsequent anniversaries of note, ‘The Great War’ was commissioned as public commemoration on Britain’s public service TV channel – it also made history as a piece of programme making. (Hanna, 2002:10) Four component parts equate to the experience of viewers fifty years ago: the words, the images, the music and where viewed.

The words, spoken and brought to life by benighted British Thespians such as Sir Michael Redgrave give it an ‘establishment’ tone worthy of a sermon from the pulpit. The audience are supposed to listen and not question the facts or the views. These words are evocative of a different era. The words jar to modern ears, for example, in Episode 13, Terraine wrote:’ ‘The British regiments marched to catastrophe. These were Lord Kitchener’s volunteers. The eager, enthusiastic, physical, spiritual elite of the British race.’ While in Episode 15, Gordon Watkins and John Williams wrote: ‘The Senegalese, their chocolate faces grey with cold, were unable even to load their rifles. Caught between German artillery and their own fire they fled the field.’ And in Episode 16, Alistair Horn writes of: ‘Fighting for the Anglo-Saxon Race to save the world”. While in Episode 22, the soundtrack features bombastic trumpets as the bombardment starts ahead of the Americans going in with John Terraine’s words ‘A blood transfusion on a scale never dreamt of now began’.

These are words narrated by actors, not delivered by broadcasters or from the mouth of a subject matter expert. Where there are interviews some of the participants appear to have been schooled or to have learnt their lines; effort by some is made to speak in a Reithian ‘BBC English’. Over the last fifty years regional accents have been celebrated and authenticity in interviews, especially in documentaries or news reporting, managed and edited so as not to suggest any tampering with the words spoken or opinions expressed.

The images were limited to those from the era – indicating why so little is said on the Royal Flying Corps, as there was little to show. (Hanna, 2002:47) This may also suggest why so little is said about the soldiers as conscripts rather than volunteers – they made up 50.3% of the British Expeditionary Force. (Hanna, 2002:48) Finding footage to fill nearly seventeen hours resulted in compromise – the producer is left being unable to say what cannot be illustrated. Episode One, for example, suffers from either starting or indulging the view that Europe was basking in a tranquil summer – the calm before the storm. Since 1964 the techniques for historical documentary making have developed so that greater credence can be given to the history. The BBC co-production 1914-18, (Hanna, 2002:54) transmitted in 1989, had a panel of historians advising and writing for a shorter series that is Euro-centric and puts the conflict in context in a more objective, informed and open manner. It’s approach that shows how the history documentary genre has moved on, especially having international markets for the programme in mind and so implying that ‘The Great War’ has not stood the test of time. In Episode 19, we are shown a curiously drawn Map of the world that self-evidently gives more significance to some countries and less to others … a dubious representation of the actual geographical the world as the narrator reads while the narrator reads ‘It was a world war now, few countries of any stature were able to stand aside’. Such views would jar with a British audience in 2014. Some subsequent TV productions have done worse, for example, ‘World War One in Colour’, (Hanna, 2002:56) but ‘The Great War’ used footage shot to cover the Somme in 1916 to illustrate events across the period 1914-18. For editorial reasons ‘The Great War’ says nothing of the Armenian genocide and glosses over the French Mutiny, by doing so the orientation taken by Essex is clearly a British perspective.
As an historic artefact ‘The Great War’ was corrupted by the production process. For example, footage shot to cover the Battle of the Somme, from soldiers going into the trenches, to the wounded returning and prisoners of war, is used repeatedly to illustrate the events of 1914–18 not just of 1916 – an approach that would be considered unprofessional today and open to criticism. Filming was limited by access to the action and tainted as the authorities banned, then permitted, then censored the content that was processed, edited and distributed to cinemas. (Fraser et al. 2009) Here we enter the debate of history as truth against reflecting the views of its authors and the age, even to the worthiness of history on TV. Corelli Barnett argues that presenting the stories to millions via the TV medium is a worthwhile compromise. (Fraser et al. 2009) The music, composed by Wilfred Josephs, (Hannah, 2002:38) evoke specific emotions as one would with a drama series is often overpowering, much to Terraine’s frustration it was a combination of the images and the music that people recalled which left an impression not of a necessary endeavour, but of a futile and horrific waste of life. (Hanna, 2002:51) Music supporting the moving image controls and influences mood. In ‘The Great War’ consideration of the opening title sequence alone and its impact on audiences indicates what impact it can have. Wilfred Josephs composed music is gut wrenchingly sad, fully of tragedy, horror and drama. He went on to compose for TV drama series such as ‘The Prisoner; and ‘I, Claudius’. Throughout the 26 episodes of ‘The Great War’ the images and music play off against each other in way that is far closer than that achieved by the words as the composer worked to the edited images, whereas the writers, under instructions from Essex, were kept from looking at any of the rushes chosen from the era in order to write to his demanding literary standard. (Hanna, 2002:52) As a televisual experience this is a compelling attraction of ‘The Great War’ as a piece of emotional storytelling and for this reason some would say it has ‘stood the test of time’. The impact from the choice of images and demanding music was greater than that of the words. (Hanna, 2002:35)

The sitting room was part of the experience – a tiny screen (by today’s standards) showing a fuzzy black and white image in the corner of the room, the curtain closed, the family gather to watch together with Mum knitting and the kids look up from the floor. (Moran, 2006) The technological changes to the way TV is viewed in Britain 1964-2014 significantly impacts on whether ‘The Great War’ has stood the test of time. Is Charlie Chaplin still broadcast? In Britain, in 1964 there were two channels delivering 425 UHF or 650 VHF black and white analogue set, while in 2014 we enjoy multiple digital HD and 3D channels viewed when we like on a multitude of large or small screen static or portable devices that are linked to the Web.

‘The Great War’ set in motion a great swathe of subsequent BBC productions, from Alan Clarke’s ‘Civilization’ (1968) to David Attenborough’s ‘Life on Earth’ (1972) and Jeremy Isaacs ‘World at War’ (1974), (Hanna, 2002:52) but this is why it is difficult to view outside its historic context – it is not as a piece of programming that would be palatable to a contemporary audiences because of its dated production techniques, its preachy and overly dramatized story telling and at times its inaccurate, Anglo-centric point of view.

Both BBC radio and TV had in different ways looked at the events of the First World War. A J P Taylor had delivered a series of radio and TV lectures. (Hanna, 2002 pp. 17-18) On BBC radio ‘The long, long tail’ used popular songs of the 1914-1918 era, re-versioned for the stage as ‘Oh What a lovely war’ that in turn became an enduring movie.

Britain was still a colonial, if not a global power. Baby boomers were growing up. TV was still a British, even an English dominated medium, whereas cinema had long been taken over by Hollywood and the US. The class divide of the British population is immediately apparent in the Great War TV Series owing to the use of actors as narrator and voices of prominent First World war figures – there is an onus on ‘received pronunciation’ and ‘the Queen’s English’, even those interviewed speak in a clipped, scripted way with regional accents so watered down they are almost indistinguishable – the early 1960s was an era when the working class took elocution lessons if they wished to ‘rise above their station’ – to call upon a phrase of the First World War generation.

In 1961 only 19% of the population were in professional or managerial and technical jobs, whereas by 2011 this has increased to 49%. In 1964 there were over 100,000 veterans in their early 70s and 80s as well as a larger population that had lived through 1914-1918. The audience in 2014 is different because it is better educated and wealthier. Their views are different and less divided by class. In 1964 there was however a prevailing orthodoxy. (Danchev 2002:273) The audience for ‘The Great War’ was captive and predisposed to the interpretation.

A documentary series of this scale was new to British Television; the format of ‘celebrity’ subject matter expert delivering in situ to camera and conducting the interviews was yet to establish itself, drama–reconstruction was frowned upon – old and established formats still reigned, for an example, with the transmission of a series of history lectures by A.J.P. Taylor. (Hanna, 200 pp. 17-18) The skill of scriptwriting documentary for a visual medium came from cinema and the newsreel. The Great War reflects a transition between the newsreel and the narrative documentary. (Hammond and Williams, 2011)

The 1960s is not reflected in the ‘The Great War’. This was a decade of increasing antiestablishmentarianism, where the generation of ‘baby boomers’ began to assert themselves in programmes such as ‘The Week that Was’. Views of the First World War fell into four camps: respect, derision, attempts at objective interpretation that could only be fully informed by with the release of official First World War papers between 1968 and 1972, (Danchev, 2006:270) and opinion that ranged from the bias of a Marxist-Leninist view to fictionalised, largely anti war storytelling such as ‘King and Country’ and ‘Oh, What a Lovely War’.

Respect and a received point of view, inevitably came from official points of view of the war, the historical record had been written by the ‘victors’ in Soviet Russia, the French Republic and a Great Britain whose empire was in tact between the wars but described as ‘fizzling out’ by the 1960s while Germany still struggled to assess objectively both the execution and outcome of the First War and its role in leading to the Second.

Thirty years on from ‘The Great War’ the BBC marked the 80th anniversary of the conflict with a re-versioned US series 1914-18. Without bombast, shock or sensationalism this series, though there have to be gaps and précis, took a gentler, more nuanced and considered view of events including episodes that ‘The Great War’ missed, from the Armenian genocide to the experience of African troops, to the role of women and close analysis of the personae dramatis of the French mutiny. The debate about Haig is introduced but not tackle and new themes are introduced, such as the role of national honour to fuel the war.

The choices made are considered and the product of working with a panel of historians with different specialism. It may gloss over the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but profile of the Kaiser Wilhelm II closely while the debate regarding Haig is stated as such and then left. We gain the Armenian genocide, the role of women with profiles of Vera Britten, an American nurse and munitions workers in Britain, but there is still, as in previous television series, little on the ‘war in the air’ no doubt for want of suitable footage showing how the images may still dictate the stories that are told. The poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are closely scrutinized and there is greater social, political and cultural history. It is a ‘people’s story’ with the profiles of the likes of Jean Jaurès preferred over the leaders covered in previous histories. The inclusion of the African story is refreshing.

We don’t watch TV the way we did in 1964, this is reflected in the planned output by the BBC to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War: every kind of genre, across platforms, for audiences from nursery school to Newsnight via Children’s BBC (CBBC) and the Open University (OU) with 2,300 hours of TV, Radio and Online content.

In many different ways, this addresses the issues and events comprehensively for distinct audiences rather than the family that would have been expected to sit down and view ‘The Great War’ in 1964.

Historians are ‘people of their time’. (Evans, 1997 pp. 257-261) The 2,300 hours of TV and Radio output from the BBC between 2013 and 2019 will reflect the way in which multiple voices, and in particular the voice of the viewer is heard. There is no more significant pointer to the character of a society than the kind of history it rights or fails to write (Carr (1991:43).

‘The Great War’ is best seen as an artefact, of historic interest for what it is. Indeed, UNESCO accepted ‘The Battle of the Somme’ documentary footage shot in 1916, into its Memory of the World register in 2005 (UNESCO, 2005) – the rushes of which feature throughout ‘The Great War’. In turn ‘The Great War’, created from 844,800 feet of archive footage and over 20,000 photographs, paintings, posters and contemporary newspapers from twenty countries and compiled by 33 staff. Viewing the ‘Great War TV series’ in 2014 would best be achieved in bite sized form on YouTube on a handheld device, picking selective moments to suit the time and place – perhaps contemplating the sacrifice of soldiers in front of a memorial to the dead or on a battlefield ‘pilgrimage’. The audience, without any living experience of the events, will view it through the lens of subsequent and current wars and how these are reported. They will, by choice, or prompted to do so, form an opinion by drawing on multiple alternative sources and most significantly ‘sit forward’ to share and form views on social platforms rather than taking the views of the original authors as gospel.

A television series is different to the printed word yet the temptation is to compare ‘The Great War’ to individually authored histories, part works or other ‘epic’ volumes on the events or encyclopaedic official histories. The challenge in 2014 and pertinent to the question of whether ‘The Great War’ has stood the test of time is how technology, especially digital formats on large screens and in our pockets, that allows instant sharing, feedback, and meaning construction through networking. If, as Marshall McLuhan (1962:8) suggested ‘technology extended senses’ then the technology we hold, pocket and wear today, are a prosthesis to our senses and to the manner in which the product of these senses is stored, labelled, interpreted, shared, re-lived, and reflected upon. For this reason ‘The Great War’, if its authors, and the owners of the copyrighted footage wish to galvanise and interest a 21st century audience, it should be posted online as an open education resource.

In 2001 Badsley spoke of ‘two Western Fronts: the Western Front of literature and the popular culture and the Western Front of History’. Badsey (2001)

In 2013 we have multiple Western Fronts because of the Internet and Web 2.0 where the individual, with a second screen, sitting forward, creates, shares, and in the context of the First World War exploits what Sobchack 2002 described as ‘mediaophemes’ – a bite sized nugget of impression and meaning that renders itself easy to view, post, mash-up, comment on and share.

Though ‘The Great War’ has not stood the test of time, it nonetheless set in train the development of the television history series. Ironically, with the advent of YouTube, the kind of lecturer that A J P Taylor gave in the 1950s and 1960s on radio then TV is exactly what is suited to the Web as a TED lecture. Other transformative platforms online include discussions around book reviews on Amazon and the massive expansion of family history. (Dixon and Porter, 2001)

To view the series an unopened DVD box set from 2002 will cost around £100 through Amazon. Instead go to the BBC World War One Centenary website and plan you listening, viewing and reading over the next five years.

REFERENCES

Badsey, S. (2001) ‘Blackadder Goes Forth and the Two Western Fronts Debate’, in G. Roberts and P.M. Taylor (eds), The Historian, Television and Television History. Luton University Press (2001)
Barnett, C. (2006) ‘John Terraine and Television History’, Stand To!, 2006 75 PP. 7-8
BBC ‘The Great War’ (1964) Special Edition 6 Disc Boxset. (Simply Home Entertainment 2009).
BBC, The Great War (1964) Special Edition 6 Disc Boxset. (Simply Home Entertainment 2009) Disc four. Episode 17 ‘Surely we have perished’ by John Terraine.
Bruns, A. and Jacobs, J. Use of Blogs. (Peter Lang Publishing. 2006)
Carr, E.H. (1990) What is history? (Penguin History 1990 [1961])
Danchev, A. (2002) ‘Bunking’ and Debunking: The Controversies of the 1960s in B. Bond, B ed., The First World War and British Military History. (Reprinted hardback edition, Clarendon Press Oxford: 2002) pp. 263-288
Dixon, B and Porter, L (2011) ‘‘How Shall We Look Again’? Revisiting the Archive in British Silent Film and the Great War’, in D, Porter and H. Williams. (eds) British Silent Cinema and the Great War. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)
Evans, R.J. (1997) ‘The History of History’ in ‘In Defense of History’ (Granta Books, 1997)
Fraser, A.H., Robertshaw, A and Roberts, S. (2009) ‘Ghosts on the Somme. Filming the Battle, June-July 1916 (Pen & Sword, eBook, 2009)
Grieves, K. (2002) ‘Early Historical Responses to the Great War: Foretescue, Conan Doyle, and Buchan’, in B. Bond, B ed., The First World War and British Military History. (Reprinted hardback edition, Clarendon Press Oxford: 2002)
Keegan, J (1978) ‘Whole Stunt Napoo’, New Statesman 17 November 1978
Hammond, M and Williams, M. (2011) British Silent Cinema and the Great War (Palgrave Macmillan 2011)
Hanna, E. (2009) The Great War on the Small Screen: Representing the First World War in Contemporary Britain (Edinburgh University Press, 2009) p. 52
McLuhan, M (1062) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man; (University of Toronto Press 1962)
Moran, J. (2013) ‘Armchair Nation: an intimate history of Britain in front of the TV. (Profile Books, 2013)
Strachan, H. (1991) ‘‘The Real War’: Liddell Hart, Cruttwell, and Falls’ in B, Bond, ed., The First World War and British Military History. (Clarendon Press Oxford. 1991)

Script using terms like ‘weak’ or ‘brave’ to describe the Belgian army where neither term is apt.

Gemany. All were required to attend and all were delighted to do so … really

The ‘swelling cities …’

Mostly were peasants ‘sturdy brave …’

The urlands. ‘The kaisers favourites’ …

Really

Talk about weaponry as if the only audience are male and mechanically minded.

The cross cutting to voiced words ‘from veterans’ is cruder in a world of drama and drama reconstruction.

The Great War – 50 years on

Fifty years on from the BBC’s ‘The Great War’ the immediate issue is the choice of voice overs – the choice of the grandest. most pompous and celebrated voices of the age is a statement. We have ‘Sir Ralph Richardson’ doing the voice of ‘Douglas Haig’ – who was, or had been, Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig.

So our ‘ACTORS’ felt themselves better than our leaders in the Great War?

By 1964.

The tone and construction is of its time … which is more 1954 or earlier. It sounds so archaic.

All voices are male.

All voices are male and old.

All voices are voices – not their view, opinion or research, but reading words they have been given by the experts – in this case more male historians managed by male producers.

There is a distinct male tone.

So we never get the view of any woman …

It was, from this perspective, an utterly male world.

 

The Weather Machine and the Threat of Ice – when in the 1970s a new ice age threatened!

Nigel Calder presented a ‘popular’ BBC series in the early 1970s which warned not of climate change … but of the threat of another ice age. The TV series was way over my head but took my interest in physical geography to another level – I did a school project on glaciation in the Eden Valley, Westmoreland (as then was) and studied the subject at university.Weather still fascinates. I would hope that a series like ‘The Frozen Planet’ informs and motivates another generation of geographers. Can we all pinpoint a person, book, TV series, event of movie that galvinized and sustained our interest? What are the ‘events’ that stimulate students in the 21st century? Avatar? Breaking Bad? How do ‘traditional’ methods of teaching compete? Should they? Ought the partnership between school and home, between students and parents, students and their immediate community be better developed? Ironic that we can be connected to someone across the globe, but not know a neighbour. Our connections some would argue are no greater – there’s a limited capacity on how many ‘friends’ we can have – they are just likely to spread further afield.

WWI MOOC

20131022-230414.jpg

Fig.1 Underdtanding the Great War

As an MA student on the Bham First World War studies programme we are reading and then writing a book review on Niall Ferguson’s ‘The Pity of War’. The consequence for me is a significant growth in my library of First World War books, and eBooks such as this one. Meanwhile, with this contrasting worlds of real and virtual playing out in parallel workds I am doing the Open University MA in Open and Distance Education module H818: The Networked Practitioner. I’ve done three MOOCs. Is this how a campus based taught course at Bham lauches itself into 21st century education?

PR RELEASE

Posted on Wednesday 16th October 2013

The University of Birmingham is linking up with the BBC to create an academic first – a unique distance learning course marking the centenary of the First World War next year.

The ‘Wings of Modernity’ course, developed by the University’s Centre for War Studies in conjunction with the BBC, was announced during a press conference outlining the BBC’s forthcoming World War One Centenary coverage today (Wednesday 16 October). It will be a pilot Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) looking at the evolution of airborne conflict, published on the FutureLearn platform.

Controller of Learning Saul Nassé says: ‘The BBC continues to be excited about the development of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses that will enable mass participation in learning online. We are keen to explore opportunities with a number of University partners as part of our WW1 coverage. The first one to be developed will be with the University of Birmingham, the short course will cover the deployment of air power during the First World War and attitudes to the use of new technology.’

Dr Jonathan Boff, lecturer in war studies at Birmingham, commented: ‘This exciting initiative will give us a chance to share our passion for First World War history with the widest possible audience. It also enables us to continue our pioneering use of digital technology both to support existing students and to attract new ones. Students stimulated by the MOOC can easily pursue their interest by exploring our wide range of full-time and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, online and face-to-face, in war studies and the history of warfare.’

Director of the Centre for War Studies Dr Peter Gray added: ‘The University of Birmingham has, in the Centre for War Studies, the largest and longest-established centre for specialist research and teaching of the First World War anywhere in the world. It is also internationally renowned for excellence in the study of Air Power.

‘The ‘Wings of Modernity’ MOOC will bring together our strengths in both areas to allow students to explore, not only the Great War in the air, but also the impact the war had on aviation more generally, and more broadly still to examine developing attitudes to technology in a time of revolutionary change. Although we often take aeroplanes for granted today, the story of how we got to this point is a fascinating one whose roots lie in 1914-18.’

In a separate but related development, the Centre for War Studies is one of the Universities providing academic advice and support to the BBC’s digital content for the First World War centenary.

This will cover a range of material designed for audiences from as young as five years up to those as old as the war itself and is evidence of the commitment of both organisations to explaining the history of the Great War to the widest possible audience.

Notes to editors

Dr Jonathan Boff is Lecturer in War Studies at the University of Birmingham, where he leads the MA in British First World War Studies and an online-only MA in Military History by Distance Learning.

Dr Peter Gray is the Royal Aeronautical Society Senior Research fellow in Air Power Studies at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Centre for War Studies. He has published widely on a range of air power subjects from historical issues through to contributing to current debates on remote warfare such as the employment of drones. He has extensive practical experience from his time in the Royal Air Force and is in demand worldwide for his knowledge of air power history, theory and practice.

The Centre for War Studies at the University of Birmingham is one of the leading institutions of its kind in the United Kingdom. It brings together academics from around the globe to research and teach military history. With particular strengths in the study of the two world wars and the history and theory of air power, it offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses and maintains a unique network of alumni and associates active in the field of military history and war studies.

For media enquiries please contact Jenni Ameghino, University of Birmingham Press Office, +44(0)121 415 8134 / +44 (0)7768924156

On access to uncensored, openly authored information

Fig.1 Open Education and learning online – is it the flight path to intellectual emancipation?

We’re considering the nature of ‘openness’ in education as part of this new Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module. This is increasingly about ease of access to information, all of it, uncensored.

Often for ease of access and to gain a qualification with a marketable value, information that is packaged in books, journals and lectures, though increasingly in ‘sexier’ interactive and multimedia forms with the related ‘scaffolding’ that comes with learning design and planning. The natural tendency is to consider the hectic last decade of the Internet at the expense of the history of openness in access to information and an education over the last century.

A hundred years ago all but the most privileged were in the dark: leaving school after an elementary education, with reliance on biased newspapers, magazines and part works.

Libraries, BBC radio and affordable paperbacks, secondary then tertiary education, cinema and TV have each had a role to play, as has the Open University.

Does enlightenment come with access?

What does it say of power of information and ideas where access is controlled, as in China? Does connectedness within openness lead to even greater coalescing of likeminds in cliques, reinforcing stereotypical biases rather than exposing them to valid alternative views? Nothing is straightforward when it comes to people – heterogeneous by design, homogenous by inclination.

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