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Humanities academics contribute to BBC WW1 centenary broadcasts

As part of the BBC’s WW1 centenary programmes key academics from the University of Exeter are contributing to an assortment of high profile broadcasts.  An example of this includes BBC Radio 4’s ‘1914 – 1918 The Cultural Front’, a three part series charting how the war transformed the arts starts on Saturday 8 March at 10:30am.

Professor of English Tim Kendall and historian Dr Catriona Pennell provided expert comment on the series. They both feature in the first episode: ‘Words for Battle’,which explores the culture of the Great War in 1914 with the mobilisation of the written word. What unfolded in the first weeks in Belgium turned the war into a cultural struggle for survival and intellectuals and authors were soon seen as crucial to the war effort. From Arnold Bennett to Israel Zangwill, the literary giants of Edwardian England went to war.

As a historian Dr Pennell was interviewed in relation to her expertise on the pre-war imagination, particularly in regards to late 19th century invasion literature, and what that can tell us about the way the British and Irish populations responded to war in 1914.

Dr Pennell said:“The programme is significant as it allows the experience and impact of war to be examined through cultural outputs - such as music, literature, art - and thus understand that nations, at the outbreak of the First World War, not only mobilised their armies and economies to fight the war effort, but their populations' minds and cultures as well."

The response of poets such Kipling, Binyon and Hardy to the outbreak of War is explored by Professor Kendall.  He discusses where English poetry was in 1914 stylistically, and highlights his favourite poem of 1914, Kipling’s ‘For All We Have and Are’. Professor Kendall explained:“Kipling rallies the nation with the belief that our individual destinies should be subsumed into the national destiny. ‘Who dies if England live?’ the poem asks in its conclusion, arguing that patriotic sacrifice in defence of the country is a way of ensuring immortality.”

The second episode ‘Arf a Mo, Kaiser: Popular Culture on All Fronts’ examines the way the music industry was a thriving performing and publishing industry in Britain. Recruitment songs, patriotic sheet music and poems by the thousand were everywhere by 1914. But it was short lived. Once the zeal for righteous war was replaced with the mundane business of fighting, the music makers returned to the escapism their audiences sought. 

In the final episode, ‘Kandinsky, Khaki and Kisses’ the programme looks at what was happening in the international artistic community in the run up to World War 1, and how the commencement of hostilities affected artists either side of the conflict. In some cases, it led painters to create some of their most powerful and arresting work.

It also explores how the publishing world responded to the outbreak of war. The magazine industry was quick to turn copy around and fashion tips included how to dress appropriately to raise morale. The book industry, whilst threatened with a lack of staff and supplies, filled the need for entertaining popular fiction.

Date: 7 March 2014

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