Towards the Great War Centenary

On Friday 18 May Katie Longo (Balliol College, Oxford) will give a talk, Towards the Great War Centenary: selections for an exhibition (1:00 pm, Seminar Room, Pitt Rivers Museum – see the CSB Calendar). This is also an opportunity to hear about plans for the Bodleian’s 2014 exhibition.

Katie was appointed to this year’s Balliol-Bodley Scholarship, which affords Balliol postgraduates the opportunity to work with Western MSS. in the Bodleian Library in support of cataloguing or curatorial research. With the 2014 exhibition in mind, Katie has been exploring the papers of Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford. Murray is a good starting point for asking certain questions about contemporary perceptions of the Great War. He is well known for his association with conscientious objectors and with the foundation of the League of Nations; and yet in 1914 he wrote a pamphlet justifying the British war position. Katie has been surveying the Murray papers, concentrating on the early part of the war, with several questions in mind. What is his general attitude to the war? Does he have a realistic understanding (in terms of the scale, duration, likely losses, strategy etc.)?  What is the source of his information (official sources, friends, newspapers, propaganda, soldiers at the front etc.)? What is his attitude to Germany and the Germans?

Over the course of the next few months I will be surveying some of the major archives of Oxford alumni, politicians, academics, writers, soldiers and others held in the Bodleian and elsewhere in the University, to ask such questions, and to find out what impact the war had on these individuals and their circles. Do their views change as the war develops, especially after the Somme in 1916, Passchendaele in 1917, and the German breakthrough in the Spring of 1918?  How do they react to the armistice in November 1918 – is there a sense of victory, a feeling that the war was worthwhile, or that it was futile? I hope to gain a sense of what the war meant to them as it happened, when none of them had the benefit of hindsight or any foreknowledge of how the post-war world would unfold.

2 thoughts on “Towards the Great War Centenary

  1. I recently completed the 20th C. section of the forthcoming history of Oriel College – which had one of the two highest casualty rates in the War and the highest recruitment in the University in 1914. There are some letters from parents to whom Provost Phelps had written letters of condolence as well as letters from serving students. Some certainly might be worthy of showing in an exhibition. I also gave the Oriel Guest Lecture on ‘Oriel’s Great War’. which touches on wider themes…

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