World War 1: Media, Entertainments & Popular Culture

Call for papers
World War 1: Media, Entertainments & Popular Culture
2-3 July 2015
People’s History Museum, Manchester, UK

Organised by University of Chester, University of Salford, UCLAN, Manchester Metropolitan University, People’s History Museum.

This conference aims to bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines to examine and discuss both contemporary and subsequent accounts, interpretations and uses of the First World War in terms of mass and popular media and entertainments. We are inviting proposals for papers on any aspect of the Media, Entertainments and Popular Culture during and after the First World War.

This conference has two main themes. The first is popular mass entertainments (e.g. singers, music, magazines, sport) that emerged as the war progressed. The second is the ways in which the war furnished the reference for subsequent popular mass consumed productions (e.g. The Big Parade 1925, War Horse 2011).

This conference is not about the trivial nor does it seek to trivialize. We expect there to be many events marking the start and key landmark events of the First World War, as is right and proper. Remembrance of the politics, battles, technologies and unimaginable sufferings should never be forgotten.

Whether civilian or serviceman or servicewoman popular mass entertainments had a part to play in their lives. This conference, therefore, does not aim to examine artistic production during and immediately after the war. Works by artists such as Gertler, Wadsworth, Wyllie, Bone, Lewis and Munnings, and many others, may have been popular amongst some sections of society and have become the stock knowledge for scholarship but they did not attract a mass audience. Along with contemporary sculpture, poetry and opera they remain the preserve of a minority, and are relatively unknown to the masses. There are exceptions such as McCrea’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ and possibly a few poems by Owens and Sassoon.

This conference is about the relationship between popular and mass entertainments during the war and the use of the war for subsequent mass audience productions. It aims to examine the role, form and development of entertainments created during and related to it post-1918. The music hall, the singers, performers, the cartoons, romantic novels, and cinema all had a place and role to contemporaries. By 1915 many of these may have relayed the experience of war and some provided the means to maintain morale and patriotism. Not all, however, supported the war. After one year of war initial optimism was confronted with the realization that this war was different to others. The number of wounded and killed was shockingly high. English coastal towns were bombarded by German battleships, whilst other cities were bombed from German airships.

Given the reality of the war the kinds of questions we have include the following. How did popular entertainments react to the war? What were the dynamics, politics and reception of different positions? In what ways did the form of mass entertainments change as the war progressed? What role did technology have in disseminating entertainments? How did commercial entertainment enterprises use the war to attract audiences? What differences and conflicts emerged between regions, classes and genders?

In addition to those who lived during the war we also want to examine and discuss how subsequent generations became audiences for entertainments based about the war. Cinema films such as The Big Parade (1925), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and Farewell to Arms (1932) have become stock sources for film studies. But how did the messages and imagery they convey attract mass audiences? In what ways are mass entertainments during the war portrayed in post 1918 films, fiction and television? In what sense and why is the war experience shown as sadness, regret and ruling class stupidity? How do current generations understand the war through recent mass entertainments (e.g. Downton Abbey, War Horse)?

The complexity and dynamics of historical and contemporary methodological issues relating to mass popular entertainments during the war and since 1918 are challenging.

In the weeks leading up to the conference we intend to have an exhibition in the museum and at other locations around Manchester as well as on a web site of the phenomena we will be discussing at the conference. These will include the performance of songs, music, and films.

Possible themes include:

– Photography, films, newsreels
– WWI celebrities
– Contemporaneous press reportage
– Wartime censorship
– Oppositional/dissenting voices
– Music hall performers
– Wartime images
– The popular press and WW1
– Wartime and cultural memory
– Popular music
– Sports
– Pubs and clubs
– The war in popular fiction
– Cartoons, posters
– Post 1918 popular uses of World War I themes

Please email a 300-word abstract (stating your name, email address and institutional affiliation) to Chris Hart: