Voices of War and Peace: the Great War and its legacy is one of five new First World War Engagement centres funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund. A University of Birmingham-led initiative, the Centre also involves academics from Birmingham City University, Newman University, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Worcester. The Engagement Centre is based in the Library of Birmingham and will support a wide range of community engagement activities, connecting academic and public histories of the First World War as part of the commemoration of the War’s centenary which begins this year. The Centre is led by Professor Ian Grosvenor, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Cultural Engagement at the University of Birmingham, and co-ordinated by Dr Nicola Gauld, a freelance curator and experienced project outreach worker.There are seven Co-Investigators from the five partner institutions who will work in collaboration with community groups researching the First World War: Professor Maggie Andrews, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Worcester; Dr Spencer Jones, Research Fellow in War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton; Professor Chris O’Neil, Executive Dean of Birmingham Institute of Art and Design; Dr Siân Roberts, Collection Curator at the Library of Birmingham and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham; Dr Joanne Sayner, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Theory and German Studies at the University of Birmingham;Dr Michael Snape, Reader in Religion, War and Society at the University of Birmingham; and Dr Chris Upton, Reader in Public History at Newman University Birmingham. There is also a research network attached to the Centre, which consists of academics drawn from a variety of disciplines and with direct links to a range of research centres. Collectively they bring both relevant knowledge and experience to enable the Centre to effectively support community research. In addition there are over 30 cultural partners including Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, Sampad, the Cheltenham Festivals, the BBC and YMCA England.
As well as exploring the impact of the Great War on communities in Birmingham and the Midlands, the Centre will focus on themes of national importance. These include Gender and the Home Front, led by Professor Maggie Andrews, Belief and the Great War, led by Dr Michael Snape, and Commemoration, led by Dr Joanne Sayner. Among the other questions the Centre will explore are questions around the legacy of the War – not only what happened between 1914 and 1918 but also the impact that the War continued to have during subsequent years, for example, by 1916 training programmes for soldiers with disabilities were being held in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter and by 1930 child guidance clinics had been set up – almost certainly the result of the emotional turmoil caused to youngsters during the War.
The Centre was launched at the Library of Birmingham in March. The event brought together over 200 delegates who represented a wide variety of community, cultural and academic organisations from across the Midlands and further afield. The programme featured readings of archive material by local schoolchildren, speeches from Councillor Phil Davis, Birmingham City Council’s City Heritage Champion, and from Councillor Anita Ward, Birmingham’s Armed Forces Champion and Chair of Birmingham County Royal British Legion. The event also involved poetry performances from Stoke-based community group DJ School, who have received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund for their project ‘Remembrance Poets’, and a debate with members of the Centre on why we are commemorating the First World War. The event also saw the unveiling of the Centre’s website, www.voicesofwarandpeace.org. The site already includes a wide range of articles, resource material and event listings and will be the main point of contact for community groups interested in working with the Centre. The Centre will also use social media, primarily Twitter, to extend its reach, advertise events and share research and resources.The Centre is now planning a series of workshop events for community groups and members of the public. These will cover a wide range of topics around the First World War and its commemoration and we welcome ideas for future events. We’re looking forward to meeting with groups that are already working on First World War-related projects and also with groups that may have ideas for projects but would like guidance and support.