Herrenhausen Gardens venue for 'The World During the First World War'
Herrenhausen Gardens, Hannover. The venue for the conference 'The World During the First World War'. Image courtesy of Anna Maguire.

One of IWM's new Collaborative Doctoral Award Students, Anna Maguire, describes an inspiring recent conference on the global impact of the First World War.

At the end of October, Hannover played host to the symposium 'The World During the First World War'. This was my first academic conference as one of the IWM’s new Collaborative Doctoral Award students of 2013. My PhD is one of three which have started this autumn under the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership which IWM has with the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) whereby students are embedded in national museums, libraries and archives while at the same time belonging to a university. My focus is ‘Cultural Encounters and Cultures of the First World War’ and my study will seek to address the experience of colonial troops, on which IWM has very rich archival sources. It complements a major new project London funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area), led by Kings College, in which IWM is an Associate Partner, and also builds on work carried out by IWM’s AHRC-funded project Whose Remembrance?, led last year by my IWM co-supervisor, Suzanne Bardgett.

Held at the beautiful Herrenhausen Gardens and hosted by the Volkswagen Foundation, the conference provided auspicious surroundings in which to begin thinking and talking about my research. It was organised by the Foundation, the University of Hanover, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies) and the German Historical Institute, London. With views from Latin America to the Middle East, via Africa and South Asia, papers were diverse and truly international. Talks from Babacar Fall about forced labour in French West Africa, from Joan Beaumont on Gallipoli, national consciousness and memory in Australia and from Samiksha Sehrawat addressing Indian voluntary aid all provoked lively questioning and debate. There were introductions to new resources for historians, including 1914-1918 Online.

Literary historian Santanu Das, my university co-supervisor, gave a keynote paper, entitled ‘The World, the War and the “Sepoy”: Words, Images and Songs – A Literary and Cultural Excavation’. He promoted the use of cultural spheres and processes in relation to the social and political aspects that historians are so familiar with, introducing us to songs recorded in Hindi from prisoner of war camps and a sepoy’s blood-stained spectacles that had travelled back to India from the Western Front. His approach suggested a new language and structure through which we can investigate the war, as many strive to identify and include previously unheard voices. This type of methodological approach is something I hope to position centrally in my own research.

The first morning was devoted to a doctoral session where we could discuss subject areas, archives and methodologies. It was enlightening and reassuring to meet others and hear about their experiences of PhD life and its unique opportunities and challenges.

The conference inspired lots of ideas for the direction of my research - a unique opportunity at the very beginning of my project.