Hear from two of our students on how they found the CDA experience.
I was based at IWM and King’s College London as a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student (CDP) from 2013 to 2016. My PhD research focused on the colonial experience of the First World War, examining the encounters of troops from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. I was also a member of the HERA funded project, Cultural Exchange in a Time of Global Conflict.
My time at IWM gave me a unique point of access into the subject matter. I benefited from the expertise of subject-specialist colleagues, who offered exceptional guidance and generosity as I set out on my search, particularly in examining the Ministry of Information’s official photograph collection. By using the framework of encounter I was able to approach the document collections in a new way, stumbling across gems like the autograph book of a nurse who cared for West Indian servicemen in Sussex. I was thrilled to be able to share some of the rich objects the Museum has to offer in the CEGC Sourcebook, alongside other IWM contributions.
This was a global research project and with support from the Museum I was able to travel the world through conferences and research trips, drawing together what I had found in London with what I found in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. It was this material which enriched my research and which I was able to share in an article for The London Journal about New Zealanders in London during the First World War.
This research arose from the AHRC funded Whose Remembrance? project at IWM which sought to investigate the state of research into the experiences of Britain’s former empire in the two world wars and how this experience is remembered today. This offered me a fantastic research network, headed by the Research Department, in which to carry out my studies. I was very pleased to be able to contribute to the guide to researching the British Empire in both world wars. Public engagement was a key priority for me and activities at IWM gave me a significant platform for dissemination to wider audiences, whether at Black History Month events, with community research groups or in developing learning resources for schools. These opportunities were some of the most rewarding parts of my PhD experience.
Since finishing my thesis, I have worked as a curatorial assistant at IWM and I am now a Teaching Fellow at King’s College London. My time at the Museum taught me how to work with archival collections in new ways, how to develop interesting and innovative research questions and how to communicate new knowledge and ideas. I am now putting these same skills into practice as a teacher and researcher.
I started my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) with the IWM and the University of Reading in October 2017 and, less than one year in, I already feel it has been a very formative experience.
Over these three years, I will be researching ‘British military encounters with Italian civilians, 1943-1946’, a topic I consider of particular relevance today. Apart from the historiographical benefit deriving from uncovering a ‘grey area’ of the Italian Campaign, the study of the encounters between different cultures is of particular significance at a time when waves of anxiety hover over fears of increased social, national and racial divisions.
Among the aspects that fascinated me the most are its interdisciplinary and international approach. The idea of digging deep into the vast, varied collection of the museum, as well as the possibility to travel and research between two countries, captivated my imagination from when I first read the proposal. The reconstruction of the history and memory of the clash of cultures that took place in Italy during the Allied occupation requires intense archive-based work as well as a focus on oral history sources that is proving to be a fascinating personal experience. Tracking down, meeting and interviewing people who lived through both the testing and the more pleasant aspects of these encounters is widening my perception of Italy’s wartime history and I am enjoying uncovering experiences hitherto ‘hidden from history’.
When the interview process creates an emphatic relation with the interviewee, who is challenged to bring the ghosts of his past back to life, the result is particularly satisfying. My most successful interview – involving a British veteran and his Italian wife – spread over two days for a total of six hours of recording, covering his wartime service as well as their own life together. Among the personal stories uncovered, the account of an Italian teenager from Nettuno who unexpectedly joined the liberators in the fight against the Germans, on the shores of the Allied landing of Anzio, was particularly poignant.
When I decided to apply for this studentship opportunity and return to the academic life, which I completed in Italy seven years ago, I was both excited and curious about the idea of studying in a British university, and in particular at the challenge of working on a Ph.D. in a foreign language. The experienced and knowledgeable support from both my museum and university supervisors has been of great help, and the absence of a normal work routine in terms of time and space required significant self-organisation skills which I had to acquire quickly.
Doing a CDP project does make you feel ‘special’ in different ways. I have access to facilities, knowledge, training and assistance of many kinds from both Reading and the IWM. The creative and supportive environment, the companionship of other CDP students and the readiness of IWM staff to engage with my project – all are helping me to have a truly absorbing experience. I now look forward to the challenge of presenting aspects of my research at two international conferences in Italy; the perfect conclusion of my first academic year.