Polychronicon 134: The Great War and Cultural History


By Dr Peter Donaldson, published 19th July 2009

Over the past two decades the historiography of the Great War has witnessed something of a revolution. Although historical revisionism is, of course, nothing out of the ordinary, the speed with which long-held assumptions about the First World War and its impact have been swept away has been quite astonishing. The title of Arthur Marwick's 1965 work, The Deluge, for so long the standard text on the repercussions of the war, provides us with a clue as to the nature of this paradigmatic shift. Once seen as a watershed in British history, recent research has, instead, looked to site the years 1914-18 in the broader sweep of political, social and especially cultural trends and stress the threads of continuity that connected the pre- and post-war worlds.

To this end, a number of scholars have started to ask questions about the cultural rather than the material adaptation to the conflict. Through an exploration of alternative, often local, archives, attention has now fallen on the disparate fragments that help us understand how people made sense of, and coped with, everyday life in the war years. The focus of this new research has, therefore, shifted from the assessment of social and economic indices to the exploration of popular perceptions and cultural representations...

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