Last night was the launch of the new Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour exhibition at the British Library. In only a very small set of objects from the Library’s collections you follow the history and experience of the First World War. From patriotic and xenophobic fervour through to the reality of war on an impersonal and industrial scale. Through the words of authors, composers, and trench newspapers and the general man in the street, or more likely the man or woman in uniform, or those waiting back home with dread for news of their loved ones.
The exhibition runs from June to October, and in particular I was impressed by the sparingly concise but clear interpretation boards next to each item.
The exhibition was launched by Baroness Blackstone, chair of the British Library, who paid tribute to all the curators who had put the exhibition together, and to the public collections run first by the University of Oxford (The Great War Archive), and Europeana 1914-1918 which continues to collect stories from the public across Europe. In the same speech Baroness Blackstone announced the publication of Jackie Storer’s book ‘Hidden Stories of the First World War‘, published by the British Library (see our blog).
In the exhibition audiovisual art installations showcase these stories from the public. It was humbling to hear the words from letters collected as part of The Great War Archive or Europeana 1914-1918 spoken by actors, with images of this correspondence from the website.
There are so many to note, and they are all clearly cited in the films, but here are a couple:
- Louisa Cantwell and Patricia Hutchison and the memories of flyer William George Dundas
- Peggy Martin and the memories of Joseph Bullock, a Private who served in Mesopotamia and India
- Helen Callister and the memories of William Ernest Foster in the Tanks Corps
I really hope the British Library can share that video online, after the exhibition.
These crowdsourced family histories sit online alongside the British Library’s work for Europeana 1914-1918, to digitise more than 400,000 items from World War One from the continent’s national institutions. (If you want to find out more about the Oxford Community Collection Model which can help individual researchers and communities, or large-scale initiatives like Europeana, engage with the public please read more at the RunCoCo website).
A series of public events, artistic performances and discussions accompany the exhibition, as well as a programme for schools and teachers. The British Library has also recently launched a new World War One website where you can explore over 500 newly-digitised historical sources from across Europe, with new insights by experts.
During the evening, Sir Andrew Motion read two of his own poems inspired by working on the manuscripts of the war poets – and he also read from the Wilfred Owen manuscripts held in the British Library, which you can read one draft manuscript in the exhibition or read them all online in the First World War Poetry Digital Archive.
Image credits: Alun Edwards and Dr Stephen Bull.