Cake: It may not be obvious from this picture, but on one of the post-it notes in the ‘hospitality’ section is written the word ‘CAKE’. This, along with all the other post-its, was part of a ‘brain dump’ exercise undertaken as part of a facilitated meeting of the Legacies of War steering group aimed at defining the next steps for the project. The process took 3 busy very hours, moving from defining desirable outcomes for interested parties (individuals, funders and audiences, both in the flesh and on-line) through the brain-dump of achieving those ends to prioritizing aims and, via a series of specific questions, suggesting practical steps for achieving those priorities.
The final result was this:
a rather neater arrangement of post-it notes. ‘Cake’ did rather get lost in the shuffle, with priorities being defined as the way the project is run, locating the project in the international context of war commemoration and breaking down barriers. However a few immediate plans of action were decided upon and the process, unlike anything I have participated in before, was a fascinating experience. I am not sure precisely how useful it would be more than very occasionally, but as a focusing exercise it certainly worked in the short term and hopefully will show results in the medium to long term as well. And cake, we all concluded, is not a bad answer to any question.
Biscuits: Following this intense morning, four of us then headed over to the Imperial War Museum North for a meeting of regional scholars to discuss the forthcoming exhibition on the First World War in Manchester and the North West. While the (very nice) biscuits were promoted as a principle attraction, the discussion of pretty much every aspect of the war, from recruitment and enlistment to demobilisation and disability managed to distract us from them most effectively. The scope of the proposed exhibition is vast, covering aspects relating to both civil and military experience over the course of the entire war, with the locality serving as the focus. As a result, I suspect the museum’s researchers got more than they perhaps bargained for in terms of suggestions of subjects to be pursued. It will be very interesting to see how the project develops. In the meantime, I got to take away a good deal of information about the demographics of the Manchester region c.1914 and some food for thought about population mobility in the years before the war.
Lemony pudding: These were the puddings on offer at lunch on the second day of the Social History Society conference, held at the beginning of the week. I was only able to attend two days but those were both so full that I haven’t yet been able to fully absorb everything that I learned. Highlights were meeting Carina Peniston-Bird, with whom I had a chat over said lemony puddings, and Cath Feely, whose work on conscientious objectors’ reading in wartime is intriguing. My top paper, though, has to be Helen Smith’s on masculinity and sexuality in northern working-class communities in the years just after the First World War with its important challenge to Joanna Bourke’s argument about male intimacy as a product of the trenches. It reaffirmed for me the importance of work and professional identity as key to understanding masculinities, something that I need to explore more in relation to my ideas about the centrality of life cycle and maturity to these understandings as well.
So, lots to think about on all sorts of levels. Never underestimate the power of dessert.