Posted by on January 23, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Literature and History: Uncovering the University’s role in the First World War.

British Tommies hard at work on the Western Front constructing canteen facilities. Hundreds of students and several staff of Huddersfield Technical College (as the University of Huddersfield was then known) volunteered for service in the war.

My name is Steven Jackson and I am currently in the first week of my internship, in the English Literature department of the University. This week, I was asked by the History Department to help them with their research project into finding out what the University’s role was during the First World War.

Now, while I am not an academic historian (I did not take history as an A-Level or even GCSE) I have always been fascinated by the subject. From the Romans conquering England to the Battle of Bosworth Field, history has always been something I have actively engaged with. But probably the event in history that has intrigued me the most since childhood is the First World War.

My first mainstream exposure to the First World War waswatching “Blackadder Goes Forth” as a child. Although the series has come under much understandable criticism from academic historians, Blackadder, for me as a Literature student, is a masterpiece. The slow burning tragedy of the war, back-dropped against razor sharp wit and gallows humour, is something which has (and will) always stuck with me emotionally. And it is from this that my fascination with the First World War began.

It was extremely exciting, as well as daunting, to be asked to contribute to this project, especially not being a History graduate. But the prospect of working with artefacts from the time, hands on, is something I was very interested in doing. Furthermore, being able to physically enter and use the University’s archive was a real privilege, and I want to thank the Archive and History departments for allowing me this opportunity, even though I am a Literature graduate.

Aiding me in my pursuit for facts, figures and sources, was history lecturer Dr Daryl Leeworthy and archivist Lindsay Ince, who gave me a very short (and informative) introduction into working with an archive.Given that archive work is something I would like to pursue as a career, it was a great opportunity for me to gain vital hands on experience with an archive.But I must stress, working with an archive ismuch messier and confusingthan what I expected! Yet, it also reaps great rewards and it is still something which fascinates me as a career path.

The aim of the History department is to find out as much as they can about the staff and students who signed up during the First World War, and their experiences on the front, along with any other information related to the period in some way.To Daryl and Lindsay’s credit, they have done a tremendous job in finding out tons of information and sorting through the archives to find the most relevant boxes of artefacts. However, there were some gaps which needed to be filled, which is where my contribution comes in.

Snapshot of a letter sent by Private Willie Speight, an assistant in the School of Art, Huddersfield Technical College, sent in August 1915. The letter is held amongst the HTC papers at the University of Huddersfield Archives.

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