Monday, December 23, 2013

Gearing Up for Christmas

Start of the Officers' Race, 26th Div. Train, ASC on Christmas Day, 1915, Salonika. © IWM Q 31577. 

Greetings, dear Readers! 
Christmas is almost here! I don't know about you, but the above photo of officers springing into action for a holiday race on Christmas day, 1915, evokes many of the feelings this particular modern civilian has about the seasonal rush this year! In honor of Christmas's swift approach, here are some wonderful images from the IWM's Ministry of Information Official Photography Collection

Our ghosts of 1914 are seen enjoying various aspects of the holiday...

from biking camp-ward with the Christmas pudding safely in tow:

An R.E. Motor-cyclist with a Christmas Pudding, Hesdin-St.Pol Road, 17 December 1917. © IWM, Q 8339

to opening the holiday mail bag in hopes of presents and letters from home:
Artillery Officers with their Christmas mail bag. December 1917, © IWM Q 8346

and on the slightly less traditional side, a holiday camel race:
Leisure and entertainment at the Front: The camel race in progress at the Aden Field Force Christmas Sports,
Christmas 1917. © IWM, Item Q 13070.

and back to traditional activities, carving a Christmas turkey 

(doesn't the carver look serious about his important task?):
Carving the turkey in an A.S.C. (26th Division) Officers' mess at Salonika on Christmas Day, 1915. © IWM  Q 31571

Even if you're off to the races at the shops, still filling your Christmas goody bags, or sweating out preparing a sumptuous feast, I hope you're having at least a little bit of holiday fun and enjoying the company of loved ones. 

May you have a merry Christmas and a very happy new year!!


Previous Christmas Posts:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What to Wear to War: Steel-Helmeted and Teddy Bear-Coated

"Steel-Helmeted and "Teddy Bear"- Coated  British Officers: Ready for the Germans and for Winter
Illustrated War News, 17 Nov 1915.

Greetings, Readers!

A small holiday treat for you today: it doesn't get much better than this assemblage of rather tough-looking officers in their teddy-beariest, right? Though the winter weather in the trenches was a very serious threat, the writers of the Illustrated War News article in which this photo appeared seem not to have been able to resist a little chuckle at the stern faces matched with so much fluffiness. I'm sure it was all in good fun. As is this post.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 11, 2013

With Thanks

"Thank you" is our message here at "Ghosts of 1914," on this Veteran's Day, 2013.

Thank you to veterans and to their families. Thanks also to those who help in various ways to acknowledge, support, rehabilitate, and connect to service members past and present.

I asked, in my last post, where the war is. In truth, it (whether you mean a particular past war or just the concept or phenomenon of war) is always with us--it is here. The needs, fears, and hopes of service people a century ago were not so different from those of their contemporaries today. In this way, there is always a connection to the ghosts of 1914. And this connection is a call to thought and action, not just on this day, but all year round.

If you are considering supporting veterans with a donation of time or funds this year, I salute you. If you would like to contribute and are looking for ideas, I can suggest (without formal affiliation to any of the following):

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a wonderful organization whose efforts to support soldiers recovering from serious physical and mental injuries are supported by 100% of donations given. Here is their website:

They have a new initiative this year, called "Make it Visible":

This is a project to make the less outwardly apparent traumas of war visible and to focus on the rehabilitation of veterans and service people suffering from traumatic brain injury and/or post-traumatic stress.

As someone whose research has pondered how or where a war manifests in a population, how a society strives alternately to make visible and invisible the wounds of war, I find "Make it Visible" to be a particularly compelling project.

I will close here, with a repeated "Thanks" to service people and to their loved ones. And to the rest of us, remember, remember, the 11th of November...


Links to past 11th November and Remembrance themed posts:


© Fiona Robinson

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Where is the war?

Historical map American Expeditionary Force 1918, by Ezra C. Stiles, cartographer, and Paul C. Bowman, historian, published 1932 by Herbick & Held Printing Co., Pittsburgh PA.
 © Library of Congress , reblogged from "Maps of WWI"

And so I emerge from a long non-blogging phase, dear Readers...

This business of becoming a computer scientist presents formidable challenges and claims upon one's time! My focus is almost constantly on coaxing words and wires, zeroes and ones, into the proper channels these days. Shepherding one's mind through such wholly new fields is a major endeavor.

As a budding programmer, I've come to enjoy the performative nature of coding. The power to make something an instantaneous reality is quite thrilling for someone who, up until recently, had only been the other kind of writer, who carefully tends and marries words and phrases, planting the seeds of what one hopes is, fruitfully, effective prose.

And now here I am I've been asking myself lately...where is the (Great) War? 

A question with what would seem an obvious answer, perhaps. It's back "there," in history, in 1914, '15, '16, '17, '18. But it's before that too, brewing over a course of years and/or decades, and it's most certainly after as well. 

And I'm not only interested in where the war is, in a chronological sense. Where is it, intellectually? Emotionally? Where does its memory exist? What form or forms does it take today? Where are we, in relation to it? 

These are the same questions that prompted me to begin this blog, to "find" the war, in photographs, in trinkets, in medals and ribbons, in uniforms and poetry, in songs, in novels and memoirs. They have also driven my other WWI research projects over the last ten years.

And I find that these queries still occupy my mind, though now perhaps with a different spin, given my recent technological excursions.

In summary, the focus of this blog is still to locate the war, but, perhaps now more programmatically, I want to think about mapping this historical event that, though now past us in a pragmatic temporal sense, now in that great expanse of "nowhere" known as the past (because it is not present), lingers on. Though I may not be the first to say it, the past is ghostly--it haunts the present in the form of objects, memories, texts that we may find in museums, archives, libraries, attics, and in the far reaches of our own or others' minds. It is there.

My slightly revamped focus, thus, is to visualize, to materialize the war, for you and for myself, and to generate maps of this event--whether geographical, political, or other--as it exists today. To that end, I will be coming up with some broad categories of war maps to be used here. And as for the term map, we can think of it as a form of data visualization, with specific points (in the form of objects, individual  accounts of the war, photographs, etc.) plotted in some sort of space that reflects back to us a bigger picture of where this particular set of years and these particular events with which we are concerned here at "Ghosts of 1914", have gone.

If this all sounds like so much academic whimsy to you, your instincts may not be so wrong. Let me assure you, though, that the blog will continue in generally the same format as it has. But I'm going to be focusing additionally on developing a bigger picture, or pictures, and on offering those maps back to you, based on the points that I have plotted. This side of things is somewhat experimental, but it will be a data visualization endeavor undertaken before your eyes, with a goal of weaving into a 21st century web a vast assortment of otherwise (potentially) disconnected objects, people, and memories. It is an effort against "lostness," which, some might argue, is the very point of a blog to begin with!

Anyway, here we are! More to follow.

With thanks for reading,

©Fiona Robinson

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hello There!

Dear Readers,

It's been forever...

Chalk it up to a few highly chaotic months in the world of offline realities. All is well, though, and today I'm sharing with you a recent publication. Here is my article about British art and literature (a very introductory piece) for the Khan Academy's fabulous Smarthistory site:

Paul Nash, The Menin Road, 1919, oil on canvas, 1828 x 3175 mm (Imperial War Museum, London)

It's my first piece published as an official "Dr." I am thrilled (of course) to spread the word about WWI history, art, and literature and to contribute to such an awesome educational forum.

Enjoy, and I'll be back soon!


Thursday, March 28, 2013

La guerre n'est pas finie

"L'Heure a découvert la machine a finir la guerre." 1917 © IWM, Item  PST 2702.
Above, dear readers, is a glorious snippet of the digital harvest from a search of WWI-era technology items in the IWM's collections database. The French periodical, L'Heure claims (most likely facetiously) here on the cover of a WWI-era issue, that a machine to finish the war has been discovered. Though it looks somewhat tank-ish, the machine pictured is eerily different. It is a mechanical beast from some unwritten future with tall and narrow wheels, a weird light-casting articulated tentacle, and, perhaps most oddly, a benign looking "face" with two glowing red eyes and an almost goofy bucktoothed expression. On top of its strange pallor and figure, the fact that the eyes stare so blankly and the machine hardly seems to perceive us as we stand directly in its path makes this imagined wonder more ghostly, somehow less menacing and, I would dare suggest, almost inspires a kind of futuristic nostalgia, a longing for what war-weary Europeans (and others) in 1917 might have hoped would soon exist but so clearly was not yet there--a machine that could end the war.

Truly, the L'Heure cover is a poignant example of the fever-dreams inspired by wartime technology. Or by technology in general.

Sometimes I think that technology of the present day brings or instantiates its own fever-dreams. Our  everyday uses of technology and/or media necessitate many kinds of lucid (sometimes feverish) dreaming, whether we participate in a social network, seek news or information, or maintain a hectic volley of text messages, emails, and other communications. The practical or concrete aspects of our relationship with technology go hand-in-hand with the necessity of accepting the virtual, the apparent.

Though the machine to end the war was merely a figment of a magazine writer's and illustrator's   imaginations, the IWM's Collections Database yields other evidence of the blending of tangible and apparent that real wartime technology entailed:

James McBey, "Wireless Operators, " 1917. © IWM, Item ART 1445.
In James McBey's sketch, wireless operators transcribe a message received from a distant communicator. The operator in the image's foreground has an intense look of concentration. He strives to note the message exactly as communicated, no doubt, this work perhaps dissolving temporarily his awareness of his present surroundings in a brightly lit bunker or trench (the looseness of McBey's drawing of the man's legs and feet suggest a weird sort of disembodiment) and connecting him most intensely to the speaker on the line. 

Female war workers making wireless equipment, 1914. © IWM, Item Q54617.
Here, female war workers assemble wireless equipment. They, too, convey a sense of intense concentration as they manipulate what must be delicate materials and equipment. Though they do not use the wireless to communicate, one wonders what inscrutable chain of thoughts or concerns runs through their minds as they bow their heads and focus on their work.

Whether actual device or imagined contraption, technology occupied a great deal of attention during WWI. The era was one in which the newest inventions seemed more mysterious, perhaps, than they do to us today. While we are flooded with an array of tools, software, and gadgets, the ghosts of 1914 were living in a different, perhaps more transitional time. The actual status and forms of technology inspired many visions of its eventual or hoped-for manifestations. 

More to come on WWI-era technology and the social history thereof. For now, though, I will close this broadcast of "Ghosts of 1914." Thanks for reading!

© Fiona Robinson

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's!

Some WWI bonbons for you from the Ghosts of 1914...

 A snippet of a WWI-era song with a very sweet post-war fantasy:
I've had a battle all of my own,
I had to battle for love and for home,
Now a treaty's signed,
It's a funny kind,
Terms of peace are love and kisses,
And a "miss" is now a "missus."
I laid a siege
Right to her heart,
But I could not win alone.
My allies were the candy shops,
My ammunition chocolate drops;
Now I'll raise an army of my own...
--Roger Lewis and Ernie Erdman, "Now I'll Raise an Army of My Own"

And a box of Fry's chocolates given to British troops serving in Italy:

Fry's Chocolate tin for British troops in Italy. © IWM, Item EPH 9388

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Eve

Hello dear readers,
In honor of tomorrow's romantic holiday, here are some charming WWI Valentines and related items from across the web. Sources are noted with each image:

"For a Soldier Laddie..." Postcard ca. 1917-18. ©

Sweetheart pin cushion, ca. 1914-18. © IWM, Item EPH  4231

 American postcard, for sale on Ebay © crowspostcards.

That's all for the moment! Stay tuned and may Valentine's Day this year be a day to celebrate love in your life, whether the love of significant others, friends, families, and/or pets.


Friday, February 1, 2013

A Field Service Postcard-Inspired Message

Field Service Postcard, British Army. © IWM, Item MH 34058.
Hello readers!
It's been too long since I last posted here at "Ghosts of 1914." I am back, briefly, today and will have more posts for you, especially as Valentine's Day approaches. Above is a delightful British Field Service postcard which, if I were to send it to you today, would indicate that all is "quite well" and a post would follow "at first opportunity."

Soldiers on the front sometimes used these cards to send brief, tightly-constrained, messages to families or loved ones. The cards made for efficient and easily censored or pre-censored communication, though their limitations on personal expression raise concern. Allyson Booth's excellent WWI critical work, Postcards from the Trenches, takes the Field Service postcard as an inspiration and point of study.

As the strict rules of the paper Field Service postcard do not apply to this fanciful electronic version, I'll add some more details on recent events, vicissitudes, and adventures...

In the last month or so, I became a Doctor of Philosophy when my dissertation was approved at Yale (yay!). It's a delicious though somewhat bittersweet milestone.

Being a devoted scholar and a close watcher of the current non-academic job market, I have decided to pursue yet more graduate work. This time, the focus is a bit more practical in nature: I'm studying computer science. My aim is to become a digital humanities scholar/programmer extraordinare, building software for cultural institutions and developing tools for teaching the humanities with technology. Wish me luck!

While I'm embarking on this new journey, it will be a pleasure to continue trawling the ether for the kind of Great War treasures I love to share with you. I'll be back within a week or two and until then, thank you for reading!