Exhibiting the First World War

'Exhibiting the First world War', a third year module led by Dr Dan Todman, combines original research and collaboration with an external partner, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) over a 3 year period.

The module is an interesting example of how a research project with an external partner can change and grow over time, and of the capacity of undergraduates working over several years to produce analysis of real academic significance.

‘Exhibiting the First World War’ grew out of work Dr Todman did with the Imperial War Museum in preparation for the centenary of the conflict’s outbreak in 2014. Initially, it was intended to supplement the Museum’s exhibition and education programme by building up a body of research on the infantry battalions raised in the area around the IWM’s current site. Over three years, students would conduct research into these units, with each year of students passing on their work to the next, who then had to take the project forward (an ‘inheritance mechanism’ as employed by Hasok Chang in his groundbreaking collaborative study of Chlorine (2005)). Students were encouraged and supported to develop new skills in working together, gathering and organising large quantities of data, reflecting on their experiences as researchers, and producing an extensive piece of collaborative writing – a group report for which they all received the same mark. This report, which went to the museum, is one form of external output – another, still in prospect, is a multi-authored academic article drawing on all three years of research which Dr Todman aims to publish after the third year of the module.

The first iteration of the module met much positive comment from students and colleagues. One student’s explanation of what made the course enjoyable might stand for many:

Because you get independence, because you feel like an actual historian.

The module developed significantly between its first and second years – partly because of student feedback about the substantial work involved, partly because of the discoveries made by the first cohort of participants. These suggested that a geographical, rather than a regimental, focus would be the best way to explore the area’s experience of the war. With the assistance of donated access to the digital holdings of ancestry.com, in the second year students were able to research the service records of soldiers on a street-by-street level: a more closely defined but still open ended research task. This is the first time this approach has been applied to a community in mainland Britain, and the resultant findings will make a real contribution to historians’ understanding of the dynamics of military participation in a metropolitan area. The large quantity of geographically closely locatable data thus acquired, and the remarkable stories thus uncovered, encouraged Dan to suggest that the material could be developed into a mobile application which would give visitors information about the lives of servicemen and their families from the streets they are walking through as they approach the Museum. This project is now being funded by QMUL’s Innovation Fund and should be in place in time for 2014.

You can read Dan Todman's reflections on the first iteration of Exhibiting the First World War here.

Read how Dan Todman explored his assessment judgments and shared them with his students. 

Documents you can download from this page: