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Talking about the First World War - Beyond the Trenches

It’s over 100 years since the First World War ended, but misconceptions about it remain.  Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus has developed new perspectives on the conflict by challenging accepted narratives, encouraging different approaches to teaching and changing reflections on WWI. The research has led to teachers, students and institutions absorbing wider perspectives of the ‘14-‘18 war, beyond the trenches, while also triggering discussions regarding how it should be commemorated.

Dr Einhaus is Associate Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Northumbria University and is promoting the inclusion of a variety of perspectives and media in teaching and commemorating the First World War. Dr Einhaus’s engagement draws on the accumulated research and impact activities carried out by herself and her colleague, Professor in English Literature, Katherine Baxter.

Dr Einhaus has worked with a range of educational and heritage organisations, researching the cultural legacy of the war and its links to teaching, writing and commemoration. She has been involved in several initiatives which have studied the importance of building emotional connections – such as visiting WWI cemeteries – and highlighted how building empathy among students can promote understanding about the conflict.

During ‘The First World War in the Classroom: Teaching and the Construction of Cultural Memory’, led by Exeter University’s Professor Catriona Pennell, Dr Einhaus orchestrated the English literature aspect of the project, as well as co-authoring the report that accompanied it. The findings attracted coverage in The Times Education Supplement, the Telegraph Online and Mail Online.

On a national level, ‘The First World War in the Classroom’ has enabled teachers – in the UK and beyond – to broaden their professional practice when teaching about WWI. At local level, Dr Einhaus’s research has enabled organisations to enhance their cultural awareness in relation to the WWI centenary and challenge established narratives.

Meanwhile, Reflections of Newcastle, 1914–1918 – on which Dr Einhaus collaborated with Professor Baxter – was longlisted for a National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement prize in 2016. The project created an enduring legacy, with three downloadable iBooks about the city’s activities during the conflict and support for a large group of community volunteers and students to develop new skills.

Students have consequently gained skills in critical analysis and improved their employability, while non-academic audiences have been inspired to reflect, not just on armed combat, but civilian life during the war. Dr Einhaus and Professor Baxter also co-edited The Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and the Arts, a substantial collection of essays on responses to the war in literature, visual arts, film, journalism and other media.

Additional impact from Dr Einhaus’s and Professor Baxter’s research has emerged at notable places with a WWI link, such as the Literary & Philosophical Society, The Bowes Museum and Longbenton Air Cadets in Newcastle upon Tyne. These institutions have updated the experiences they offer to reflect the research and, in doing so, attracted a more diverse range of visitors.

Dr Einhaus is continuing to research the way conflict is taught, focussing on the role of literature in teaching and commemoration, while Professor Baxter’s work centres on the involvement of artists in commemorative activities.

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