THE BRITISH LIBRARY

UK Web Archive blog

20 November 2019

Militarism and its role in the commemoration of British war dead

By Liam Markey, Collaborative Doctoral Student, University of Liverpool

Mediating Militarism: Chronicling 100 Years of Military Victimhood from Print to Digital, 1918-2018 is an ESRC funded CASE studentship in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the British Library. The project aims to assess militarism and its role in the commemoration of the British war dead since the end of the First World War.
By taking advantage of unique access to print and digital materials captured and held by the British Library my aim is to chronicle the changing public portrayal of the British war dead from the print to the digital age, evaluating the role this portrayal plays in the mediation of militarism in the process.

Memorial

What is Militarism?
Militarism, generally defined as the glorifying of war and invasion of the civilian sphere by military ideals, manifests itself in a variety of ways that depend heavily on contemporary politics, alongside both military and social developments. In the case of Britain, national narratives surrounding the First World War have played a key role in the development of the nation’s own form of militarism.

The nature of Britain’s involvement in the First World War meant that following the Armistice of 11th November 1918, a multitude of commemorative practices were developed in order to facilitate the mourning of an entire nation. British soldiers who had died abroad were not repatriated following the war, meaning tangible sites of mourning, such as the Cenotaph in London, were created as focal points of British remembrance. A unique language and symbology surrounding the commemoration of the war dead developed. Fallen soldiers began to be venerated as almost Christ-like figures, and symbols such as the poppy became tangible representations of commemoration, these practices continue into the present day and have saturated British attitudes to the military and the waging of war.

UK Web Archive
How, then, can the UK Web Archive assist in the development of this research project? Websites curated by the archive provide us with a valuable look at how ordinary British people and communities interact with these commemorative practices, and I am interested in looking at how the language and symbols popularised over the past century are reproduced, for example, in amateur websites. One of the big questions I have been asking as I carry out my research is how the First World War leaving living memory has affected the function of these practices.

Using the UK Web Archive to assess the British discourse around those who were killed in the war, be it regarding a family member or a soldier who served in a local regiment, will prove fascinating when interrogating ideas such as the sanitisation and trivialisation of war.

Questions?
Does language steeped in religious rhetoric glorify war, representing the saturation of British commemorative practices with militarism over the past century, or instead are they an insight into the more personal and isolated forms of commemoration distinct from national narratives we are presented with in the media? Does an excessive use of the poppy on both amateur and media websites reflect this potent symbol’s original meaning or has it been hijacked to serve more nationalistic and militaristic purposes?

Materials collected by the UK Web Archive will prove invaluable in answering these questions.