Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Research Project on University Students and International Cooperation after World War One

What was the impact of World War One on student activism in Britain? Researchers at Northumbria University are investigating this question together with colleagues from University College London (UCL), the National Union of Students (NUS) and the North East branch of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). Their project on ‘British Ex-Service Students and the Re-Building of Europe, 1919– 1926’ is funded by the University of Hertfordshire’s World War One Engagement Centre. These centres are an initiative of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), facilitating collaboration between academic institutions and community partners in the context of the war centenary.

The project team comprises three historians and staff members of the two community partners: Daniel Laqua (Senior Lecturer in European History, Northumbria University) is the principal investigator, Georgina Brewis (Senior Lecturer in the History of Education, UCL) is the co-investigator; Sarah Hellawell serves as the Research Associate; Mike Day (NUS Director for Devolved Nations and Internationalism) provides the link to the NUS; and Jude Murphy (project organiser, WEA North East) represents the WEA.

Together, the team members explore a transformative moment in the history of UK higher education. After the First World War, British universities received an influx of students who had undertaken wartime service in different forms – as soldiers serving at the front, as members of the field ambulance or as VAD nurses. The Board of Education’s scholarship scheme for ex-service students helped produced a more socially diverse student body. The post-war enfranchisement of women coincided with further changes in higher education, exemplified by the University of Oxford’s decision to give full membership to female students in 1920.

In focusing on the period between 1919 and 1926, the project traces how young people who had witnessed the war sought to forge links with their peers in other countries. It will investigate their involvement in humanitarian efforts, study exchanges and travel schemes that sought to promote a spirit of internationalism. Students’ debates on the aims and nature of the League of Nations will also be addressed. In undertaking their research, the team members will combine local/regional case studies (London, North East England) with research on national and international student organisations.

Alongside academic publications, the project will involve a number of community-facing activities. These include a public event in Newcastle, a London-based workshop with student activists, a series of blog posts as well as the launch of a new working-paper series in cooperation with the NUS.

The project builds on the expertise and past experiences of its project partners. Dr Brewis is the leading historian of students’ involvement in voluntary action, exemplified by her monograph A Social History of Student Volunteering (Palgrave, 2014). She has previously run successful projects with Mike Day who, alongside his day-to-day work with the NUS, has written a book on the organisation’s history. Dr Laqua has published extensively on the history of internationalism, and he is currently researching the global dimensions of student activism from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Dr Hellawell has worked on women’s peace activism during and after the First World War, including the international bonds created by female activists. She has previously worked with the WEA whose project organiser, Dr Murphy, has run a Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project on the WEA North East during World War One. She is now involved in a follow-up project, entitled ‘Educational Campaigning within the WEA and Affiliated Organisations in the North East 1918–1928’.

Further details on the first major project event, to be held on Saturday, 7 October, will be available in the near future.

The project team (from left to right): Jude Murphy, Sarah Hellawell, Daniel Laqua, Georgina Brewis and Mike Day

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