Lest we forget: poppies and public commemoration

Lead Research Organisation: Historic Royal Palaces
Department Name: Tower of London

Abstract

At the centenary of 2014, 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' became the surprising star of commemorative activity. This art installation of 888,246 comprised ceramic poppies, planted in undulating waves in the Tower of London moat. Its popularity showed that far from declining, World War I (WWI) commemoration was still intensely popular with the British public. 'Lest we forget' is an innovative project which will use new methodologies to probe a unique and large data set which was collected as part of the installation, and thus to investigate how people made sense of, and engaged with, it. The project will contextualize the installation by explaining the ways in which the public(s) commemorated the First World War more widely, building on a century of WWI historiography and looking at commemoration in a 21st century context. Finally, it will look at whether any other project could achieve public impact comparable to that of 'Blood Swept Lands', and if so, how this might be achieved.

Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies in the installation was created to represent a single life; or rather a death. The number of ceramic poppies and the scale of the installation were its defining features both in terms of the spectacle it created in the moat, but also in the meanings people made of the artwork. Volunteers, staff, visitors and purchasers frequently referred to the emotional significance of 'one poppy, one life'. Each handmade poppy embodied individuality within the conformity which is associated with military service in WWI. No two poppies were the same, connecting the individuality of the dead combatants with the horrifying scale of the war.

This project looks beyond the spectacle of 'Blood Swept Lands'. It uses the installation as a case study through which some of the wider issues of WWI commemoration can be understood. It will look at how the public made sense of the WWI centenary, and how they used the installation to create meanings, express emotions, and share these with a wider group of people. It will then explore the ways in which people interacted with 'Blood Swept Lands' through different media; from volunteering to 'plant' poppies, visiting the installation, sharing photographs on social media, and depositing home-made artefacts at the Tower; to attending a nightly roll-call ceremony, or buying a ceramic poppy. The public engaged with the installation on multiple levels, and the levels of public involvement also helped shape the installation and its project, which became a media phenomenon. This research project will investigate the importance of this engagement; it will also critique the way the project was perceived as a 'success' by the public, media and Historic Royal Palaces. It will achieve this by using data collected as part of the Blood Swept Lands project, and applying methodologies from other disciplines to probably the largest data set of commemorative activity available for research.

It is timely to study the impact of 'Blood Swept Lands' and its place within WWI centenary commemorations as the 2014-18 centenary draws to a close in 2018. Further fieldwork in 2018 will look at the longer term impact of the 2014 commemorations, and ask whether and how attitudes to 'Blood Swept Lands' and commemoration have changed over the 4 years, 2014-18. The research will explore what constituted the 'success' of 'Blood Swept Lands' and whether this success can be replicated in future commemorations and commemorative programmes.

'Lest we forget' will disseminate its research findings through conference papers and published journal articles. It will bring together heritage practitioners and academics from history, heritage, and memory studies in order to share and discuss future engagement with commemoration in heritage and museums. It will deliver public impact through regular blog posts, public talks and a Teacher Fellowship programme, resulting in 10 new free teacher resources.

Planned Impact

1. Education and schools. 'Lest we forget' will deliver a Continuing Professional Development programme for 10 outstanding secondary school teachers. They will participate in a 4-month course of teaching and research based on the findings of this project. It will culminate in the production of 10 new classroom teaching resources to be used in classrooms and published online. Teaching Fellows will also become advocates for these resources. The PDRA will project manage and lead on development of the programme which will be delivered in Jan-Apr 2019 in partnership with the Historical Association (HA). The programme will lead to the publication of 10 teacher-authored resources on the HRP, HA, and Times Educational supplement websites in Jun 2019. The LF and PDRA will also write an article for the 'Teaching History' journal, whose audience is secondary history teachers, to be published in Jun 2019.

2. Adults and community groups. HRP has a programme of public talks and lectures within its Uncover adult learning programme. The LF and PDRA will work with this team to develop and deliver a series of 3 online podcasts based on the research findings. The podcasts will be published on iTunes, Soundcloud and A Cast, where they will be accessible and available for 5 years. The Uncover team will convene a Curious Connections event with the LF and PDRA as part of a panel discussion on poppies and public commemoration. The LF and PDRA will also deliver talks to HRP's Members on different facets of the research. In order to target local community groups, the adult learning team will host a training event based on the 'Lest we forget' research for community group leaders. This will enable leaders to have the confidence to bring groups of elderly participants, or those with dementia to the Tower, and engage them in meaningful discussions relating to commemoration. The LF and PDRA will work with the L&E and HRP social media teams to reach online audiences through regular tweets and blog posts relating to the research and highlighting new findings. In order to reach general audiences in print, the LF and PDRA will also author a short article for publication in the popular history publication, 'BBC History Magazine'.

3. Cultural policy and professional practice. Funding bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England have been behind much of the centenary commemorations on behalf of the UK government, and are undertaking evaluation of the public impact and cost effectiveness of these activities. 'Lest we forget' will produce high quality research to complement these evaluations, and delve further into the academic debates in heritage and museum studies such as public expectations of commemorative exhibitions and installations, and methods for reflecting community voices in commemoration. A collaborative symposium at the end of this project will bring together funders, academics and heritage practitioners to review what constituted success for WWI commemorative activities, and look forward by thinking about public policy and funding decisions for future commemorations, such as World War II. Nearly every museum and heritage site in the UK was affected by the WWI centenary commemorations. At the close of the centenary, many institutions, including the Imperial War Museum, are already considering how to approach the next major war commemoration. Sector professionals are looking for evidence as to how to engage their public(s) successfully and meaningfully, at which interpretative forms have the greatest learning impact for visitors, and how to engage in online interaction. The LF and PDRA will co-author an article in sector publication 'Museums Journal' to reach practitioners and peers. Delegates at the symposium will be able to locate their practice within academic frameworks, learn from peers in the sector, and build new and ongoing networks for thinking critically about engaging with commemoration effectively.

Publications

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Title Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers 
Description The Lest We Forget research project contributed to the development of a major sound and light artwork at the Tower of London in 2018. Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers was a new artwork by Designer Tom Piper and Sound Artist Mira Calix which ran for eight nights, leading up to and including Armistice Day 2018. The installation also brought together the work of Creative Director Deborah Shaw, Lighting Designer Phil Supple, Staging and Movement Anna Morrissey, Sound Designer David Sheppard for Sound Intermedia and Flames and Mist Effect Mike Jones. Beyond the Deepening Shadow was an evolving installation, which unfolded each evening over the course of four hours, between 17:00 and 21:00 each evening, with the Tower moat gradually illuminated by individual flames. The visual spectacle was be accompanied by a specially-commissioned sound installation; a sonic exploration of the shifting tide of political alliances, friendship, love and loss in war. Beyond the Deepening Shadow began with a procession led by the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London. Emerging from the fortress, the Yeoman Warders - themselves all distinguished former servicemen and women - ceremonially lit the first flame. In a moving ritual, a select team of volunteers proceeded to light the rest of the installation, gradually creating a circle of light, radiating from the Tower as a powerful symbol of remembrance. Members of the public were invited to return to the Tower of London to see the installation evolve each night, and to join in this public act of commemoration At the centre of the sound installation lies a new choral work, One lighted look for me by Sound Artist Mira Calix with words from War Poet Mary Borden's Sonnets to a Soldier. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The research team attended high level meetings with key decision makers and creatives which informed the creative direction, and impacted on the marketing strategy for the event. Findings from the research team included highlighting the audience reception of the Tower's 2014 artwork Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red as primarily a commemorative rather than an artwork, which informed the marketing strategy and press positioning of the artwork in 2018. The research team also highlighted the need for audiences to communicate and share their commemorative stories which led to a team of volunteers positioned at the end of the experience to talk to visitors and undertake audience feedback. 
URL https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/explore/the-tower-remembers/#gs.02ayq3
 
Description The first half of this research project has delivered impact to non-academic audiences through a range of engagement activity. In early stages, the research team's involvement with the Beyond the Deepening Shadow commemorative artwork at the Tower of London in 2018 engaged visitors to the installation onsite through audience research and consultation, online via blog posts, and contributed to the organisational decision-making and direction within Historic Royal Palaces. We have engaged with teachers through a high profile partnership with the Historical Association, and are already seeing changes in our teacher fellows as they consider new teaching approaches and topics for their students. Finally, the team are involved in submitting evidence to a parliamentary inquiry which will contribute to broader policy and societal impacts.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Lessons from the First World War Centenary inquiry
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/digital-culture-media-an...
 
Description The ethics of commemoration research
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Eleanor O'Keeffe created and delivered a training session for 6 volunteers who were part of the research team for the Tower of London's Beyond the Deepening Shadow commemorative artwork. The training led to the creation of a confident and effective research team for a challenging 9-night fieldwork process, and contributed to the development of HRP's ethical guidelines for audience research.
 
Description Historical Association Teacher Fellowship: Conflct Art and Remembrance 
Organisation Historical Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Eleanor O'Keeffe has led the partnership with the Historical Association. She has project managed the teacher fellowship programme from Historic Royal Palaces, created a course outline, written and delivered course modules, and engaged prominent academics to assist with the course.
Collaborator Contribution This partnership is a crucial element in delivering impact to secondary school teachers. The Historical Association is a trusted source and resource for history teachers and have run a well-respected teacher fellowship programme since 2015.
Impact This partnership recruited and engaged 10 exceptional teachers with a 3-day residential and 8-week online course. Contributors to the course included academics from the disciplines of history, English literature, cultural and media studies, and education.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Capturing commemoraton workshop at the National Archives 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Megan Gooch attended a workshop with colleagues from Universities, arts and heritage organisations, funders and policy makers as part of the Reflections of the Centenary project led by Lucy Noakes. Around 30 attendees discussed ways in which the Centenary programme had been evaluated and the efficacy of the programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://reflections1418.exeter.ac.uk/team/
 
Description Family means no one gets left behind - or forgotten 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Megan Gooch wrote a blog on the topic of family connections to World War I, and how visitors to the Tower of London's Blood Swept Lands and Beyond the Deepening Shadow installations used the site as a trigger for family memories.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://blog.hrp.org.uk/curators/nobody-left-behind-or-forgotten/
 
Description Farewell to Beyond the Deepening Shadow: The Tower Remembers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Eleanor O'Keeffe wrote a blog post which detailed the research methods of the Lest We Forget project team during the Tower of London's Beyond the Deepening Shadow commemorative event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://blog.hrp.org.uk/curators/the-tower-remembers/
 
Description First World War Poetry podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Eleanor O'Keeffe interviewed, recorded and edited this podcast with Professor Paul O'Prey, whose work on the poet Mary Borden was used in the creation of the Tower of London's Beyond the Deepening Shadow artwork in 2018. The podcast was intended to be part of the Teacher Fellowship online course but proved so popular that the Historical Association posted it on their main website with free access to all web visitors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.history.org.uk/podcasts/categories/434/podcast/583/first-world-war-poetry
 
Description Historic Royal Palaces Research Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Megan Gooch presented early stage research findings to 25 research peers within Historic Royal Palaces. Discussion followed which has led to a greater institutional awareness of the research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Historical Association Teacher Fellowship: Conflict, Art and Remembrance 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The teacher fellowship programme is a collaboration with the Historical Association and Michael Riley from UCL Institute of Education. The programme lasts 9 months and consisted of a 3-day residential, an 8-week online course and a 1-day residential. The outputs will include high quality teaching resources available on the Historical Association and Historic Royal Palaces websites. The programme has recruited 10 exceptional secondary history teachers from around the UK and the Netherlands. These teaching fellows engaged with project researchers and academic experts in January 2019, and are currently completing their online course. Already the fellows are highly engaged with the course leaders and each other, and discussing new teaching approaches to World War I and II as a result of their participation.
The project was led by Eleanor O'Keeffe in the project team who has designed the course outline, written and delivered onsite and online modules in collaboration with Michael Riley and the Historical Association.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.history.org.uk/secondary/module/8692/teacher-fellowship-programme-conflict-art-and-re
 
Description Lest we forget: the beginnings of remembrance society 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Eleanor O'Keeffe wrote an introduction to the research project and the history of World War I commemoration. Commenters on the blog post included a retired heritage practitioner who thanked us for a thoughtful post, and a member of the public who appreciated being kept up to date on HRP's commemorative activity and thoughts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://blog.hrp.org.uk/curators/lest-we-forget-remembrance/
 
Description Post-war: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation Blog post 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This blog post formed part of the University of Oxford's Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation programme running in 2017-18. The post contributes my thoughts to discussions at the Post-War Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation invited workshop on 10 February 2018 and reflected on how the Lest We Forget research will contribute to further discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://torch.ox.ac.uk/community-commemoration
 
Description Remember, Remember the 11th of November 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Megan Gooch wrote a blog post highlighting contemporary commemorative practice in the UK including wearing poppies and taking part in commemorative rituals at memorial sites and online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://blog.hrp.org.uk/curators/remember-remember-11th-november/
 
Description Remembering the War: an academic discussion, Queen Mary's University London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Megan Gooch was part of an expert panel discussing the remembrance of World War I for 30 QMUL history students and history society members. Discussion involved the ways in which remembrance is taught in schools and universities, and how the war is remembered in different countries. The talk prompted questions from students and debate on Twitter afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The Tower of London as a memorial 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Megan Gooch gave a lecture and workshop to 17 MA Heritage Management students on a course run by Historic Royal Palaces and QMUL. Students were engaged with the results of audience research and thought critically about ethical practices in audience research and heritage management.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018