War Widows' Stories

Lead Research Organisation: Liverpool John Moores University
Department Name: Sch of Humanities and Social Science

Abstract

This Fellowship, led by Dr Nadine Muller, will act as a case study and provide a critical appraisal of how participatory research methods (creative arts and oral histories) can facilitate the co-production of both traditional and innovative research outputs in the fields of literature and cultural history. By working with four high-profile partners - War Widows' Association of Great Britain (WWA), Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG), the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), and the Imperial War Museums (IWM) - and volunteers and participants (war widows and their children), the research will:

1. assess the potential and challenges of employing these participatory research methods
2. evaluate the impact of research co-production on researchers and participants.
3. identify the obstacles that currently prevent early-career researchers in our disciplines from carrying out work with non-academic audiences.

By focusing on untold stories of war widows in Britain since 1945, the Fellowship will allow Dr Muller to establish herself as a research leader who:

i) pushes the methodological boundaries to diversify the ways in which literary scholars and cultural historians design and conduct research;
ii) promotes the idea that traditional academic outputs and creative research outputs are complementary, and equal in scholarly value.

The research builds on a pilot phase (War Widows' Stories) that is nearing completion to examine what it is like to be a war widow in Britain since the end of the Second World War. War Widows Stories will raise awareness of the everyday lives of war widows and their families by creating an accessible, intricate cultural history of war widowhood that combines traditional academic research with the creative arts and oral history.

The research utilises participatory arts, oral history interviews and textual research to produce academic outputs that examine women's war widowhood in post-war and contemporary Britain (monograph) and Ireland (peer-reviewed article). The project will:

a) examine, among other literary and cultural sources, a number of archives (IWMs' digital collections, Iris Strange Collection, and the WWA's archives);
b) work with the WWA to record, analyse, and share the stories of war widows and their descendants through oral history interviews, art, and academic research.

This fellowship will paint a clearer picture of war widows' lived experiences in post-war Britain. Outputs will include:

a) oral history recordings and transcripts of up to twenty war widows and their children;
b) twelve trained volunteer interviewers from the war widows' community who will support war widows and their children to express and share their stories beyond the duration of the Fellowship has ended;
c) an exhibition-standard war widows quilt whose individual squares tell a collective story of participants' experiences of war widowhood;
d) poetry by war widows' and their children about their experiences of war widowhood;
e) a self-published book that collects the oral histories, poetry, and images of the war widows' quilt create a living online archive providing an intricate, multimedia cultural history of war widowhood in Britain;
f) academic research publications that explore the literary and cultural histories of war widowhood in Britain (monograph) and Ireland (peer-reviewed journal article);
g) a peer-reviewed journal article that reflects on the challenges and potential for using participatory research methods.

To pass on the skills required to conduct research with non-academic audiences, the Fellow will:

a) mentor the project's Research Assistant to gain knowledge of participatory methods, research impact, and engagement strategies;
b) host an event targeted at a cohort of early-career researchers whose work falls into areas related to the Fellowship work, including the histories and literatures of war, war and gender, and commemoration and

Planned Impact

The proposed Fellowship is designed to effect change in cultural institutions, the general public, and war widows and their families.

At present, war widows' experiences are omitted from public institutions. The fellowship's exhibition-standard creative outputs and the academic research it produces will enable our partners - the Royal Museums Greenwich, the National Memorial Arboretum, and the Imperial War Museums - to redress this gap in their exhibitions, collections, publications, and events, thus providing a more comprehensive picture of the history of war in Britain, and connecting directly with the people who are the subjects of their exhibitions.

The Fellowship will raise public awareness of war widows' lives since the Second World War and up to the present day. It will do so through:

a) Oral history interviews that tell individual, first-hand stories of war widowhood, which will be otherwise be lost forever. In 2016, Ministry of Defence records showed 18,950 women were recorded as being in receipt of a war widows' pension or its modern-day equivalent. Only five years earlier, the figure stood at 28,425 (every year, over 8% of Britain's war widows die).

b) Participatory arts (poetry and quilting) that convey aspects of war widows' stories that conventional written or spoken forms cannot;

c) A living online archive, hosted on the War Widows' Stories website, that will be used to curate interview transcripts and recordings, participants' poetry, images of and explanatory commentary on the proposed war widows' quilt, as well as academic research on the history of war widowhood in Britain;

d) The War Widows' Stories book (print and digital), which will contain a selection of the contents hosted on the living online archive;

e) A public launch event at the National Maritime Museum in early September 2019, presenting the fellowship's outputs to the public during the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Fellowship will effect change for war widows and their families by enabling them to express and share their stories of war widowhood, by fostering a sense of community, and by enhancing their wellbeing. Oral history interviews and participatory arts are vital means of helping war widows and their relatives to share and reflect on their lived experiences in their own words. These activities give participants an opportunity to work through difficult memories via the process of storytelling and creative arts. In addition, they give participants a sense that they, their stories, and experiences are valued. By training twelve volunteer interviewers from the war widows community, I intend to give back to the community with whom I work as well as helping to ensure the longevity of the project beyond academic involvement.

Publications

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Blackburn L (2019) The War Widows' Quilt

 
Title The War Widows' Quilt 
Description In this film by John Felix, researchers, artists, and war widows share the stories behind a new piece of art: the War Widows' Quilt. The War Widows' Quilt was made by over 90 war widows. This deeply emotional artwork represents shares loss and the untold history of the widows that war leaves behind. Each square in the quilt and each poem tells stories of grief, survival, love, hope, and new beginnings. Making the quilt gave opportunities for the women involved to tell their stories on their own terms and in their own words. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The film raises awareness of war widows' lives, of the project, and has improved war widows' wellbeing by making them feel valued, heard, and recognised. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtmGvDb8wDE&list=UUMInSHM3DDmvbKcCPcPFaXA&index=2&t=0s
 
Title The War Widows' Quilt 
Description The War Widows' Quilt was made by over 90 war widows. This deeply emotional artwork represents shares loss and the untold history of the widows that war leaves behind. Each square in the quilt and each poem tells stories of grief, survival, love, hope, and new beginnings. Making the quilt gave opportunities for the women involved to tell their stories on their own terms and in their own words. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The War Widows' Quilt has made a significant impact on the wellbeing of war widows and their families, has raised public awareness of war widows' lives, supports war widows' advocacy, and redresses a significant in the public history of war and armed conflict. 
URL http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/news/press-release-war-widows-quilt-commemorates-the-lives-loves-...
 
Title The War Widows' Quilt (Exhibition) 
Description The War Widows' Quilt was first exhibited from 7-11 November 2019 in the Great Hall at the Queen's House, Greenwich. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The exhibition had a significant impact on war widows' wellbeing by making heard and acknowledging important the lives and losses of these women. The special celebration event that marked the launch of the exhibition was attended by 100 visitors and raised awareness of war widows' among the general public as well as among important stakeholders, such as politicians and armed forces charities. The exhibition was covered in a double-page spread in the Daily Express as well as in a dedicated segment on ITV News London. 
URL http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/news/daily-express-devotes-double-page-spread-to-war-widows-quilt...
 
Description This grant has led to the War Widows' Stories project achieving significant impact in two non-academic areas and is currently developing significant impact in a further two: - improving the wellbeing of war widows and their families; - raising public awareness of war widows' lives; - supporting war widows' advocacy; - creating new art works and exhibitions that make address a significant gap in the public history of war. IMPROVING WELLBEING. Participant feedback demonstrates that being interviewed about their lives and expressing their experiences through poetry and quilt making have increased war widows' sense of wellbeing both through the processes involved (telling one's story; writing; and art making) and the tangible outputs these activities produced (published online and hardcopy transcripts and poems; the War Widows' Quilt). By giving war widows an opportunity to tell and put on public record their life stories through oral history interviews and participatory arts, War Widows' Stories makes them feel valued and heard. For those war widows and families who do not participate in the project, our evidence (through event feedback and online interaction) shows that these stories give war widows a sense that their own experiences are part of a collective history. RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS. Next to resulting in the online publication of interview transcripts and recordings as well as accessible research and archival material on the project website, the grant has facilitated the first-ever exhibition of the War Widows' Quilt at the Queen's House, Greenwich, from 7-11 November 2019. A dedicated celebration event on 8 November 2019 was attended by 100 guests, including members of the public, members of the war widows' community, and stakeholder representatives, including politicians and public service figures, and many more visitors to the Queen's House viewed the quilt during its residence there. The project's activities and the stories it tells have been covered extensively across a range of media outlets. On 11 November 2018, Muller appeared on a Remembrance Special for Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross (BBC Radio Scotland) to talk about the history of war widowhood in Britain and provide insights into the experiences captured by the project. On 9 November 2019, the War Widows' Quilt and its first exhibition at the Queen's House were covered in an illustrated double-page spread in the Daily Express. On 11 November 2019, ITV News London dedicated a 2 minute segment to the exhibition and the War Widows' Stories project, broadcast both as part of the 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock news. SUPPORTING ADVOCACY. The project supports the advocacy of war widows and their political pressure groups by gathering qualitative data and producing research on war widows' experiences. This work will feed into policy campaigns that seek to improve the lives of war widows and their families. Muller has created solid links with key government departments and institutions, such as the Ministry of Defence, the House of Lords, and the Royal British Legion, all of whom have provided testimonies as to the importance of the project. Most recently, the project was mentioned in an address by Baroness Janet Fookes to the House of Lords, in which she appealed to the House that its support the due recognition of war widows and their plight. The first exhibition of the War Widows' Quilt was attended by representatives of the Royal British Legion, several armed forces charities, and the London Metropolitan Police. CONTRIBUTING TO PUBLIC HISTORY The War Widows' Quilt is a piece of art whose exhibition has already and will continue to redress a significant gap in the public history of war and armed conflict. The grant facilitated its exhibition in the Great Hall at the Queen's House, Greenwich, from 7-11 November 2019. Further funding will be sought to first tour the quilt across Britain and Northern Ireland before installing it in its permanent future home, the main exhibition space of the Imperial War Museum North.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description The "I" Word: Research Impact in the Arts & Humanities
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/news/the-i-word-research-impact-in-the-arts-humanities/
 
Description Arts Council England (arthur+martha)
Amount £14,980 (GBP)
Funding ID ACPG-00131109 
Organisation Arts Council England 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2018 
End 02/2020
 
Description LJMU Impact Team Award for Impact on Society, Culture, & People
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Funding ID LJMU Impact Team Award for Impact on Society, Culture, & People 
Organisation Liverpool John Moores University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Description Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Social & Economic Engagement
Amount £1,500 (GBP)
Funding ID Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Social & Economic Engagement 
Organisation Liverpool John Moores University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Title War Widows' Stories Website & Archive 
Description The War Widows' Stories websites hosts all transcripts and recordings of the oral history interviews we have conducted in the course of the War Widows' Stories project, and they can be access and downloaded for free by anyone. Recordings can be streamed or downloaded; transcripts can be read and searched online or downloaded as PDFs. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Making interviews with war widows publicly available enables other researchers to explore this much neglected but important area of research, while also enabling members of the public to gain insights into local and family history as well as raising awareness of war widows' lives. 
URL http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk
 
Description Imperial War Museums 
Organisation Imperial War Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution War widows are under-represented in IWM collections and exhibitions, and Dr Muller's project will help IWM to begin address this gap.
Collaborator Contribution IWM committed to preserving and archive a selection of the project's oral history interviews and their metadata in its collections at the end of the project, providing contents and recordings are of a high enough quality, and providing respective rights holders sign over their rights to the material to IWM. At the beginning of the research, the museum's appropriate curatorial staff advises Dr Muller and her team on how to best meet these standards.
Impact None yet.
Start Year 2018
 
Description National Memorial Arboretum 
Organisation The National Memorial Arboretum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution War Widows' Stories allowed NMA to make connections with researchers in fields that are central to its work, such as the history of war, cultures of remembrance, and commemoration. We enabled the NMA to establish links with academics whose work can inform their own and whose work can, in turn, be enriched by their own. The project also allowed the NMA to raise further awareness of its activities and memorials among war widows, their families, and communities, as well as among the general public.
Collaborator Contribution The NMA provided the project with space for a participatory arts workshop and promoted the project, its activities, events, and outputs among its visitors and the general public through its website, publicity, and social media channels.
Impact The War Widows' Quilt
Start Year 2018
 
Description Royal Museums Greenwich (The Queen's House) 
Organisation National Maritime Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution A top-10 UK visitor attraction, Royal Museums Greenwich is home to the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the iconic historic sailing ship Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen's House art gallery. The collections of the National Maritime Museum tell dramatic stories, including from the Battle of Trafalgar and First World War sea battles. In 2018, the NMM opened a new gallery on Tudor & Stuart Seafarers, which will include stories from women widowed during the Anglo-Dutch wars 500 years ago. Though focused on a much later historical period, War Widows' Stories is of great interest and benefit to NMM as the project's work with war widows helps NMM showcase the contemporary and cross-historical relevance of the stories in its collections. Working with Dr Muller's team allowed NMM to reach new, key audiences for its new collection in military families and the war widows' community, while the project's work also added significance to the stories these collections tells.
Collaborator Contribution NMM provided the project with a space for a participatory arts working in November 2018, hosted the first exhibition and celebration event of the War Widows' Quilt in November 2019, and promoted the project, its activities, events, and outputs among its visitors and the general public through its website, print publicity, and social media channels whenever appropriate.
Impact The War Widows' Quilt (Exhibition) The War Widows' Quilt (Exhibition Catalogue)
Start Year 2018
 
Description War Widows' Association of Great Britain 
Organisation War Widows' Association of Great Britain
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The War Widows' Association of Great Britain (WWA) is recognised as the leading representative organisation for widows of Armed Forces Personnel where death of a spouse or recognised partner is attributed to service. War widows have long been a neglected part of history. The activities and outputs of the War Widows' Stories project help the WWA redress this imbalance and are of significant benefit to its members, campaigns, and the war widows' community by raising awareness and providing recognition of their lives and experiences.
Collaborator Contribution The WWA has been acting as gatekeeper and collaborator and helps ensure the project represents war widows from across the armed forces. The WWA has allowed the project representatives as well as its artists free attendance at its events in order to facilitate participatory arts workshops and participant recruitment, the room hire costs for which WWA also covered. WWA have promoted the project, its activities, and outputs among its membership and to relevant partner and stakeholder representatives in print and online.
Impact The War Widows' Quilt (Exhibition) The War Widows' Quilt (Exhibition Catalogue)
Start Year 2016
 
Description Daily Express Coverage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Giles Sheldrick, Chief Reporter, covered the first-ever exhibition of the War Widows' Quilt in a double-page spread for the Daily Express. The feature includes quotations by project leader Dr Nadine Muller, lead artist Lois Blackburn, women who have contributed to the quilt, and representatives of the War Widows' Association of Great Britain.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/news/daily-express-devotes-double-page-spread-to-war-widows-quilt...
 
Description ITV London News Coverage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact On Armistice Day 2019, ITV London News aired a feature on the first ever exhibition of the War Widows' Quilt at The Queen's House, Greenwich, from 7-11 November. Will Davies visited the exhibition and spoke to members of the War Widows' Association who contributed to the quilt, as well as to project leader Dr Nadine Muller, and lead artist Lois Blackburn (arthur+martha).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/news/war-widows-quilt-on-itv-london-news/
 
Description Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Dr Nadine Muller contributed to Ricky Ross's feature on women and war on 11 November 2018. Programme description: "Ricky hears from women directly affected by loss as a result of conflict. Christine Morgan's son was killed in Iraq; Anne Blair's husband was killed in Northern Ireland and, in partnership with the War Widows' Association of Great Britain, Dr Nadine Muller of Liverpool John Moores University, is gathering the stories and experiences of war widows past and present."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0001331