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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