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January 19, 2010

History Division News
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» The History Society Presents ...

Fiona Reid

<image class="right" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/1/19/No_end_of_loavesa.jpg" height="275px" alt="shell shock illustration" width="275px">

Glamorgan University's new History Society has been a huge success: membership is growing and the Society has led the first of many expeditions, to the British Museum's Moctezuma Exhibition.

The next enterprise is a series of guest lectures, open to all staff and students of the university. Dr Fiona Reid of the Glamorgan History Division is the first speaker: she is on research sabbatical this year, but returns to Treforest to share her findings on war, medicine and society in the early twentieth century.

Admission is free and all are welcome to attend this lecture in G303 (Glynneath) at 17.00, 20th January 2010.

For more information about the History Society or about this event, please contact Pete Driscoll (08037582@glam.ac.uk), Secretary.

October 7, 2009

History Division News
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» The History Boys and the Bayonet

Investigating the Butcher Blade

<image class="left" title="Bayonet found in Abercynon" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/7/smallbayonet_copy_1.jpg" height="900" alt="Photo of Bayonet" width="150">

Imagine the scene: students moving into a shared house in Abercynon.

A van full of furniture, an empty house awaiting the house-warming party.

After much puffing and panting we get the furniture in and get ready to dash for the pub (Ian’s forgotten the milk and coffee, so the pub is the only answer).

Peter hands me a rusty piece of metal. “It’ll look good on wall above the fireplace“, he says.

When I get home I am amazed to find the object is a military bayonet.

Although I'm not an expert restorer I begin to clean off the rust and paint (someone had been using what later turned out to be a significant historical artefact to stir paint) to find a series of numbers and symbols etched into the blade and hilt.

The symbol was of a crown surmounted by an arc in which was written the word Wilhelm. Also clearly embossed on edge of the hilt was the letter P with the number 15.

The thing that stood out about this 18 inch Bayonet was the serrated or sawback edge to the weapon. Our research revealed that the symbol of the crown surmounted by the arched word Wilhelm represented Kaiser Wilhelm II. The number 15 related to its year of issue, 1915, and the letter P to Prussia, where a German Pioneer Regiment was raised. That in itself was worth recording.

But the most striking issue was the sawback edge on the blade of bayonet which extended approx 12-14 inches along what would normally be described as the blunt edge of the bayonet. Continued research established that it was in fact a “German Sawback Butcher Blade”. British and allied media spun great political propaganda from these weapons. They gave readers details of injuries allegedly inflicted with this weapon as proof of the levels of atrocity commited by the 'Bestial Hun'. There were unconfirmed reports of German prisoners who were caught in possession of this fearsome-looking weapon being summarily executed. |ndeed the great anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front includes a scene where two German soldiers discuss the risk of being executed on the spot by 'British Tommies' if caught in possession of the dreaded sawback blade.

Our research shows that the sawback blade was issued to only 6% of German troops and indeed, the sawback serration was intended to be used by pioneer corps NCOs for cutting fence poles and barbed wire etc. But such was the power of propaganda that German Command recalled all sawback bayonets and had their edges ground down in 1916. This helped us narrow down the date the blade was captured. Clearly it must have been captured before 1916 when these blades were recalled, but after 1915 when it was made.

Hopefully further research will help us establish in which battle or skirmish this bayonet was actually taken and identify its rightful owners. The bayonet itself has been verified by the National Army Museum as an authentic ‘sawback butcher blade’ used in the bloodiest of conflicts.

As good history boys, we started our research by contacting the leader of foundation history, Dr Andy Croll, who proved to be a mine of valuable information. He put us in contact with Dr Fiona Reid, Glamorgan History Division's expert on Word War One. She has since lent the ‘sawback butcher blade’ to a secondary school as a teaching aid.

For us, most importantly, as history students, it shows that history is all around us and historic puzzles appear in some of the most unlikely situations. Stay tuned to the History boys for sequels. You can find us on the facebook group site of Glamorgan University's History Society.

Gary Brady

October 2, 2009

History Division News
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» The beginnings of a new society

<image class="left" title="Moctezuma Exhibition - British Museum" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/10/2/moctezumalink.jpg" alt="Moctezuma - British Museum" />

The History Society has been resurrected this year by a group of students who call themselves ‘The History Boys’; enthusiasts who enjoy any subject with historical significance. The society has taken off with an excellent response from the student body with applicants ranging across nearly all subjects that Glamorgan teaches.

The aim of the society is to go to the places where history is alive. Lectures and class work are all well and good, and in nearly all cases, very enjoyable. But we feel that history is something that should be ‘lived’ and experienced rather than just taught. It is this reason that has become the driving force behind our main goal… Field trips.

The first field trip of this year was organized almost immediately after the society’s inception with a trip to London scheduled on the 21st November 2009. Participants are free to do whatever they like in London, although the History Society has outlined a few places of special interest that directly relate to taught courses. An example of this is the Moctezuma exhibition in the British Museum, the Aztecs being an important subject in the first year Atlantic and the Making of the Modern World module.

Other places included the tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament to name a few. Needless to say that interest has been high. We have also made links and contacts within the Western Front Association and hope join them on a field trip to the First World War battlefields in Belgium and Northern France next year. One of the main mandates of the society is that the members choose what they would like to see, so it will not be long before more field trips are planned both for this year and for next.

The society is open to all students at Glamorgan with an interest in the past. Being a History student is not a prerequisite of membership, nor will it ever be. Anybody is free to join, participate and attend meetings, field trips and guest lectures. Anybody who is interested in joining can contact myself (Pete Driscoll – Society Secretary) on 08037582@glam.ac.uk or by joining our group page on Facebook.

Pete Driscoll

March 20, 2009

History Division News
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» News from the Classroom ... Trip to St Fagans

Second Year Module: 'Approaches to History'

<image title="Students at St Fagans" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/3/20/stfaganscomphor.jpg" alt="Students at St Fagans">

Throughout the academic year the level two History students have been studying different approaches to history. This is partly in preparation for their final year dissertations, and partly to increase their understanding of the intellectual roots of their own discipline.

As part of this process, students are invited to consider the role of public history. Is it just history-lite? Is the heritage industry there just to provide us with a good day out? Can heritage be both scholarly and accessible? If so, how?

To help answer some of these questions, and to provoke many others, we all went on a day trip to St Fagans National History Museum. Beth Thomas, a curator at the museum, spoke to the students and highlighted some of the many political issues associated with creating a museum of Welsh life: What best represents Welsh life? Who decides what is Welsh? Where does history end and the contemporary world begin? Is there a decidedly Welsh experience in a global capitalist world?

The students then spent the afternoon looking around the site…and a good time was had by all as these pictures testify.

Fiona Reid

February 26, 2009

History Division News
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» News from the Classroom ... out and about at the Tate Modern

<image title="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/26/tate3.jpg" alt="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern">

Third Year Option: 'From the Second Reich to the Nazis:
Culture, Art and Politics in Germany, 1890-1933'

<image class="left" title="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern" src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2009/2/26/tateside.jpg" alt="Final Year Students at the Tate Modern">

The years immediately after the First World War are often shrouded in gloom and depression: war was followed by economic strife, deep misery, the rise of the radical right and then more war. There is some truth in this miserable chronology but, like all chronologies, it obscures another truth. For artists, sculptors, architects, film-makers and designers of all sorts, the 1920s were most exhilarating and productive. Revolution in Russia and Germany had been accompanied by great artistic innovation, and the new regimes encouraged artistic experiment.

Many artists were eager to help shape the new world. After the horrors of the First World War and the trauma of revolution many were deeply committed to making a world that was completely different to anything that had ever existed before. Alexander Rodchenko, and Liubov Popova were two of the most influential and prominent members of the Russian avant-garde. Rodchenko was a painter, photographer, sculptor and designer; Popova was an artist and designer. They both rejected the idea that art was the simple representation of reality and – like many artists of the time – saw their work as intrinsic to their politics.

Last week, final year history students on Fiona Reid's 'Culture, Art and Politics' module went to the Tate modern to see an exhibition of Rodchenko and Popova’s work. There were fantastic examples of early abstract compositions: pure colour and pure line. We also had a glimpse into the everyday life of early Soviet Russia. Popova produced designs for peasant women’s headscarves, Rodchenko designed the poster for Eisentein’s famous Battleship Potemkin. Given their political commitment, the artists had no qualms about producing adverts for the new Soviet state. So we saw pictures of Moscow department stores during the New Economic Policy and we saw how Soviet citizens were encouraged to eat ‘Red October cookies’. We could even sit in the chairs that Rodchenko created for his ‘Workers’ club’, one of the Soviet exhibits at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in the summer of 1925.

Powerpoint is brilliant but there is really no substitute for seeing actual works of art. Only then can you gauge size, texture, colour and depth –as well as the indefinable thrill of seeing the original work.

This trip was only possible because the university agreed to subsidise it to a great extent. We would like to thank those responsible.

Thanks also go to John Arnold (Final year History student) for taking the photographs.

Dr Fiona Reid