History Welcomes New Graduate Tutor Tim EllisPost from History at Teesside

Teesside University has recently appointed Tim Ellis as a Graduate Tutor for History. We asked him to tell us about his past and future research.

I am originally from and now live in Sunderland (just 40 minutes away from Middlesborough), but in the past five years, I have spent time in Oxford (where I did my BA at St Hugh’s College) and Belfast (where I completed by my MA at Queens University). I first became fascinated with Irish history at Oxford where I had the great privilege of being taught by Prof. Roy Foster, Dr Senia Paseta and Dr Guy Beiner in my second and third years. On their advice (after taking some time out to backpack around China and teach English in the Amazon rainforest) I spent a year in Belfast, studying a specialist MA in Irish History, under the supervision of such great names as Dr Fearghal McGarry, Prof. Mary O’Dowd, Dr Marie Coleman and Prof. Sean Connolly. During my year at Belfast I became particularly interested in the Irish Free State, 1922-1939. My dissertation examined the role of political cartoons in the political culture of the Free State.

I spent much of my year in Ireland pouring over books in the McClay library and searching through printed cartoons in the National Library in Dublin. Time spent in Belfast City Cemetery, off the Falls Road, cataloguing gravestones as part of Public History internship proved to be a useful counterbalance to time spent in the library. One of my more memorable research trips was to Sligo, on Ireland’s west coast, to visit a remote country house owned by the UK’s first female MP, Constance Markievicz, a renowned Irish republican, socialist and feminist. She is less well known for her incisive political cartoons, produced during the Irish Civil War, 1922-3.

During the course of researching my dissertation, it became apparent that political cartoons were rarely just an innocuous diversion to serious textual discussions in newspapers. They frequently touched on many controversial subjects: such as anti-imperialism, feminism, race and class. During the authoritarian years of the Civil War the political cartoon rarely caught the censor’s attention. Gender was an almost constant theme in Irish political cartoons: whether it was through subtle critiques of the new Irish state’s attitude towards women, or less subtle denigrations of politicians’ masculinity.


My masters’ research got me interested in visual sources in Irish history. Historians, especially those who study Ireland, often neglect visual sources, yet they provide much insight into how the voting public ‘see’ their political leaders. They are vital in fashioning politicians’ public image. In the 1920s and 1930s, democratic and authoritarian leaders across Europe carefully set about using the new media of photography and cinema to promote political support and, in some cases, ultimately build personality cults. Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini’s use of visual culture to project a triumphant self-image is well-established. All three figures enjoyed thriving personality cults, which nonetheless lasted no more than three decades.

There was one leader in Europe whose personality cult was far more enduring than any of the dictators. This leader exerted a magnetic hold on his nation’s politics from 1916 to 1975. He enjoyed a personality cult which lasted longer than that of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin or Franco. He created a political party which came first in every general election held between 1932-2007 (inclusive). Surprisingly, this leader was not the leader of a totalitarian dictatorship, but rather one of the most democratic nations in the world: Eamon de Valera, the central figure of twentieth-century Ireland.

Little research has been done on the creation, maintenance and operation of the de Valera cult. However, I am convinced the use of visual media played a part. De Valera owned and operated a newspaper which was very sympathetic to him and his party (the Irish Press), which frequently featured large front page images of himself. De Valera had a talent for the theatrical; for choreographed public spectacle, appearing conspicuously with the Papal legate at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. He famously conducted late-night visits to Irish villages, on horseback, wrapped in a black cloak, accompanied by torch-bearing followers.


His political rivals were equally conscious of the importance of the visual in creating electoral support. William Cosgrave (de Valera’s predecessor as head of government) was the first Irish leader to speak to the electorate on film, and his party (Cumman na nGaedheal) commissioned slick election posters, produced with the help of Ireland’s new advertising agencies. Eoin O’Duffy, the leader of Ireland’s ‘Fascist’ movement, ‘the Blueshirts’, was equally a manipulator of the visual and the theatrical, staging rallies and appearing (more unusually) in photo-shoots with Hollywood film stars.

My PhD examines the role of the visual in Irish political culture, 1922-39. It will firstly examine the changing nature of image control by politicians: comparing and contrasting the censorship of images in newspapers during the Civil War, with de Valera’s careful management of the Irish Press in the 1930s. It will then ask the more complex question: ‘how did the Irish public view images of their politicians?’ looking at complex role of symbolism played in a politician’s self-presentation at public events. As my MA dissertation has already shown, images of politicians frequently intersected with contemporary discourses of class, race and masculinity in Irish society. Something as simple as an item of clothing carried several loaded meanings. Headgear was particularly controversial.

I am carrying out this research thanks to generous support from Teesside University who have generously appointed me to the new position of Graduate Tutor, where I will be funded to carry out both research and teaching. I currently teach European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to first years, an experience which I am finding so far to be both enjoyable and stimulating. I am also supported intellectually by my supervisor, Dr Roisin Higgins, who is a key part of a burgeoning Irish history research community in the North East of England. Her research interests in the political use of spectacle by the Irish government make her an ideal supervisor for this thesis. She is joined by Professor Nigel Copsey whose research and expertise on Fascism will no doubt allow him to offer sound advice on the wider European context to this study, and on the role of the Fascist-leaning Eoin O’Duffy. Dr Linsey Robb will also be able to offer supervision and advice on all aspects of this thesis concerning the visual representation of masculinity: a research interest which will be carried over from my MA dissertation.

I am also excited to be joined by a fellow PhD student, Sean Donnelly, who is currently examining the role of Cumman na nGaedheal in the early years of the Irish state, from a new theoretical angle, that of post-colonialism. Irish historiography has traditionally been rather intellectually conservative: suspicious of new theoretical angles and restrictive in the sources it often employs, though this is now beginning to change. The recent centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising has injected much new international attention into Irish history. Irish historians are now increasingly beginning to employ transnational and gendered perspectives in their work, and are also turning to material and visual sources to provide new insight on key events in Irish history. Both Dr Higgins and many of the academic staff at Queens University Belfast who taught me have played a key role in this regard. As a community, Irish historians now find themselves in a very exciting time for their discipline.


from HistoryatTeesside

RHS Symposium: Political Thought in Revolutionary Ireland c.1913-23, Teesside University, 8/9 September 2016Post from History at Teesside

Royal Historical Society Symposium

 Political Thought in Revolutionary Ireland, c1912-23

 Teesside University 8-9 September 2016


TG.02, the Curve


Thursday 8th September

 5.00 – 5.45:                Tour of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima)

6.00- 7.30:                   Reception (with music, poetry and prose) in the Curve, Middlesbrough Campus.

Friday 9th September

9.00-9.15:                    Registration in the foyer of the Curve.

9.15-10.00                   Prof Senia Paseta (University of Oxford)

‘Feminist Political Thought’

10.00-11.00                 Dr Colin Reid (Northumbria University)

‘Unionist Political Thought’

Dr James McConnel (Northumbria University)

‘The Political Thought of the Irish Parliamentary Party’

Tea and Coffee

 11.20-11.50                 His Excellency Dan Mulhall, Irish Ambassador to Britain

11.50-1.10:                  Dr Ultán Gillen (Teesside University)

‘Empire and Irish Political Thought’

Dr Charlie McGuire (Teesside University)

‘Socialism in Ireland’

Dr Roisín Higgins (Teesside University)

‘The Politics of Patrick Pearse’


2.00-3.00:                    Dr Lauren Arrington (Liverpool University)

‘The Political Ideology of Countess Markievicz’

Dr Emmet O’Connor (Ulster University)

‘The 1919 Democratic Programme’

3.00-4.00:                    Dr Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid (Sheffield University)

‘Republican Political Thought after 1916’

Dr Marc Mulholland (Oxford University)

‘The Counter-Revolution’

            Tea and Coffee

 4.30-5.30:                    Keynote Address: Prof Richard Bourke (Queen Mary, University of                                                London)

‘Reflections on the Political Thought of the Irish Revolution’

The event is free. To register contact arts@tees.ac.uk.

The organisers are grateful for the support of the Royal Historical Society



from HistoryatTeesside

Holocaust Memorial Day Programme 2016Post from History at Teesside


27 JANUARY 2016






12:00-1:00pm            – Commemorative Service: Don’t Stand By (CLT)

– Prayers, readings and reflections


1:00-1:30pm                – Coffee and Seminar Registration (CLT Foyer)


1:30-2:30pm                – Professor Frank McDonough, Liverpool John Moores (CLT)

‘The Gestapo and the Persecution and Deportation of the Jews’


2:45-3:45pm                – Parallel Seminar Sessions:


  1. A) Paul Grace, PhD. student, Fine Art (CLT)

‘Bystander  – Witness: The Act of Spectatorship’


  1. B) Mark Handscomb, Media and Journalism Lead (M4.04)

‘Not Standing By: Survivor Stories from the Holocaust’


  1. C) Paul Stocker, PhD. student, CFAPS (M5.02)

‘Wars of Memory: The Holocaust in Contemporary Estonia’


  1. D) Teesside History Undergraduates (M5.03)

‘Stand up and speak out!’


  1. E) Teesside History Undergraduates (M5.04)

‘Examples of Bystanders in the Third Reich and Holocaust’


4:00-5:00pm             – Chris Webb, Director of holocaustresarchproject.org (CLT)

‘Oskar Schindler: From Bystander to Saviour’


5:00-6:00pm             – Mark Handsomb, Media and Journalism Lead (CLT)

Screening of Holocaust films and Survivors’ testimonies

* Through the month of January 2016 there will be an exhibition of Chris Webb’s private photographic archive on Jewish persecution and bystanders under the Third Reich, to be held in the Constantine Gallery, The Tower Building


Red Army Footage of the Liberation of Auschwitz


Entrance is free, but booking is necessary. To reserve your place, please contact J.Whittaker@tees.ac.uk OR arts@tees.ac.uk


Hosted by the Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies, Teesside University, working in partnership with Middlesbrough Council


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—

And there was no one left to speak for me.

– Martin Niemöller, imprisoned in Nazi Germany

from HistoryatTeesside

Dear Mrs Pennyman…Post from History at Teesside


Photo: Mary Pennyman, E. O. Hoppé © 2015 Curatorial Assistance, Inc. / E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection

Bessie Walker from York had been married only six weeks when the platoon lieutenant wrote to say that her husband had been killed shortly before the end of the First World War. She wrote: ‘I try to be a comfort to his poor old Dad & Mother, they feel it dreadful. Perhaps its wicked to say so, but I sometimes wish I could be old with them, as life feels rather empty at times.’ A new Heritage Lottery project aims to discover what happened to Bessie Walker and women like her in the years that followed.

The project, co-ordinated by Dr Roisín Higgins, at Teesside University, is inspired by 120 letters discovered by volunteer archivists at Ormesby Hall in Middlesbrough. Mary Pennyman was the secretary of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Widows and Orphans Fund and was just 26 years old when she began writing to the wives and mothers of men who were missing or killed during the First World War. The letters from cross Britain and Ireland, which are now held in Teesside Archives, provide a window into the thoughts and feelings of women who would otherwise remain unnoticed by history, and this makes them very valuable.


Image copyright: Teesside Archives

Through their letters we encounter these women at a moment of profound sadness. Most try to manage their grief through recourse to religious beliefs and a sense of patriotic duty but occasionally fear, sorrow and even anger seep into their correspondence.

Pennyman’s role was to provide practical advice about pensions and recovery of personal effects. However she also asked the women about their lives and became a point of emotional support. One widow, Mary Smith from Sanquar, had to sell her house and take a position as a Lady’s maid. She wrote ‘… it is all too sad as we were so devoted to each other, I get about a great deal with my Lady and my mind is partly taken up with my work that really I shouldn’t grumble, I often think of those who are left worse off than I am’. By researching Mary’s story the project will bring greater understanding not just to the life of a Lady’s maid but also to the way in which women’s social and economic status were changed by war.

Smith Sanquar


Bessie Walker

Image copyright: Teesside Archives

Pennyman herself is also an interesting figure. Her husband, a machine-gun officer, was declared missing during the war and this helped to bridge the class gap between her and the women who wrote asking for help. She tried to find ways to console them and wrote to one widow, ‘I am very glad to hear you have the children, they will make all the difference to you, for you will feel that you have something of your husband.’ Mary Pennyman died in childbirth at 35 and had no children.

Many First World War projects focus on the dead; this one focuses on those who had to live on.

Roisín Higgins will train and support two student interns and a number of volunteers to research the lives of the women who wrote to Mary Pennyman and the project will tell their stories. Through the letters it will be possible to build a picture of the struggles and triumphs of women’s lives in the post-war period.

The ‘Dear Mrs Pennyman’ project will share its work online. The letters are being digitized and a website is being constructed which will have a crowd-sourcing facility so that members of the public can get involved and contribute information. Public events will be organized to share the project’s findings and to learn from the experiences of volunteers. The culmination of this work will be an exhibition to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice in 2018. This will provide a point of reflection on the impact of war on individual lives and on the fact that, for many, the ending of the war did not mean the end of sorrow. Ada Thornton from Sheffield wrote that she was not so anxious about the war ending now that her brother was dead, ‘You’ll understand this won’t you. We shall have no one coming home’.

Mary Walton

Mary Walton from Colne who was one of the young women who wrote to Mary Pennyman. Image copyright: Teesside Archives

For more information contact R.Higgins@tees.ac.uk





from HistoryatTeesside

Dr Neil Armstrong. Post from History at Teesside

Neil Armstrong

It is with great sadness that the History Section at Teesside University learned of the tragic and sudden death of our friend and colleague, Dr Neil Armstrong.

Neil was a talented colleague, scholar and teacher. Anyone who worked with him knew the uncompromising dedication and dry wit that made him popular with both staff and students.

An expert on the history of Christmas in the nineteenth century and on religion in twentieth-century Britain, Neil contributed immensely to every aspect of the work of the History Section since joining us in June 2010.

Margaret Hems, head of the History Section, said:

“Neil’s death is a grievous loss not only to those of us who worked with him in History at Teesside University, but also to the wider community of social and cultural historians, nationally and internationally. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.

We at Teesside send our sincerest condolences to Neil’s wife Catriona and his wider family.”

from HistoryatTeesside

Remembering Evacuation. Post from History at Teesside

As part of a Knowledge Exchange Project for last year’s third year module, ‘The People’s War’, Catherine Hulse interviewed a relative who had been evacuated during the Blitz. 

From the outset of the ‘People’s War’ the whole nation, even children, were included. With technological advancements made in the interwar years and the growing tensions in Europe, aerial bombardment posed a huge threat and in 1938 Sir Arthur MacNalty, Chief Medical Officer to the Board of Education stated that ‘the industrial cities of our land are no longer fenced cities for the little ones, but may become the most vulnerable centres of attack’. The sheer idea of evacuating a whole generation of children without their parents was unprecedented, but now the danger seemed so great that a full evacuation plan was devised and in place by summer 1939.

On the 1st September, two days before the official announcement of conflict, the official move from city to country began – in this first transition 827,000 school-aged children left their homes. These children were not just a uniform mass, but individuals with individual experiences, and it is crucial that we listen and record them while the opportunity is still available. One child who did not have the experience that one might expect from the reading of history books was Marlene Williams, now Kenneally, who shares her story below. At the start of the War she was just short of five and living in Forest Gate, Greater London.


Photographs from http://www.bbc.co.uk

We understand that you were not evacuated in 1939 in the main national scheme – what happened that caused you to eventually be sent away?

We lived very close to Wanstead Flats, which in the first year of the War was home to the army and there was a huge anti-aircraft gun battery – this was a main target for the Germans.* Our house was directly hit on the 20th September 1940 – many houses in our road were demolished that night. The blast caused everything in the shelter to become dislodged and I can remember choking on the dust… we were trapped for a day and a half.

* Over thirty high explosive bombs directly hit Wanstead Flats in the Blitz, and two hundred and sixteen fell on the Royal Docks to the south, another obvious key target.

 That must have been terrifying! What was it like when you finally got out?

Horrific. There were chairs, other furniture, bedding and curtains high in the trees which were blown up by the blast, the only things we were left with were our nightclothes which we were wearing. Next door, only the children survived, and they had to be pulled out through the coal hole. The WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) washed us, sorted out our grazes and found us some clothes.

Where were you eventually taken?

At first to Saxmundham near Ipswich – there was me, my mum and brother, and many others who travelled there by open top lorry and who were taken in by a farmer the first night. The next day we set off for Aylesbury, and lived in Waddesdon Village Hall for about a week.


During the war, Suffolk, where Marlene spent her first night away, saw so many more children from Dagenham, less than ten miles from Forest Gate, arrived than had been expected that no billets could be found for them and some had to be put up in temporary accommodation without bedding or blankets. So much attention had been paid to the logistics of getting children away, that the consideration of how they would fare and how the receiving communities would cope was neglected.

What was your experience of the temporary accommodation like, and what happened to you after leaving it?

We were all given sacks which we had to fill with straw for a mattress and very hairy, itchy blankets. I will never forget the smell of oil stoves and the vats of vegetable soup.

We were eventually allotted the Water House at Winchendon which we shared with another family – two rooms each.  Water from the pump, no gas or electricity. The Red Cross gave us each a camp bed , enamel mug and plate, knife fork and spoon, oil lamp, kettle and two big pots.

What was the Waterhouse like, and how was life there, given how little you really had?

It was at top of a field, church and graveyard next to us and farm at the bottom, where the farmer let us have eggs and milk. We grew all our own vegetables. From the top of the hill we could see London burning.  They (the Luftwaffe) used to drop masses of incendiary bombs and the sky on the horizon was bright red – it happened night after night so we were constantly fearful for our family and friends. The school was five miles away and we walked.  My brother and I regarded it as a great adventure, but how terrible for the women especially as their husbands could be anywhere.  It was my birthday seven days after we were bombed out and Mum made me a doll out of a stocking.  No arms or legs but she had managed to get some wool to embroider eyes and a mouth and wrapped it round with a piece of rag.  My dad visited us on compassionate leave and chopped a great pile of logs; also bought a small axe for my brother to make life easier.  The clothing was indescribable, all second hand via Red Cross, and we had to line shoes with paper cut outs to try and keep wet out.  Can only remember one Christmas there and Mum made me a dress out of white crepe paper. It was very poverty stricken.

 Where did you go from there?

In 1942 when the air raids subsided we came home and stayed with my Auntie Bessie in Ilford as we were homeless. We continued to have raids however, and we would all dress up every night to get in the shelter.   The mums made them fun nights with all kinds of word and number games and then we would all crawl out in the morning to see what damage had been done.  I was evacuated again before the V1s and V2s started to become a threat. Remember the fear when we heard about the next thing we had to look forward to.  No warning just bang.  Everyone was very scared.


The arrival of the V1 and V2s brought about a so called ‘second blitz’ between 1944 and 1945. Over four hundred of the latter, the more sophisticated and accurate V2s, hit London and its immediate surroundings. Ilford, being in the east side of Greater London, suffered greatly in this time – it was the worst affected area by the V2 rockets, being struck 35 times (and 34 times by V1s). This led to another flurry of evacuation, largely in a scheme known as Operation Rivulet which saw many of London’s schoolchildren evacuated, in some cases, like Marlene’s, for the second time.

How did you feel at having to leave home again?

I went on my own that time and was very sad to leave my mum but not my brother who I thought was a clever bossy boots.  The train journey took about eight hours but I was still full of optimism and looking forward to the new life.  I was very lucky but some children had a very bad time.

How unlike the first evacuation was it?

I was billeted with a very wealthy family in Yorkshire, so very different to the first evacuation. The house I was taken to was huge with three storeys and three double fronts with tennis courts, a huge summerhouse for entertaining, stables, and a river at bottom of garden with a boat.  We had a nursery equipped with every game imaginable and a full sized billiard table.  ‘Uncle Paul’ was the village doctor and also Medical Officer for West Riding of Yorkshire, his surgery and dispensary were in the house. They also had a farm at Seatoller in the Lake District where we would go for a month each Easter and another at Morecambe Bay where we would spend August. I had never seen so much food in my life – huge platters of sausages, bacon, eggs and fried bread.

It sounds as though you were treated well?

They were a very kind family – they had three boys and had always wanted a girl, so yes, I was very well looked after. I was started on music lessons, taught how to swim and play tennis, and when we went to the Lake District, was kitted out with walking boots and kilt. I was lucky – two sisters who lived in my road were so unhappy and badly treated that their mother took them home.


For some children, the experience of evacuation was nothing less than traumatic, as suggested by the sisters Marlene knew. Problems ranged from billets being simply unsuitable, to cases of child neglect and even child cruelty. Another lady who visited her evacuated younger brother and sister in their time away saw the effects of this. The siblings begged to be brought home for they were so hungry from being given so little food that they had broken into the pantry and stolen a jar of jam, and as a result had been beaten. Such experiences add strength to Juliet Gardiner’s argument that children’s loss was compounded by the draining away of their normal expectations of childhood, years that could never be recovered. Marlene’s story, to a large extent, fights back at such a generalization – thankfully there were children who were given wonderful opportunities and treated with much kindness and care. Even so, most children experienced home sickness in some form as Marlene went on to tell us. They also had very mixed feelings about returning to their old lives at the end of the War.

I always felt rather distant from ‘Auntie Eileen’, although she was very kind. The family’s beautiful red setter, Rhoda, became my saviour, something I could cuddle – she and I were inseparable. She would run by the bike each morning when I went to school and every afternoon she would be by the school gate waiting. I was torn in half when it was time to come home, desperately wanting to see everyone but was devastated at the thought of leaving Rhoda. I remember sitting in the stable with her telling her not to go to school anymore and it was this that upset me so.   When I got home there was much whispering about me wishing to be back up north but I could not even speak about Rhoda without crying, so could not say what was really wrong but I did love being home. I went back in summer holidays every year until Rhoda died and I couldn’t go any more.

Evacuation is an important and unique part of British history. This article has hopefully not only demonstrated the realities of the danger on home soil and how many complex issues there were associated with evacuation, but also shown that feelings and stories are as important as solid facts in remembering and learning about the past. The experience of all the children who were part of this piece of history cannot be summed up in one paragraph, for they varied greatly. The way evacuation both affected and was affected by the government and other large organizations, and the social issues that arose from it, whilst not unimportant by any standards, will forever be available in books and on the internet. People, on the other hand, will not last forever, and their memories and stories should be captured while they can be, treasured and learnt from.

Catherine Hulse is currently studying for an MA at the University of Glasow

from HistoryatTeesside

Funded PhD Opportunities in History at Teesside. Post from History at Teesside

History at Teesside is part of not one but two consortia that offer funded PhD opportunities.

If you wish to apply for a PhD in the AHRC-funded Heritage Consortium, the deadline is Thursday 26th February. Click here for the details of how to apply.

We are also part of the North of England Consortium for the Arts and Humanities, and you can apply to study any area of history. The deadline is Thursday 5th March. Click here for details of how to apply.

from HistoryatTeesside

A Journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Post from History at Teesside

Teesside University students are making arrangements to travel to Poland early next year so we asked students Sophie Fixter and Matthew Jones, who made the trip last year, to reflect on their experience.

After a long journey to Krakow, travelling through the night, we settled into our hotel ready to begin our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau the next morning. It was an early morning start travelling to the most infamous concentration camp of the Second World War, Auschwitz. On arrival the sheer scale of the camp was truly overwhelming. We met with our guide who assured us this would be one of the most memorable mornings that we, as young historians, would ever experience.


We walked through the entrance gate to the camp. It was harrowing to remember that over seventy years ago so many people had walked through these gates not knowing the torture that their lives would now become. As a group we travelled through the camp passing by barracks and housing for the inmates, perhaps the most shocking barrack shown was Block Ten, the Reproductive Test Centre, this was shut off to the public.

We saw the ‘execution wall’ which was placed casually between barracks, the bullet holes clear to the eye in the concrete. Our tour guide told us that a girl aged nine was the youngest victim of the execution wall which was mainly used to execute those openly going against the Nazis.

Seeing the gas chambers for ourselves is an image which will always stay with us, the building was built with thick concrete slabs, however, when you look on the inside there were claw marks of hundreds of desperate people. It is hard to imagine the desperation faced by these people; that they would physically try and escape what is clearly inescapable.

After an emotional and long morning we paused for a break whilst travelling to Birkenau. The short coach journey led us to the much larger camp. We stood at the infamous train tracks and paused. Seeing this for ourselves and imagining what people felt arriving to the unknown was really difficult for the group. Although close to a busy main road, once entering the camp it became eerily quiet. The image here was the stereotypical view of what you expect a concentration camp to look like, barracks for as far as the eye can see.

A-B 3

We were again taken around by our guide who showed us where Mengele had performed his experiments, where the women were kept and where the Nazis had blown up even more barracks in a desperate attempt to cover up their actions.

The journey back to the hotel that night was very quiet and reflective. As historians we had read widely about the Nazi extermination camps, but seeing it with our own eyes underlined their magnitude.

Galicia Museum
The second day was another early start which began with a short walk from the hotel down to the Jewish quarter of Krakow and a visit to the Galicia Museum. We were taken around the permanent exhibition, ‘Traces of Memory’, by a guide. This was very much a contemporary look at the Jewish past in Poland.

The exhibition was made up of photographs by the late Chris Schwarz along with words from Professor Jonathan Webber. The aim of the exhibition was to offer a new way of looking at the Jewish past in Poland and it pieced together artefacts of the lives and culture of Jews in Polish Galicia. This was both thought-provoking and very informative and shed light on how the Jewish population had settled in Eastern Europe.

Photo 2

A replica of the wall that surrounded the Jewish Ghetto in Krakow during the Nazi occupation.

The exhibition was divided into five sections. The first section, ‘Jewish life in ruins’, includes images of destroyed synagogues and the second section, ‘Jewish culture as it Once Was’, displays remaining signs of the original Jewish culture and indicates how strong this culture once was in Poland.

Photo 4-1

An original Star of David arm band that the Nazis forced the Jewish population to wear to single them out.

The third section then took us onto ‘Sites of Massacre and Destruction’ which shows some of the true horrors of the Holocaust. We were shown graphic images of what happened to Galicia Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Images from Auschwitz were included in this section and, after our visit the previous day, we had a much deeper understanding of what we were viewing.

The fourth section, ‘How the Past is being Remembered’, recognises the efforts that are being made to preserve the traces of Jewish memory. The final section of the exhibition, ‘People Making Memory Today’, was mainly to remember the past and offer hope to the future. This was cleverly done by showing what people are doing today to recreate the memory of the Jewish past in Poland. This ended the tour of the exhibition on a more positive note than it started.

Oskar Schindler’s Factory
We crossed the Wisla River to Number 4 Lipowa Street, which was the site of Oskar Schindler’s Factory and is now a museum. The museum is devoted to the wartime experience in Krakow under the five-year Nazi occupation during the Second World War. The exhibition combines period artefacts, photographs and documents along with multimedia in an attempt to create a fully inclusive experience.


Oskar Schindler’s desk

The exhibition takes you on a journey from pre-war Krakow to the Soviet capture of the city. In between there were various themed sections including the sorrows of everyday living in the ghetto, the resistance movement, family life and the war time history of the Krakow Jews. Again this was an informative and thought-provoking experience.

Meeting Lidia Maksymowicz
After lunch we met back at the Galicia museum for a meeting with an Auschwitz survivor, Lidia Maksymowicz. Lidia was a Russian political prisoner and was only three years old when she arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau with her mother and grandparents. Lidia told us how her grandparents were selected for gassing straight away and her mother was put to work and Lidia herself was sent to the children’s huts.

Lidia explained to the group how she was one of Dr Mengele’s “Patients” and how all the children feared him. After the Red Army liberated the camp Lidia was adopted by a local Polish family. Her biological mother survived Auschwitz after being sent on one of the infamous death marches when the Nazis retreated westwards. Although Lidia was told that her mother had died, she did track her down and was reunited nineteen years after leaving Auschwitz.

Meeting Lidia and hearing her story was a humbling and emotional experience. At one point during her talk she lifted up her cardigan arm to display the original number that had been tattooed on her arm by the Nazis after her arrival at Auschwitz- Birkenau. She went on to explain that she looked at it every day to remind herself of the struggles that the victims of the camp faced.

The trip was both an enlightening and a humbling experience that everybody who attended will not forget. The effects of the Holocaust are still evident today and after going to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the museums, and especially after meeting Lidia, we feel a sense of responsibility to pass the experiences on to others so the horrors of the Holocaust will never be forgotten.

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from HistoryatTeesside

Grief and the First World War: Student as Researcher. Post from History at Teesside

Teesside University runs a Student as Researcher scheme which provides funding for students to undertake research alongside members of staff. In 2014 History at Teesside was given the opportunity to employ two third-year students to undertake archival research into the home front in the Tees Valley during the First World War. This work will form a significant part of the University’s community outreach activities during the centenary period. Ami Becker discusses her research.

The ‘students as researchers’ scheme is something I am incredibly grateful to have been part of. I have just completed my BA (Hons), and the aspect I found most enjoyable on the course was using archives and libraries to gain insight into contemporary experiences, and so instantly I was extremely interested. The areas I explored as part of this scheme were grief and memorial, and I did this by producing a report on letters from and to Mary Pennyman at Ormesby Hall during and after the war, and another report detailing the history of the development of the Dorman War Memorial on Linthorpe Road, both accompanied by primary sources.

Mrs Pennyman, who lived at Ormesby Hall, became the secretary of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers 2nd Battalion Widows & Orphans Fund after the First World War. She wrote to widows offering financial and emotional assistance, ensuring they were comfortable financially, and were aware of the pensions available to them. By reading the incredibly emotional letters written in reply, it is clear the soldiers’ deaths not only mean a sacrifice of one life, but that their wives’, and families’ lives also alter drastically. So often the deaths of the soldiers are the focus of memorial, but this research, both in Teesside Archives and at Ormesby Hall, provided a voice for those at home who had to recover and build a life around this loss.

The letters also make clear the struggle of those who never received any information on their husbands’ death, or anything physical to mourn. Many soldiers remained missing or unidentified, and this proved to be very difficult. Following the greatest loss of fathers in British history, wives had to deal with practical problems such as making sure their children were not distracted from their schoolwork, and earning money to feed and clothe their children. This is regrettably not a point of view I had previously given much thought to, and I am glad that I am able to present this interpretation to the public.

Memoriam card
I also studied the history of the Dorman War Memorial, for which I read War Memorial Committee minute books. It was clear that whilst there was substantial public support for a memorial, the direction in which the memorial went was not particularly supported. It is clear that the public would have preferred something functional, such as a hospital, a crèche, or an art gallery. However, Arthur Dorman donated the land upon which the cenotaph was erected, provided a monetary donation toward the final product and was influenced by the cenotaph in London, and decided that Middlesbrough was to have a cenotaph as well. As a result, it became difficult to raise funds for the memorial. It was particularly interesting to compare the minutes to photographs of the unveiling, which suggest that there was substantial support from the public, in spite of the lack of financial support.

middlesbrough memorialTo provide context to this, I also researched the importance of memorial and the First World War, and realised that I had not previously appreciated the significance of war memorials to those who had lost somebody in the War. The construction of thousands of war memorials following the Great War has been described as ’one of the greatest spontaneous public-sponsored building projects in history’, and some will argue they provide surrogate graves for the war dead.

I have particularly appreciated gaining insight into personal experiences, and exploring alternative points of view. I very much look forward to sharing our reports and documents with the public, and am extremely grateful to have been able to partake in the scheme. It has been invaluable to me both in terms of employability and enjoyment, and it has been very exciting to explore how an international event on such a huge scale affected ‘normal’ people in my hometown.

from HistoryatTeesside

Student As Researcher Opportunities, Including in History. Post from History at Teesside

An exciting opportunity has arisen for Teesside University undergraduate students to undertake some short term work as research assistants over the summer, supporting academic staff at Teesside with their research projects.

A position is available for a History student to work with Dr Roisín Higgins on an outreach project that examines the First World War in the North East of England.


If you can answer ‘yes’ to all or some of the following statements this opportunity could be for you!

I can commit 65 hours over the next few months

I am interested in doing research as part of my job when I complete my undergraduate studies

I am considering doing a Masters, or a research degree

I particularly enjoy the research elements of my programme/course

I am organised and committed to my subject area


There are 10 projects in a number of areas.  The rate of pay is £5.70 per hour (if you are aged 18-20) or £7.02 per hour (if you are aged 21 or over).  The hours will be spread over the summer by negotiation with the project leader.

For more information about the student researcher scheme, the projects, and details of how to apply, go to: http://ift.tt/1fUsfeS

The deadline for applications is Friday 23rd May 2014.

If you have any further queries, or if you have difficulties accessing the link above, contact: joanne.davies@tees.ac.uk


from HistoryatTeesside