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Our academic members of staff describe their recent project in their own words.

Penny Summerfield

Contesting Home Defence

In August 2000 I completed a Leverhulme-funded research project on the Gendering of Home Defence in Britain in the Second World War, working with Dr Corinna Peniston-Bird who was employed as a Research Associate on the project, at Lancaster University.

We have recently finished a book based on the project, Contesting Home Defence: men, women and the Home Guard in Britain in the Second World War, to be published by the Centre for the Cultural History of War series, Manchester University Press.


  • Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods (Transformations) by Tess Cosslett (Editor), Celia Lury (Editor), Penny Summerfield (Editor), (Routledge, 2000).
  • Women, Power and Resistance: Introduction to Women's Studies, Tess Cosslett (Editor), Alison Easton (Editor), Penny Summerfield (Editor), (Open University Press, 1996).

For more information on the Contesting Home Defence project, please see below:

Contesting Home Defence - further information

The British Home Guard in the Second World War in Popular and Personal Memory

Penny Summerfield has been working with Corinna Peniston-Bird on a project on the Home Guard. Their book, Contesting Home Defence: men, women and the Home Guard in Britain in the Second World War, is to be published by Manchester University Press. It explores the contested meanings of British wartime home defence in popular and personal memory.

The book starts by addressing the wartime political struggles over the social and ideological character of the Home Guard; the second part analyses popular cultural representations of the force in wartime and since, notably in the television series Dad's Army (1968-1977); and the last part scrutinises personal accounts of wartime participation in home defence, elicited in oral history interviews.

The men who volunteered to be part-time soldiers in the Local Defence Volunteers, renamed the Home Guard in July 1940, were seen officially as a counter-invasion force of patriots who represented core British wartime values. This construction was contested by an alternative vision emanating from the Left, which attempted to re/define the Home Guard as part of an international popular anti-fascist movement conducted on guerrilla lines.

Women's involvement in the Home Guard has been largely hidden from history. It was the result of a lengthy campaign led by Dr Edith Summerskill M.P., which included demands for a combatant role for women in home defence and the formation of an independent armed force, Women's Home Defence, both of which were resisted by the War Office.

Official representations identified the Home Guard as quintessentially British, unifying diverse social groups and embodying the wartime spirit of self-sacrifice and patriotic service. Humorous interpretations both supported and challenged such depictions, and they played on the gender insecurities of this force of part-time civilian soldiers. Women's contribution was, with some surprising exceptions, ignored in popular culture.

Dad's Army drew selectively on wartime and postwar representations to depict the Home Guard as an all-male force which was 'pathetic, comic yet valorous'. This representation has come to dominate cultural constructions of home defence and it has become almost impossible for men and women to recall their own experiences in the Home Guard without reference to Dad's Army.

Some personal accounts of wartime participation in home defence by women lament the invisibility of women Home Guards in history and popular culture: 'they quietly and conveniently forgot about us' said one woman. The absence of representations of women in the Home Guard means that women trying to construct stories of their home defence experiences have confronted a cultural vacuum. In contrast, the close link between notions of national unity, patriotism and a wartime military role for men, informs men's personal narratives, although these accounts are tempered by scepticism, stimulated by Dad's Army, about whether the wartime ideals were really achieved.

What does the history of home defence contribute to understandings of the Second World War? We argue that it reveals political struggles over the social and ideological character of the war effort that are contrary to the image of wartime consensus that has been constructed in much popular culture. It also demonstrates the hotly contested persistence of gendered notions of citizenship in a period considered to be one of greater equality between men and women. The book suggests that the wartime ideal of national unity was deeply divided by class, politics, gender and region: it explores the processes of cultural selectivity by which these tensions have been forgotten, and rehabilitates divergent memories of Britain in the Second World War.

Peter Gatrell's AHRB project

Population Displacement, State Practice & Social Experience in Russia and Eastern Europe

I currently co-direct a major ARHB research project (with Nick Baron, University of Nottingham) on "Population displacement, state practice and social experience in Russia and Eastern Europe, 1930-1956".

This represents a continuation of a project that ran from 1999 to 2004 ('Population displacement, state formation and social identity in the former Russian empire, 1918-1930'), which recruited a multinational team of scholars from Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. The current project has 2 post-doctoral research fellows (one is Tomas Balkelis, the other will be appointed later in 2005) and two PhD students, one based at Manchester and one at Nottingham. 


  • Russia's First World War : A Social and Economic History, (Longman, 2005).
  • A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia during the First World War, (Indiana University Press, 1999).
  • Government, Industry and Rearmament in Russia, 1900-1914: The Last Argument of Tsarism, (Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Ana Carden-Coyne

Men in Pain: Disabled Veterans, Rehabilitation and Subjectivity in WW1

The Faculty of Humanities of the University of Manchester has funded the first stage of this research.

This book is a study of disabled veterans and rehabilitation in Britain and Australia during the First World War, focusing on:

  1. how disabled men experienced pain, encountered discourses of masculinity, and attempted to reconstruct their subjectivity, negotiating the attitudes of physicians, therapists and families;
  2. the class and gender dynamics between patients and medical staff engaged in rehabilitation treatments;
  3. cultural representations of disability and how veterans responded to them.

A key line of inquiry is to explore how men in pain experienced their bodies and formulated new identities as 'disabled veterans', and what this meant for their subjectivity.

This project will engage not only with medical and government authorities, with therapists and nurses, but offers new approaches from the perspectives of disabled men themselves.

Bertrand Taithe


  • Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil, 1870-1871, (Routledge, 2001).
  • Defeated Flesh: Medicine, Welfare, and Warfare in the Making of Modern France, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).
  • War: Identities in Conflict, 1300-2000, Bertrand Taithe (Editor), Tim Thornton (Editor), (Sutton Publishing 1998).

Max Jones


  • The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott's Antarctic Sacrifice, (Oxford University Press, 2003).