What topic are you working on for your masters degree or doctorate?
I am a final year doctoral researcher at the European University Institute in Florence where I have recently submitted my thesis entitled ‘Mobilising Memory: The Great War and the Language of Politics in Colonial Algeria, 1918-1939’. In it, I consider the political repercussions of the mass participation of the colonial citizens and subjects of Algeria in the Great War.
Why did you decide to work on the First World War?
While growing up in the Ireland of the 1990s and early 2000s, I witnessed the sudden explosion of both popular and scholarly literature around the topic of my home country’s participation in the Great War after almost a century of near total silence. The complex questions pertaining to imperial and national loyalties that emerged in subsequent debates around Ireland’s participation in the conflict inspired me to engage with the thorny legacy of the Great War in another, though radically distinct, colonial situation: Algeria.
Which is your favourite book on the First World War and why?
Although this question asks for only one title, I shall use gender balance as an excuse to talk about two books that I found especially fascinating. As a colonial historian, I particularly admire Joe Lunn’s Memoirs of the Maelstrom: A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War (1999). Lunn’s interviews with West African veterans of the Great War bear testament to the variety of both the experiences that characterised and the hopes that resulted from colonial participation in the conflict. It also a fine example of an oral history that made great use of a resource that is, unfortunately, no longer available to historians of the First World War. The second book, Laura Lee Downs’ Manufacturing Inequality: Gender Division in the French and British Metalworking Industries, 1914-1939, offers a fascinating comparative history of the war experience of women working far from the frontlines. It exposes the complex ways in which women’s wartime participation in the industrial workforce simultaneously and paradoxically challenged and further entrenched male hegemony. Both works offer insights into the conflict’s impact on subaltern groups that are all too often excluded from the story of the Great War.