I work on aerial combat in the First World War. My doctoral thesis looks at French, British, and American fighter pilots on the Western Front, examining their combat experiences, transnational cultural significance, and organisation within air services struggling to anticipate a new kind of warfare.
Why did you decide to work on the First World War?
Growing up, relatively few of my American friends had any personal connection to the First World War, so my initial draw probably came from the very particular family lore surrounding my great-great-grandfather, a US Marine who was badly wounded at Belleau Wood. During my masters’ work on British military aviation culture in the Second World War, I found myself constantly following up on names, places, and questions that led me back to the First: though I still think of myself as an historian of both wars, it felt like a natural move backwards in time for my doctoral research. My academic interests take me to moments where specific, often unprecedented forms of violence cause lasting societal change, and being in and amongst centenary reflections on the study of the First World War has confirmed for me how many aspects of this global conflict remain unexplored.
Which is your favourite book on the First World War and why? Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. Though I’ve enjoyed engaging with the decades’ worth of critique this book has produced, it’s a fresh and important read for me every time. Even before I worked on the First World War, this was the first book that really got me thinking about combat and the changing character of war violence.