Hanna Smyth

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What topic are you working on for your masters degree or doctorate?

My doctoral topic is the material culture of British imperial remembrance on the Western Front. I research how different aspects of identity were represented and reinforced by Commonwealth War Graves Commission sites (both memorials and cemeteries), including the relationships between individual/collective and imperial/national identities. My focus is on sites pertaining to India, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.

Why did you decide to work on the First World War?

I’ve been interested in the First World War since I was a child- my birthday is November 11 and I was named ‘Hanna’ after Victor Middleton Hanna, a relative who was gassed at Passchendaele aged 21. Then when I was 16 I won a scholarship trip with the Vimy Foundation to study the First World War in England, France, and Belgium, which solidified my interest. (Now I work for them!). All of my prior university studies revolved around material culture in some way (history/Classical archaeology and museum studies), and I became convinced that the material culture of First World War remembrance was what I wanted to work on, because it holds a fascinating place in cultures of commemoration and is playing a significant role during the centenary. My MA dissertation examined FWW centenary interpretation in English museums; CWGC sites, like museums, I thought were incredibly powerful and influential sites of memory that should be explored further in my PhD.
Which is your favourite book on the First World War and why?

A Distant Grief: Australians, War Graves, and the Great War by Bart Ziino (2007). His social history of how distance influenced the Australian culture of commemoration is groundbreaking, and one which I am interested to test against the other countries that form my case studies. I’ll also mention my favourite fiction book: Remembrance by Theresa Breslin (2002), which does an excellent job capturing the complexities of loss and remembrance and the diversity of war experiences.

Carnet du Centre International de Recherche de l'Historial de Péronne