I received a letter from the university today, containing a form which is ominously entitled 'Completion Report for PhD Candidates'. I guess they are expecting to receive a thesis from me in the not too distant future!
One of the things I have to finalise is the title of the thesis. According to the form, it's currently called 'The Impact of Airpower on the British People, 1908-1939'. That's the bland title I picked more than 4 years ago, when I only had the vaguest idea of what I wanted to do, and it's clearly influenced by -- or lifted from -- Alfred Gollin's classic The Impact of Airpower on the British People and their Government, 1909-14. I've had a better one -- or at least, more accurate one -- picked out for a while, but wasn't sure if it's what I'm going to go with. But I'm out of time, and haven't had any bright ideas, so I'm probably stuck with it now!
To my mind, a good title should be descriptive -- it should give some idea of what it's actually about. If it's intriguing and memorable, that's a bonus. With that in mind, here's my provisional title:
The Next War in the Air: Britain and the Bomber, 1908-1941
So straightaway, this tells you the period and geographical focus -- it's early twentieth century Britain. The words 'war', 'air' and 'bomber' show that it's about aerial warfare, specifically bombing. But the first clause as whole, 'the next war in the air', hopefully suggests that it's about anticipations of bombing more than the actual thing.
I think that's all fine. But I'm not sure about the next clause, 'Britain and the bomber'. Yes, the thesis can be described as a study of the relationship between Britain and the bomber. I also chose it because I like alittle alliteration, and because it's the title of an article I cite (as is 'the next war in the air'). And it's a nod to England and the Aeroplane, too. But is it promising too much? As a study of 'Britain and the bomber' it's missing many things, such as (for example) nearly everything the RAF did or said on the subject. Or the Air Ministry or the rest of the government. That's not a problem for the thesis (I hope!) because my subject is about popular, civilian, unofficial ideas about and responses to the threat of bombing, and there's plenty of excellent histories of British air policy and RAF doctrine already out there. But maybe it's a problem for the thesis title -- it doesn't get across the idea that I'm writing about the public sphere. I could tweak it a little, and say 'British society' instead of 'Britain', or something like that. I'm a sucker for a nice turn of phrase, though, and that would spoil the things I like about it ...
The other thing to remember is that nobody will read the damn thing anyway, so it doesn't really matter too much what I call it :)
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