So what was the point of all that?

I've just spent two months at various libraries and archives in the UK. As I've noted previously, I now have a huge amount of extra primary source material to go through. Sure, in the abstract, more is better, but in concrete terms, how will this help make my thesis better than it would otherwise have been?

The most immediate benefit is for the chapter I'm currently working on, on defence panics. The primary sources for this are newspapers and other periodicals, a few of which I can get here, but not the single most important one: the right-wing and populist Daily Mail, a major advocate of aerial armaments over my period. I was able to survey the relevant dates (covering periods between 1913 and 1940) of the Daily Mail for all of the panics I'm interested in. (I also looked at a couple of months' worth of the Evening News, another Rothermere paper, from 1935; and the aviation magazine, the Aeroplane.) Ideally I would have examined other important conservative newspapers such the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph as well, but realistically I was never going to have enough time for that: scanning page after page of microfilmed newspapers for the occasional article of interest is very time-consuming, and it took me almost a month as it was! But now I know how the most influential press scaremonger in the British press portrayed the aerial menace, and so my chapter will be that much better.

The second chapter with which my research will help is a projected one on the organisation of aerial advocacy: that is, which organisations promoted aerial armaments, who joined them, what did they argue, how were they financed? I'm now in a position to be able to talk about groups such as the Air League of the British Empire, the Navy League (oddly enough), and the National League of Airmen. I will partly be viewing these through the prisms of some of their key figures: P. R. C. Groves, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and Norman Macmillan, the personal archives of all of whom I was able to examine in London. I'll supplement this with information about their activities from their journals and/or the press, and I also have the Air League's minute books for 1909-1941 to draw upon. I guess with this chapter, the question I want to answer is: where were the leagues? Anyone familiar with navalism before the First World War will recall that the Navy League and Imperial Maritime League were very active in trying to alert public opinion to the need for more battleships to counter the growing German fleet. I expected something similar would be the case with airmindedness, yet the Air League has been almost invisible in my research so far. And it turns out that this was actually a criticism the Air League had to face several times in its early history. Once I've sifted through all the data I should be better able to explain why this was.

Finally, my (already-written) chapters on the origin and evolution of the knock-out blow will need to be updated somewhat in light of some of the books and archival sources I looked at. Nothing major -- just refining and clarifying the narrative in places. For example, I now know a bit more about when and why F. W. Lanchester wrote Aircraft in Warfare (1916), a key text in the creation of the knock-out blow paradigm. Actually, now that I think of it, the main advantage here is probably an increased confidence that I've got the the story largely right: although I obviously can't be sure that something startling might turn up, I've at least now filled in the more glaring gaps in my review of the literature.

Of course I picked up a lot of other things of interest here and there along the way, and there are the intangible benefits of meeting other researchers working on related topics as well. Overall, my thesis will certainly be much the better for the time I spent in the UK; it was two months very well spent!

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