I'm very pleased to announce that I have been awarded an Australian Bicentennial Fellowship by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King's College London. This is a travel grant which I will use to come to the UK to continue research for my next book, a history of Britain under the German air raids of the First World War, tentatively entitled Zeppelins and Gothas. I'll have more to say about the book in due course (i.e. when I've got a publisher!) but for now it's very exciting to be able to start thinking about my next research trip (it's nearly three years since my last one, which this will be building upon). A few things will have to line up first, but if they do the trip will be in the first half of 2018, likely in the spring, and will take in London and probably Leeds, and perhaps elsewhere. I'll have more to say about all that in due course too.

Here I would just like to thank not only the Menzies Centre for the Fellowship, but also Dr Dan Todman and the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London, who kindly agreed to host me during my stay, as well as the two academic referees who supported my application but who I won't embarrass by naming here!


British Journal for Military History

The latest issue of the British Journal for Military History is out, and with it my peer-reviewed article 'Constructing the enemy within: rumours of secret gun platforms and Zeppelin bases in Britain, August-October 1914':

This article explores the false rumours of secret German gun platforms and Zeppelin bases which swept Britain in the early months of the First World War and climaxed with the fall of Antwerp in October 1914, so persistently that they were repeatedly investigated by both the police and the military. They were the latest manifestation of a long-standing myth-complex around the threatening figure of an enemy within. They also represent an important moment in the British people's imaginative transition between the cautious optimism of the early months and the increasingly obvious likelihood of a long, total war.

As I've explained previously, BJMH is an open access journal, meaning that anyone and everyone can read my article for free, and even reuse it (CC BY-NC-ND). Not that I imagine it's going to have much of an impact at all, but in an age when many people are busy constructing a Muslim enemy within out of sharia, halal, and their own shadows, it's better than nothing.

Image source: British Journal for Military History.


Brett Holman. The Next War in the Air: Britain's Fear of the Bomber, 1908-1941. London and New York: Routledge, 2017. Yes, I'm one of those authors, the kind who buys the paperback edition of their own book, just to see what it looks like! At least I'll get some of that back in royalties...

Mike Milln. Wing Tips: The Story of the Royal Aero Club of South Australia. Book I: 1919-1941. Kent Town: Avonmore Books, 2011. This has lots of useful information about the founding of the RACSA and its activities in the interwar period, including the 1936 aerial pageant at Parafield -- which I'd discussed in a conference presentation a few days before I found this book, when it would have come in handy!


The Next War in the Air

2016 has been a terrible year in many respects, but finally there is some good news for everyone! Well, for everyone who wants to buy a copy of my book, anyway; because in January 2017 The Next War in the Air will be republished in a much cheaper (if not quite cheap) paperpack edition.

To backtrack a bit, in July 2015 Ashgate, my publisher, was acquired by Taylor & Francis. This caused a bit of angst at the time, not least because some good publishing people were going to lose their jobs, but also because nobody was sure what was going to happen to the various books and series published by Ashgate, now and in the future.

The dust has cleared a bit since then. Ashgate seems to no longer exist, even as an imprint. Some people did lose their jobs, though, happily, the ones I worked most closely with did not. My book was republished (I suspect just in ebook format) earlier this year by Routledge, the main humanities imprint of Taylor & Francis, which was nice (I've always liked Routledge). On the other hand, the price of the hardcover was put up to a whopping £100. Compare that with Ashgate's original price of £70, which was not exactly cheap either. As Ashgate rarely seemed to do paperback editions for their history monographs, and as The Next War in the Air was hardly a publishing sensation (ha!) I didn't think one was going happen (which was why I put the PhD thesis that formed the basis of the book online for free).

So I was pleasantly surprised when for some reason one day I clicked onto the Routledge page for my book and noticed a forthcoming paperback edition, scheduled for publication on 9 January 2017. Even better, the list price is only £34.99, just over a third the cost of the hardback and almost affordable. If you hunt around the usual sources (Booko is good for this), you might be able to find it for even less.1 Maybe this edition will even make it into real live physical bookshops? A boy can dream...

  1. In fact, as I write Routledge is selling it for only £26.24, though I don't know how long that will last. 

On Remembrance Day, 11 November 2016, I was privileged to be part of a joint seminar with Dr Richard Scully and Dr Nathan Wise, highlighting the teaching and research we do around the topic of the First World War (Richard is the author of British Images of Germany: Admiration, Antagonism & Ambivalence, 1860-1914, Nathan of Anzac Labour: Work and Workplace Cultures in the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War). Richard provided the context and graciously introduced Nathan and I, who each then gave a short presentation explaining our respective reaearch programmes. You can see the whole seminar above. Nathan went first; the abstract for his part is as follows:

Citizen-soldiers: Contextualising military service during the First World War

For decades, the otherworldliness of the First World War has fascinated Australian historians. Since the 1960s there has been a steadily growing genre of social and cultural histories of military environments. This genre analyses people in the military by the same standards that scholars would otherwise use when assessing people in civil society. What did they believe, how did they behave, how did they relate to each other, how did they actively shape the world around them? Part of this approach is designed to challenge the assumptions of the traditional genre of military history, and to attempt to explore these environments through ‘civilian lenses’. In this talk, Dr. Wise explores how this scholarly approach impacts on research and teaching activities at UNE.

And the abstract for mine (which starts at about the 26 minute mark, but listen to Nathan's too!) is:

Zeppelins and Gothas: The British People and the Great War in the Air

As a cultural historian of aviation, I am primarily interested in the ways that people in the early 20th century thought and felt about the new technology of flight and its incredible potential for changing the world. Over the past couple of years I have focused especially on the Great War, during which aircraft moved from being merely entertainment to efficient and deadly weapons. In this talk, I will outline my current research programme which aims to understand how the British people experienced and interpreted what was then a new and terrible experience: the aerial bombardment of London and other cities, first by Zeppelin airships, then by Gotha aeroplanes. This research has already resulted in three articles and eventually will lead to a book, in what is a surprisingly under-researched field.

As you can see, it's essentially a preview of my next book, or what will be my next book if I ever get around to it...

Keep Calm and friends

Earlier this week I had my first article published in The Conversation, on the actual original context for the Keep Calm And Carry On poster, as opposed to the assumed original context. The Conversation is a great platform for academics to get their work and ideas out to the public, and to provide expert analysis of what is happening in the world. It's largely funded by universities and only academics, researchers or PhD students can write for it; it has a slick writing and reading interface and even actual editors who will commission articles and actively work with authors to improve them, particularly in terms of accessibility to a general audience. (There's no payment for writing, but academics are used to that.) The Conversation started out in Australia, but it has since branched out to the UK, the US, France and Africa. Here in Australia, at least, it feeds into other forms of media: everything is Creative Commons licensed, to encourage wide republication on other news sites, and three radio stations lined up interviews: I spoke to Genevieve Jacobs on 666 ABC Canberra on Wednesday (for a few days, you should be able to listen on the replay at about 1:28:44), Ali Clarke on 891 ABC Adelaide (ditto at about 37:07), and I will be speaking to Sean Britten on 2SER (Sydney) next Wednesday.

I won't go into any detail about the article itself, in part because it's a reworking of a post I wrote here at Airminded earlier this year. But I will post a bigger version of a graphic I stitched together to show Keep Calm alongside the other two posters designed by the Ministry of Information at the same time, and (unlike Keep Calm) actually displayed to the public on a large scale. It was inspired by a similar comparison which for some reason had green and blue posters as well as red. I couldn't find unambiguous evidence that these colours were used, whereas red definitely was, so I put together this version which might be of use to somebody.

The Conversation is not your usual media website, so if you're an academic and you've got something to say, why not pitch an idea?

1 Comment

Rumours have a bad reputation, especially in wartime. They are at best unreliable, at worst flat-out lies. They are distractions from the war effort, if not actually undermining it. They can create unreasoning suspicion and fear or equally unjustified hope and optimism. In short, nothing good comes from them.

Unless you're a historian, of course. Then rumours in wartime are valuable evidence for what the people who told them thought was important and what they thought was going on, and how these differed from the official or press view. And they're even more important if you write an article about rumours in wartime and it's accepted for publication, which is what has just happened to me! In this case, the article is 'Constructing the enemy within: rumours of secret gun platforms and zeppelin bases in Britain, August-October 1914' and the journal is the British Journal for Military History.

BJMH is published by the British Commission for Military History, which in 2014 hosted a conference at Wolverhampton where I first presented on this topic. It's a new journal: the first issue came out in 2014 and it's still only up to its second volume. It's peer-reviewed, of course; but more interestingly, it's open access (libre). I strongly believe that research should be made available to as wide an audience as possible, which is partly why I have this blog and why I upload whatever versions of my articles I can here. But I've never published in an actual open access journal before, so I'm excited about that.

The article expands upon several blog posts I wrote on the topic of the strange rumours of Zeppelin bases which spread in Britain in the first summer and autumn of the war, which were paralleled by strange rumours of secret German gun platforms, linked by the occurrence of both at Great Missenden on 18 October 1914. I was awarded a UNE grant to further this research, and so this article (and the departmental seminar I gave last month) is the result of that. It's the first time I've stepped away from a strictly airminded topic: while obviously it is still partly about aviation, it is also obviously partly not, and moreover it's ultimately about trying to chart the imaginative shifts from home to home front and from peace to total war. This will, hopefully, be the topic of my next book; it's off to a good start!

Edward Bujak. Reckless Fellows: The Gentlemen of the Royal Flying Corps. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2015. Much of our understanding of the airmen of the First World War has been dominated by the image of the knight of the air (or debunkings thereof); there hasn't been a lot of work done from a social and cultural perspective. This looks like an excellent corrective, tracking the change in the RFC from an often aristocratic elite to more technocratic and imperial force. There are chapters on training, observers, mechanics, and the Armistice. One chapter looks at Australian airmen, drawing partly on Michael Molkentin's work.

Ian Gardiner. The Flatpack Bombers: The Royal Navy and the Zeppelin Menace. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2009. As recommended on the Internet! A solid account of the early RNAS air strikes against Zeppelin bases, including the Friedrichshafen raid dreamed up by Pemberton Billing. I might have wished for more on the Admiralty's strategical thinking, but it's still worth it for the operational accounts.

Geoffrey Hawthorn. Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Perhaps the key theoretical justification for the study of counterfactual history, which -- despite the best efforts of some historians -- I think has value, if done carefully.

Rob Langham. Bloody Paralyser: The Giant Handley Page Bombers of the First World War. Fonthill Media, 2016. Speaking of counterfactuals, many an interwar airpower prophet sighed over the fact that the Handley Page V/1500 didn't get their chance to bomb Berlin before the Armistice and really show the world what bombers could do. On the one hand, the Super Handleys wouldn't have done all that much; on the other, the more ordinary Handley Pages that came before them did plenty, as Rob shows here.

M. Romanych and M. Rupp. 42cm 'Big Bertha' and German Siege Artillery of World War I. Oxford and New York: Osprey, 2013. Everything you always wanted to know about 42cm 'Big Bertha' and German siege artillery of World War I but were too afraid to ask.

Michael J. K. Walsh and Andrekos Varnava, eds. Australia and the Great War: Identity, Memory and Mythology. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2016. Oh hai!


Australia and the Great War

I have a new publication out -- at least, it's out electronically, I haven't seen a physical copy yet! It's a chapter in a collection published by Melbourne University Press and edited by Michael J. K. Walsh and Andrekos Varnava, Australia and the Great War: Identity, Memory and Mythology. My chapter is entitled 'The enemy at the gates: the 1918 mystery aeroplane panic in Australia and New Zealand'. It's based on my presentation at the British Empire and the Great War conference held at Singapore in February 2014, and as the title suggests is effectively an expansion of my article on the Australian mystery aeroplane panic of 1918 to encompass its New Zealand counterpart. In a way, expansion is not quite the right word, since I had to compress my discussion of the Australian side compared with the article version, and to be consistent I had to pitch the New Zealand part at the same level. But then again, compared with Australia there wasn't anything like the archival material in New Zealand, while the press was both more sceptical and more candid about what it thought was going on. And the fear of bombardment, as opposed to espionage, seems to have been uppermost there. So there were interesting differences as well as similarities to tease out, and it ended up being more than just a rehash of the Australian article with some Kiwi stuff thrown in.
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My peer-reviewed article 'The phantom airship panic of 1913: imagining aerial warfare in Britain before the Great War' has now been published in the Journal of British Studies, and can be found here (or here, for the free, self-archived version). This is the abstract:

In late 1912 and early 1913, people all over Britain reported seeing airships in the night sky, yet there were none. It was widely assumed that these “phantom airships” were German Zeppelins, testing British defenses in preparation for the next war. The public and press responses to the phantom airship sightings provide a glimpse of the way that aerial warfare was understood before it was ever experienced in Britain. Conservative newspapers and patriotic leagues used the sightings to argue for a massive expansion of Britain’s aerial forces, which were perceived to be completely out-classed by Germany’s in both number and power. In many ways this airship panic was analogous to the much better known 1909 dreadnought panic. The result was the perfect Edwardian panic: the simultaneous culmination of older fears about Germany and the threat of espionage, invasion, and, above all, the loss of Britain’s naval superiority. But, in reality, there was little understanding about the way that Zeppelins would be used against Britain in the First World War—not to attack its arsenals and dockyards, but to bomb its cities.

As I've said a fair bit about this article already, I won't go on about it any further -- except to add that this is my first illustrated article (apart from maps and figures), and a very rare illustration it is too!