The Imperial War Graves Commission, 1917-1939 - HI832

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
7 30 (15)







This module will provide students with a detailed study of the evolution and work of the IWGC during the first period of its existence.

The module curriculum will consider the following issues:
• The way in which the mass casualties of the war caused people, as individuals, as families, and as groups across the Empire, as well as the imperial authorities, to consider the issue of suitable commemoration of those who had given their lives in the service of the Empire.
• The competing demands and visions of the various 'stakeholders' throughout the period 1914-1939 including the post-war resistance to the IWGC and the continuation of alternative solutions provided by independent pressure groups.
• The establishment and evolution of the authorities responsible for burial and graves registration in France and Belgium and the gradual expansion of powers and influence.
• The creation of the IWGC, its immediate tasks, the debates over its authority, reach and role, and its eventual triumph as the crucial agency.
• The issue of suitable commemoration of the missing.
• The role and visions of the architects both at the consulting level and on the ground.
• The process of constructing, making permanent and maintaining the cemeteries and memorials across the globe.
• The experiences of visitors to the sites and the role of the IWGC as a mediator of that experience and the Commission's interactions with other bodies.
• The IWGC as a simultaneous medium for the harnessing of a central imperial message and distinctive statements about the component parts of the Empire.
• As a conclusion to consider the importance of the IWGC in influence conceptions of the conflict into the present.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

9 two hour seminars; two field trips to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission HQ and archives; one four-day field trip to the Ieper/Ypres region of Belgium.

Method of assessment

One essay which has to embed a large corpus of primary material drawn from the Maidenhead archives (and others if relevant).
One individual seminar presentation.
One joint presentation reflecting on the experiences gained by the archival and field trips.

Indicative reading

T.G. Ashplant, Graham Dawson and Michael Roper: The politics of war memory and commemoration (London: Routledge, 2000), Introduction, pp. 3-85.
Michèle Barrett, 'Subalterns at War: First World War Colonial Forces and the Politics of the Imperial War Graves Commission', Interventions, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2007, pp. 451-474.
Jacqueline Hucker, '"Battle and burial": Recapturing the cultural meaning of Canada's national memorial on Vimy Ridge', Public Historian, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2009, pp. 89-109.
Thomas Lacqueur, 'Memory and Naming in the Great War' in John R. Gillis (ed.), Commemorations: the Politics of National Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 150-167.
Philip Longworth, The Unending Vigil. A History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 1917-1967 (London: Constable, 1967).
Sue Malvern, Modern Art, Britain and the Great War. Witnessing, testimony and remembrance (New Haven and London: Yale University Press/Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2004).
Sue Malvern, 'War Tourisms: "Englishness", Art, and the First World War', Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2001, pp. 45-66.
Jay Winter and Emmanuel Sivan (eds.), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Chapter 1, 'Setting the Framework', pp. 6-39.
Jay Winter, Remembering War. The Great War between memory and history in the twentieth century (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), Chapter 1, pp. 17-51.
Bart Ziino, A Distant Grief. Australians, War Graves and the Great War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes:

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1) Demonstrate a complex conceptual understanding surrounding the complex issues of death, burial and commemoration in the British Empire during and in the wake of the First World War.
2) A comprehensive understanding of historiographical techniques and other methodologies.
3) A systematic understanding of knowledge underpinned by knowledge of research at the forefront of the discipline of History in the form of debates about war, death and memorialisation.
4) The ability to read a landscape as a source demonstrating originality in the application of knowledge.
5) To demonstrate comprehensively originality in the application of knowledge to different kinds of outputs based upon a comprehensive understanding of techniques and understanding of core material.
6) Through study of materials demonstrate conceptual understanding of methodologies and methods of critique leading to new ideas and hypotheses.

The intended generic learning outcomes:

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1) The ability to show mental flexibility by making judgements systematically and creatively.
2) The ability to sustain concentration and aim and think originally demonstrating self-direction and planning skills.
3) The ability to construct coherent written and oral arguments.
4) The ability to research different source types.
5) The ability to produce a variety of robust outputs.

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