Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A century on from the events it portrayed, Journey's End is a reminder that war is hell – whoever you are

File 20180228 36703 tomj9d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Lionsgate Films
Andrew Maunder, University of Hertfordshire
March marks the 100th anniversary of Germany’s final offensive of World War I, which sent 74 divisions of German troops against the Allied lines over a 60-mile front, preceded by a five-hour artillery barrage of a million shells. More than half a million men died on both sides.

The days up to, and including, the start of the battle are portrayed in the recent film adaptation of R.C. Sherriff’s classic World War I play, Journey’s End – which premiered in 1928. Adapted by Simon Reade and directed by Saul Dibb, the movie has all the familiar features you’d expect of a piece about the “Great War”: a frontline dugout, mud everywhere and a foolhardy raid on a German trench during which seven men die.

As with many films of this oeuvre, there are brave young officers and there are good-humoured working-class soldiers – but it is left to a heavy-drinking army captain, Dennis Stanhope (played by Sam Claflin), a former captain of “rugger” at his private school, to reflect on the horror before leading his men out to die.

Despite its age, Journey’s End retains its appeal as evidence of what the war was “about”. It’s a fixture of GCSE syllabuses and is taught alongside the so-called trench poets – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon – as an anti-war statement, and sometimes as a subversive and unusually “modern” reminder of the waste of life that war inevitably brings.

The idea that Journey’s End is anti-war – a “classic play about the futility and slaughter” of 1914-1918 as The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw put it – appears a good deal in reviews of the latest film. It’s perhaps what we now expect of plays and films about the Great War. If such entertainments make us cry, so much the better.

But it’s doubtful whether Sherriff aimed to create a fully fledged pacifist drama. He originally planned to write a novel focusing on the relationship between Stanhope and a new young recruit, James Raleigh (played by Asa Butterfield) – a school friend who loves him. It’s an intense relationship which made it onto the stage and is symptomatic of how, throughout the play, it’s the interactions between the soldiers that primarily interest Sherriff.

The resulting play ran for 594 performances in the West End, 485 on Broadway and was a worldwide hit, including in Berlin. Sherriff had apparently found the “perfect pitch” at which to represent the “tragedy” of 1914–18 for 1920s audiences who were more used to drawing-room comedies than plays set in a grimy dugout.

Yet Sherriff’s fondness for small realistic details – his characters spend a lot of time eating meals – did not please everybody. There was criticism of his reluctance to tackle wider issues, as well as of his depiction of an army officer as an alcoholic.

Where the play scored, and has done so ever since, was in its ability to bring together, in an acceptable way, key elements of an emerging mythology: the idea of the “lost generation” of young men. It’s a piece which celebrates the heroism of young, well spoken, officers, often giving them a kind of film-star glamour.

But even here the dominant tone of Journey’s End the play is grief rather than anger at their loss. They’re young men for whom ideals of gentlemanly conduct, teamwork and good sportsmanship learned on the public school playing fields are the key. “Sticking it” as the dashing Stanhope comments, “it’s the only thing a decent man can do”.

A gentleman’s game?

This relentless focus on the young officers killed prematurely has long been recognised as the play’s strength but also as its Achilles heel. It’s an emphasis of which the makers of the new film seem to have been acutely aware and which they try to resolve by making the play’s two working-class characters, Mason (Toby Jones) and Trotter (Stephen Graham) more sensitive than Sherriff envisaged them.

More than half a million men were killed in the 1918 German spring offensive. Lionsgate Films

Even in the socially stratified 1920s, the social composition of the play prompted raised eyebrows. In 1929 the left-leaning New Statesman hated Journey’s End calling it “an orgy of the public school spirit” and asked: “Was the war really only a slaughterhouse for athletes and a school for gentlemen?”

The Irish dramatist, Sean O’Casey complained that Sherriff had turned the conflict’s “bloodied vulgarity … into a pretty, pleasing picture” of polite young officers talking by candlelight. Journey’s End, as O’Casey saw it, was sickly, sentimental and “false”. The “yells of agony” had been “modulated down to a sweet pianissimo of middle-class pain”.

Possibly O’Casey was jealous – his own play about working-class combatants, The Silver Tassie, was nothing like as successful when it opened in London in October 1929. But he was right that Sherriff was not really concerned with the wider picture or the rights and wrongs of the war. Journey’s End extols the bravery of the young officers who died damaged but uncomplainingly, even gloriously, representatives of an older England of cricket and chivalry. There’s no room for anyone below the rank of lieutenant.

The new film, despite its power – and, as film critic Mark Kermode noted, its determination to be “cinematic” by opening things out – can’t but help retain this emphasis.

It’s fitting that a film about the 1918 spring offensive has been released now – but it’s perhaps a comment on our times that it’s this one. Perhaps our collective view of what some persist in calling the “Great War” might better have been served by a film adaptation of The Silver Tassie or Peter Whelan’s The Accrington Pals (1981) or Frank McGuinness’s Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (1985). These were all plays created from a desire to democratise representations of the war experience.

The ConversationWatching Journey’s End is still an intense experience, but it isn’t an anti-war play – it’s a piece by a fairly snobbish writer whose views were old-fashioned in 1929. The fact that for many people it still encapsulates what the war was like is in stranger still.

Andrew Maunder, Reader in Victorian Studies, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Ethical considerations in Research

When I commenced my Doctorate in health research in 2012, my biggest concern was how I would access the prison institution and the women I wished to interview. My research question was: What is the experience of pregnant women in an English prison? – therefore it was imperative that I gained ethical approval, was able to undertake fieldwork in a woman’s prison and that pregnant women were able to consent and participate in my research.

Women in prison are an especially disadvantaged group who may have suffered abuse in childhood, domestic violence, be homeless and/or addicted to drugs. Therefore, researching the experiences of a potentially vulnerable group meant that robust ethical procedures, quite rightly, needed to be in place.
Owen Burn on Flickr via CC by 2.0

With much negotiation, networking and persistence, I was able to gain access and following ethical approval, I spent ten months in the field (observing prisons) and was able to interview 28 women and 10 staff members for my qualitative research. What I was unprepared for, was the effect that leaving the field and saying goodbye to research participants and staff would have on me personally and more importantly the possible effect on the women.
As a nurse and a midwife, I have always been encouraged to reflect on my practice and this was also important when undertaking research. During the period of my fieldwork, alongside the support of my research supervisors, I sought out psychotherapeutic supervision with a forensic psychotherapist to ensure I was not inadvertently ‘doing harm’. It was important that I was aware that I could inadvertently ‘trigger’ feelings of abandonment by not setting clear boundaries of when I would be leaving.

I am a person who finds goodbyes difficult and therefore it was important that I addressed this before I left the field. Curious about what ethical procedures were in place, I began to search the literature and guidelines; yet found there was very little written about ‘leaving the field’ and most papers and books talk about negotiating with ‘gatekeepers’ to gain access to the research setting alongside the ethical behaviours of the researcher whilst undertaking the study (e.g. ensuring consent). My fieldwork diaries were a useful way of articulating my feelings about ethical issues and the research environment:
I step in to prison as a midwife researcher, but step out again as a mum, midwife and lecturer. I get my phone back- a symbolic of transition from inside prison to outside prison. Once again, I am in touch with reality - my reality - I feel like I'm coming around after a dream, and it's a bit disorientating. I’m relieved to be out, yet guilty at leaving women behind.  (Field notes, March 2016).
Nonetheless, the feelings I articulated could be shared with my research supervisors, clinical supervisors and partner. I questioned where women could go with their complex feelings; which they often suppressed, as my research analysis discovered. Women candidly shared their experiences with me and the interviews were often viewed as ‘therapeutic’ therefore I had to be careful to ensure I ‘did no harm’.
Erik Wilde on Flickr via CC 2.0
Several women had follow-up interviews with me and I therefore took care to ensure I informed them that my research was coming to a close. Clear boundaries were essential as I planned my departure from the field and I admit, I found leaving challenging. I could have continued my fieldwork and interviews, yet through reflection and discussion, I came to understand that leaving ethically was as important as gaining access in prison research.

Laura Abbott is a Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at The University of Hertfordshire and leads on a number of post graduate and undergraduate modules including complex social issues and perinatal mental health. Laura has undertaken a professional doctorate researching the experiences of women who are pregnant in prison: The Incarcerated Pregnancy: An Ethnographic Study of Perinatal Women in English Prisons. She was awarded the Jean Davies award in 2014 and Midwives award in 2017 from The Iolanthe Midwifery trust for her research and work with women. Laura volunteers for the charity Birth Companions supporting perinatal women in prison and co-authored The Birth Charter for pregnant women in England and Wales published in May 2016. Laura has presented her research nationally and internationally to a multi-disciplinary audience and has written many peer reviewed publications. Laura lives in Bedfordshire with her husband and three sons.

Friday, 2 March 2018

My experience on a University of Hertfordshire Humanities Alumni panel as a recent graduate

When I was younger all I wanted was to be the lead in the school play. I ignored the fact that when I actually got near the stage; I got unbearably nervous because I was fully focused on my desire to be a STAR. As I got older this feeling just transformed into outright fear. However, this is something I have worked on conquering. Despite, some bumps and hurdles my ability to give presentations in class completely transformed through University, and I am pleased to say that my new role as Media and PR Coordinator at the University of Hertfordshire has increased that confidence tenfold.

Therefore, when I was asked to participate in a conference for Humanities students focusing on employability I accepted without hesitation. It was only 10 minutes later that I realised, ‘Oh no, what have I done?’.

The conference begin with a speech from Dean Jeremy Ridgman – he discussed how Humanities graduates at the University of Hertfordshire leave to do a wide variety of things, as well as that the employability rate for Humanities graduates is high - 95.8%.

Considering the Humanities is often seen as a degree path with a less clear route to employability- the fact that 95.8 % graduates are in employment is extraordinary and a testament to the University and its graduates.

After Dean Jeremy Ridgman’s speech, Punteha van Terheyden then gave the keynote speech. I hope one day I can be as inspiring as she was. She discussed honestly the hard work that went into her getting the position she dreamed of – Commissioning Editor at Take a Break, the UK’s most popular true life stories magazine.

I was especially inspired by how she refused to give up, even when told no. She told the audience how she went to a job interview and was told she didn’t get the job but then told the Editor she wasn’t giving up and would work weekends instead (while still doing a full time position during the week). She also talked about something that is often overlooked, the importance of a good, ‘can-do’ attitude – you can always train someone up in a job but if you don’t have the right attitude going in; you’ll soon find that person won’t progress.

Next came the Alumni panel session. Despite, having a brief bit where I felt a bit dizzy (though I think wearing a cardigan on top of a jumper was partly to blame for that); I along with the rest of the Alumni group made it to the stage. I am pleased to say that as far as I’m aware I didn’t say anything ridiculous, despite being in awe of all the great answers coming from my fellow panel members.

My fellow panel members included:

My colleague Jerome Price, who is Community Manager here at the University of Hertfordshire and helps to develop and deliver the University’s social media strategy, manage the central social media channels and increase engagement with stakeholders online.

David Houssein, Communities Strategic Development Manager for the Institution of Engineering and Technology, who has overall responsibility for the development of the IET’s portfolio of over 20 professional and technical networks, over 100 local network and six governance boards.

Magid El-Amin, Support Insight Analyst for The Children's Society, whose role involves helping senior leaders make key decisions based on actionable insight. Having accumulated expereince in front line fundraising he also has experience working with donors from all levels, including community groups, high net-worth individuals and corporates. 

Punteta van Terheyden also joined us on the panel. 

During the panel we took questions from staff and students from how we got started in our careers to how to deal with a particular issue in the workplace. Something, that really shined through from all the panel members answers is how unique Humanities graduates are in regards to the fields they then go into. As well as the importance of trying new things and gaining as much experience as possible – it not only looks great for your CV but it will be paramount in helping you decide what field you actually want to go into!

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the panel went well as I overheard a few different students say that they really enjoyed the Alumni panel, and had students approach me afterwards to ask questions about to go about approaching companies for work experience.

That proactive approach to life after University is probably the number one thing I can recommend, you will graduate with valuable skills from your degree, and hopefully some volunteering and work experience too – don’t be afraid to sell those skills to people. Don’t underestimate yourself, be proactive and keep positive (even when it’s hard) and you’ll be able to find your path to your dream job.

If you’re interested in Volunteering at the University of Hertfordshire, look at the Hertfordshire Students’ Union for information about volunteering: https://hertfordshire.su/your-opportunities/volunteering/

One thing I’d personally really recommend is to join a society, Hertfordshire Students’ Union has over 100 to join and running a society looks amazing on your CV: https://hertfordshire.su/your-opportunities/societies/

If you’re looking to help raise money for some great projects, RAG (Raise and Give) is a great initiative to join: https://hertfordshire.su/your-opportunities/rag/

For anyone interested in media and journalism I would definitely suggest you join Trident Media: https://hertfordshire.su/your-opportunities/studentmedia/ 

I was a member of Trident Media for most of my time at University (and at one point TV Director) and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there – it is a great way to see what parts of media you love working in (be that print, TV or radio) and try out different elements of each type of media too. For example, you might go in thinking you want to write only features but discover a passion for writing news. 

Career Hub also offer lots of different work placement opportunities as well as graduate roles so make sure to include them in your search.

Lastly, take some time and update your LinkedIn profile – I’d also suggest adding a link to your profile on your CV - it shows employers you’ve really taken the time to cultivate what your experience and skills are.