‘My husband is interested in war generally’: Gender, family history and the emotional legacies of total war

Lucy Noakes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the autumn of 2014, as Britain embarked on four years of activities to commemorate and mark the centenary of the First World War, the Mass Observation project asked its panellists to reflect on their feelings about the war. Over 180 people responded, writing about their family involvement in the war, about their thoughts and feelings on Remembrance Sunday 2014, and about popular representations of the war in the early 21st century. This article examines some of these responses, considering the extent to which gender and age shaped not only the panellists’ stated relationship to the centenary of the war, but the language with which they expressed this relationship. It draws on ideas from the ‘emotional turn’ in historical studies to argue that older women, who often had a personal memory of the lived legacies of the war, drew on a particularly expressive repertoire to convey both an empathy with the men and women whose lives were shaped by the First World War, and to argue for a particular moral position with regard to warfare. These empathetic responses, which the article argues have much in common with family histories of the war (family history often being the key means of engagement with the centenary) should be taken seriously by historians who examine the cultural memory of the war and who are often keen to dismiss the widespread sense of the war as a tragic blunder. Instead, historians should pay more attention to the ongoing emotional legacy of the war in families and households, examining sources such as the Mass Observation Directive to gain a sense of the meanings of the war today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)610-626
JournalWomen's History Review
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Women's History Review on 09/03/2017, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/09612025.2017.1292634


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