An interview between Naomi Zurevinski and Amy Bell, author of “Women’s Politics, Poetry, and the Feminist Historiography of the Great War,” on her historical work on the Great War and feminist writers in Britain at the time. Bell’s article appeared in the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes in 2007, and is available here to read for free for a limited time.
Amy Bell has had a long-standing interest in literature and the Great War. She is now a historian and professor of modern Britain at Huron University College in London, Ontario, but began her academic journey with a degree in English.
“When I switched over to History, I wanted to find a topic that could combine literature and social experience. The Great War sparked an intense emotional and literary outpouring, both during and afterwards, which made it the perfect subject,” Bell said.
Her article “Women’s Politics, Poetry, and the Feminist Historiography of the Great War,” published in the CJH/ACH in 2007, looks at how female writers argued for expanded equality and citizenship in a post-First World War (1914-1918) world. They wrote poetry on topics such as pacifism, the question of nationalism, female heroism, and the loss of their loved ones who had gone off to war. For Bell, this was one of the themes that resonated with her the most.
“There were poems written by women on both sides – jingoistic poetry written to encourage men to enlist, and pacifist poems decrying violence of the war,” she said. “What spoke most to me were the poems about women’s grief, the loss of so many sons, lovers, and brothers [who went] to the war.”
Motherhood was one of the main ways that women could claim to have a political voice in Britain, during and after the war. Their concerns were seen as legitimate because they had sacrificed their sons, and mothers used their position to claim a place for themselves in nationalist causes.
“I think the role of historians is to remind the world of the mistakes of the past, such as those of the Great War’s destructive combination of nationalist rhetoric with new military technologies,” she said. “I also think history is a profoundly human discipline, which requires thoughtfulness, rationality, and compassion, all qualities that need to be more celebrated in the current political climate.”
With that in mind, history can tie the past and present together, combining lessons of earlier times while looking to the future with mindfulness and hope.
Bell’s work, “Women’s Politics, Poetry, and the Feminist Historiography of the Great War” is free to read for a limited time. Click here to read the article on CJH Online – http://bit.ly/CJH423_Bell