Re-enacting the Second World War: History, Memory and the UK Homefront

  • Benjamin Knowles

Student thesis: Phd


Historians currently engage with film either as a form of evidence or as a medium for representation. This doctoral thesis aims to move beyond this binary by examining how historians can use film-making as a research method for generating new insights into certain areas of historical research, such as public history and cultural memory. Focusing on the Second World War re-enactment group UK Homefront as a case study, my investigation uses film-making to analyse how members of the group 'make' history, use re-enacting as a pedagogical tool, and contribute to the cultural memory of the war through their representations of aspects of the homefront experience. This thesis also considers how historians who use film-making as a research tool can disseminate their insights through the mediums of film and prose.Over three chapters and a fifty-minute research film, I explore how historians can use film-making as a research method and I reflect on the results that this approach can produce. The thesis begins by building on scholarship in visual anthropology and oral history to discuss how historians can employ film-making as a research tool. Then it moves onto demonstrate how historians can use film-making to research re-enacting as a form of public history, charting how and why members of UK Homefront re-enact. Finally, I engage with the group's re-enacting as a form of cultural memory and use film-making to uncover the fluid, dynamic, and contested nature of cultural memory as it is manifested at re-enactment events. Through an examination of both film-making as a method and the insights that it can generate, my thesis demonstrates how film-making offers historians a method for research which can provide new insights into the sensory and the embodied aspects of public history and cultural memory.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAna Carden-Coyne (Supervisor) & Johannes Sjoberg (Supervisor)

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