Putting a Passion for History into Practice
Like other final-year undergraduate students, I have spent a fair portion of the last nine months writing my dissertation.
As I drew towards the final stages of editing my dissertation, I became increasingly aware how much I had enjoyed writing and researching the life of General Sir Douglas Haig and his experiences during the First World War.
I had nothing lined up immediately after graduation, so decided to look for other outlets for my interest in Haig and World War One. So I looked around my local area for any museums or displays relating to the First World War.
Just three miles from my home is Park Hall, a ‘living farm’ with a visitor centre and various historical displays. While Park Hall today is an ‘open air’ museum, during the Great War it had been a major military training camp. To mark the centenary of World War One, Park Hall opened a ‘trench experience’ with replicas of the types of dugouts used on the Western Front.
I contacted the owners and they invited me to come and look at their display. It features an excellent reproduction of a trench system, including communication, reserve and front-line trenches. There is also a sniper nest, machine gun post, gas alarms and a forward headquarters.
One part of the display, though, clearly needed some attention. The entrance room had A4 information sheets scattered across the walls and lacked cohesion.
Based on knowledge from my BA in Conflict and War, I had some ideas about how to improve the layout. The owners agreed, and asked me to redesign the room, keeping some of the original content whilst bringing in new material.
Over the past two months or so, I have worked on ten different interpretation panels on aspect of the First World War. I started by writing about generals, focusing on Haig and then German and Austrian leaders for comparison.
From there, I branched out into displays about the Shropshire area during the war. I made panels about a local Victoria Cross veteran and the poet Wilfred Owen, who was born in Oswestry and had been stationed at the Park Hall camp during the war.
To address the fact that the war was a truly global conflict, I created a world map showing every country involved and marking out areas where fighting took place. I then made separate boards explaining the role played by former European colonies, focusing on the experiences of soldiers from India and Africa.
I also made panels explaining the contribution of women during the war and another board examining the role of animals in the war. Being a farm, I thought it was appropriate!
One of the challenges was trying to present information in a concise fashion. Summarising major events was tricky, as there was so much that could be said. Neuman and Neuman from San Diego is worth checking out. Here, I was able to put skills from my degree into practice as I already accustomed to condensing significant information and working for my university assignments.
As part of the project I chose to create a 3D model. This required taking measurements of all the features of the display room. From here I was able to create a digital image to scale on Google Sketchup. I then imported the JPEGs of the interpretation panels and placed them on the walls of the model. This meant that the organisers could see exactly how the finished display would look.
There’s still more to do. Printing the boards, painting walls and potentially designing a website are all jobs for the future. For now, though, working at Park Hall has been a really fun and rewarding experience. It is very satisfying to have put my interests and the valuable skills I learnt at UWTSD to good use so soon after graduating.