‘No Man’s Land Young People Uncover Women’s Viewpoints on the First World War’ by Sarah Bartey

It is a very exciting time for the New Focus team right now; we have just begun an exciting new project entitled, No Man’s Land-Young People Uncover Women’s Viewpoints on the First World War.  For many members including myself, this will be our first project as part of New Focus and we are all very much looking forward to getting involved.

On the January 22nd at Impressions Gallery, we had our very first workshop. It was a great evening and it provided us with a solid grounding of knowledge and skills that will help us with our project.  The first part of the session was led by Co-Director of the Gateways to the First World War project at the University of Leeds, the wonderful Professor Alison Fell. The Professor provided us with an interactive introduction to ‘Women and the First World War’.  Many of us had to question ourselves to dig out what we already knew about the ‘Who? What? When? Where? and Why?’ of the First World War.

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However, from the Professor we learnt a great deal about women’s roles before the War, and how these changed during the War. We learnt that lots of women took on new roles and job opportunities that were previously unavailable to them.  This included the introduction of a small number of pioneering women working in photography, which at the time was a well-respected male dominated profession. This in turn led us to look at portrayals of masculinity and femininity in propaganda posters.   For example, we discussed how women were shown as caring mothers, and campaigns appealed to women to use their skills to volunteer as Red Cross Nurses. On the other-hand men were shown to be brave and chivalrous, with many campaigns implying that if they did not sign up to fight, then they were not ‘real men’.

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The second half of the session was led by the brilliant Dr.Pippa Oldfield, Curator of the upcoming No Man’s Land exhibition at Impressions Gallery.  Pippa taught us key skills in reading photographs.  We learnt to stop and look in detail at photographs and ask ourselves questions, to develop a deeper level of understanding.  For example: What are people wearing? Why was the photo taken? Was the image taken quickly or planned? We practised our newly learned techniques in small groups with some photos from the First World War that we knew nothing about.  I found this part of the evening particularly enjoyable and rewarding, as it is something I have never done before, and I felt I learnt a lot.  Now I just can’t wait to put my newly acquired knowledge and skills to use!

By Sarah Bartey

This project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Young Roots’ scheme

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