2018’s Williams Project programme began with a visit from Professor Edgar Jones (Professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at King’s College London) to talk to the students about “The Psychology of War: from shell shock to post-traumatic stress disorder.” Professor Jones currently works at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience and is based in the Maudsley Hospital, which initially opened as a military hospital and then eventually as a psychiatric hospital. His talk covered mental health from both the past and today; firstly, soldiers during the First World War, with many cases reported after battles such as the Somme and the 3rd Ypres. Pictures were shown to the WP cohort of the shell-shocked soldiers of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, showing how war often had a deeper psychological impact after seeing physical trauma. He explained how after analysing data, he and his team found how psychological injury was closely linked to physical injury and that it spiked much higher after large amounts of fatalities/injuries (often higher than the number of deaths). Professor Jones then went on to discuss how many of those impacted by the Blitz bombings suffered from PTSD; despite shell shock having similar symptoms, PTSD is distinguished by the sufferer experiencing a deeply traumatising experience. He then went on to compare these with more modern-day events, such as terrorist attacks like the 7/7 bombings, and more recently the Manchester arena attack. Professor Jones explained how the media often misuse the term ‘panic’ when describing rational behaviour in the face of real threats, and in this way distort the responses of the public. ‘Panic’ is defined as irrational behaviour, rather than just being scared and running for safety.
After a detailed Q&A with some excellent questions, the talk came to a close and several students joined the professor at dinner for continued discussion about both the talk as well as life at university. This was definitely a profound and thought-provoking talk for all, and it really showed what an impact mental health can have in times of war and distress. Thank you Professor Jones for a great start to WP 2018!
On the 10th October, we had a chance to listen to representatives of Solution Not Sides organisation, whose main aim is to promote unbiased attitude to Israel-Palestine conflict. Our school was visited by Israel and Palestinian peace activists, who gave us an introduction into this important problem, as well as talked about their personal experience. We could learn not only about the background and history of the conflict, but also hear about the everyday lives of people living on the both sides. Wasim and Shay, who were the Palestinian and Israeli speakers, shared with us how they are trying to overcome that problem in their home countries, as well as presented their opinion about possible solutions to the issue. After the presentation, all Williams Project listeners could participate in the discussion and take part in questions and answers session. At the end, speakers encouraged us to think about our ideas for the possible solution to the problem, which won’t favour any side of the conflict. The presentation was a great possibility to hear about the conflict directly from people that it concerns. After this edition of Williams Project, all participants surely changed their attitude to the conflict, trying to find an effective solution, rather than opt for any of the sides.
This Williams Project we had the opportunity to meet and talk to Rick Findler, a war photographer who has just come back from Syria. He has also photographed conflicts in Libya, Somalia and Iraq and his dramatic photos have headlined on major publishers such as the Guardian and the Independent. We talked about the inherent dangers and risks that come with going to war zones and what Rick’s experience of it was. He told us about both his recent and past experiences, focusing primarily on his friendships with a sniper, Macer, who went to Syria on his own accord from London, and a Syrian fighter, Sofian. He told us how Sofian had unfortunately been killed and we then progressed to discuss Sofian’s life as a fighter before discussing Rick’s other experiences. The lively discussion ended with a video Rick filmed at a previous conflict to reinforce how loud war is and exactly what life looks like on the front line. What we all took from this WP was the importance of raising awareness of war through the media, as many aspects of its danger are often ignored.
Ash and Leah
On Tuesday 28th February, Ian Keable, who visited the WP in its heady early days, came back to entertain and inform us about the history of magic. By talking engagingly and knowledgeably about how conjuring involved, and by making rings fit together and come apart again (and then letting the audience (fail to) have a go), and by an amazing act of ‘telepathy’ involving tearing up a newspaper, he achieved both his aims. His patter was suitably distracting, and we enjoyed very much his dry wit.
Emily Miller, the Head of Learning and Partnerships at the Migration Museum Project, discussed whether Britain needs a migration museum. France, Germany, Portugal and many more countries have migration museums, yet Britain is not among this list, and Emily Miller’s talk focussed on why this needs to change. Migration is a pertinent and sometimes controversial issue, and the intention of setting up a migration museum is to tell personal and evocative stories of immigrants throughout history. It is easy for people to stereotype immigrants, but the point Emily was making is that everyone comes from somewhere, and everyone has a story which needs to be respected and tolerated, rather than faced with prejudice. The Syrian refugee crisis, unfortunately, is one of many throughout history – something that people often remain ignorant to unless they actively go out of their way to broaden their knowledge about the history of migration. What is most frightening is that attitudes to those seen as ‘other’ have changed so little over time. For example, in 1290, Edward I issued an edict which expelled all Jews from England, and as recent as 2016, people have been filmed on high streets in London claiming that they want immigrants to be shot. Education of people to eradicate these prejudices is vital, since a harmonious society cannot result from tensions based on something so small as background and fear of the unknown. The Migration Museum Project so far does not have a location for a physical building, but the need for plans to come to fruition in the future is a great one. For now, they are putting on events and exhibitions in places around London, such as a migration walk, and they have big hopes for the future – so watch that space.
Mark Pottle is Isaiah Berlin Legacy Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. Having studied Modern History at Sheffield University and done his doctoral research at Oxford University, he continues his work on modern British history at Oxford and with emphasis on Isaiah Berlin. Berlin was a Latvian-born Jewish philosopher and political theorist, whose family came to England in 1921, some years after the Russian Revolution. Mr Pottle gave us an insightful talk on democracy – “the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried” as said by Winston Churchill. It was the principal idea behind this quotation that the discussion revolved around: the huge injustices we see in modern day democracies while also knowing its worse alternatives. Mr Pottle also introduced Isaiah Berlin to those of us who had previously been unfamiliar with him, and along with that – his key ideas on Liberalism, Pluralism and their place in, and importance to, democracy.
On the 26th of September, author and historian Simon Webb spoke to the Williams Project on the idea of British concentration camps after the second world war, where German prisoners of war were kept to provide forced labour for farming and rebuilding after the war. This is an idea that makes the listener inherently uncomfortable, and a topic that most historians simply gloss over. However, throughout the hour, Simon Webb went into great detail around the events and details that resulted in this, the loopholes that allowed surrendered prisoners of war to be kept for forced labour, and the eventual cancellation of the program during the Nuremburg Trials. Simon kept the audience captivated throughout the talk, which culminated in his excellent answering of the questions proposed to him from the attentive audience.