Performances based on a century old programme will spearhead a year-long initiative which will see a new exhibition, online resources and the development of education packs for school pupils and people in prisons.
An Internment Information and Research Centre will also be created at Hawick in the Scottish Borders, close to Stobs Camp, the world’s best preserved First World War internment camp and an archaeological site of global significance. Britain and its Empire were dotted with camps, holding close to 140,000 civilian and military prisoners.
The wide-ranging project – running throughout 2018 – is led by academics from Birmingham’s Aston University and Edinburgh Napier University, who will use Arts and Humanities Research Council funding to offer the public new perspectives on the inner life of the camps that existed on their doorsteps.
It builds on earlier work by Aston’s Dr Stefan Manz on the German diaspora between 1871 and 1914 and the wartime internment of Germans as ‘enemy aliens’, and Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Anne Schwan’s research on the history and literature of imprisonment around the turn of the century.
The project also links closely with the Stobs Camp Project, a Hawick volunteer initiative led by Archaeology Scotland that is exploring the history of the camp and its effect on local people.
Humour was important in the life of the internment camps, and Edinburgh Napier will stage a Lustspielabend comedy evening as it would have been performed by Stobs internees in 1917. This will take place at venues in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Hawick in June.
Reconstructed from a programme found in Hawick Museum, it will combine light music with comedy plays and will be performed by an all-male cast, with female roles filled through cross-dressing.
The year-long drive to give the forgotten PoWs a contemporary voice will also involve a travelling exhibition on the internment camp system in the Commonwealth, including English translations of German letters and newspapers detailing camp life. It will be made available in digital form to communities around the world where internment occurred.
The Heritage Hub in Hawick – the central archives service in the Scottish Borders – will host the new Internment Information and Research Centre, which will be the only centre of its kind in mainland Britain.
Nearby Stobs became the HQ for the PoW camps in Scotland as the war progressed, with scores of wooden huts enclosed within a barbed wire compound. The prisoners worked on the land all around the local area and built a state-of-the-art sewage system for the camp, which housed around 4500 prisoners and another thousand guards and ancillary staff.
The new centre in Hawick, including an online catalogue, will be an international focal point for the study of internment in the British Empire during WWI, and will sit close enough to the camp to accommodate visits in conjunction with research.
Project leader Dr Manz said: “Despite all the humour involved, our project uncovers a dark chapter of Anglo-German relations. Germany also interned British citizens in return.
“The involvement of German project partners makes sure that we remember this chapter together as a joint experience, moving away from purely national remembrance. In an age where, yet again, ethnic and religious minority groups are seen as a threat to internal security, our activities highlight that state action can have devastating effects on communities.”
Dr Schwan, who leads on the music and theatre productions, said: “This project offers a unique opportunity to showcase the creativity and resilience displayed by people in internment camps, and brings to light some of the more hidden aspects of WWI experience.
“It explores the human cost of war and imprisonment but also the positive interactions between internees and local residents. As we are currently faced with the challenges of Brexit and new debates about migration, such a re-examination of cross-cultural encounters is timely.”
Notes to the editor
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About Aston University
Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice Chancellor & Chief Executive.
Aston has been a leading university for graduate employment success for over 25 years and our students do extremely well in securing top jobs and careers. Our strong relationships with industry partners mean we understand the needs of employers, which is why we are also ranked in the top 20 for graduate employability.
About Edinburgh Napier University
Edinburgh Napier University, which takes its name from the brilliant 16th century mathematician John Napier, has more than 19,000 students from more than 130 countries. Its six Edinburgh-based Schools are spread across three campuses, and it also has transnational education partnerships in Hong Kong, China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore and Switzerland.
Teaching programmes have strong links with industry, and more than half of the university’s research was recognised as world-leading or internationally excellent in the most recent Research Excellence Framework review. Through the Bright Red Triangle, the university offers a one-stop shop for extra-curricular innovation and enterprise activities.
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