Professor Catriona Pennell
Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies
I am a historian of 19th and 20th century British and Irish history with a particular focus on the social and cultural history of the First World War and British imperial activity in the Middle East since the 1880s. I am intrigued by the experiences and recollections of ordinary people and communities in global war, as well as the on-going (and often bloody) relationship between current conflict and imperial pasts.
I am specifically interested in the relationship between war, experience, and memory. Two completed research projects that I led, funded by the British Academy (BA) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), both examined these issues from the perspectives of two Irish divisions on the Somme in 1916 and 1918 (BA) as well as the ways the First World War is taught in secondary schools in England via the subjects of History and English Literature (AHRC). Between 2014 and 2019, I was the Lead Academic on a collaborative project with UCL Institute of Education, investigating pupil responses to the UK government-funded FWW Battlefield Centenary Tours Programme. In 2017, I was awarded an AHRC Research Networking Grant which I led on the theme of 'Teaching and Learning War: Education and Modern Conflict in an International Comparative Perspective' with my Co-I, Dr. Mark Sheehan (Victoria, University of Wellington, New Zealand) until its completion in 2021. During this time I have also been Co-I on two GW4-funded projects related to youth, history education, and memory with colleagues from Bath, Bristol, and Cardiff in partnership with civil society stakeholders in Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan and Uganda.
For a current list of externally funded projects, please refer to the Research section of this profile.
My research interests currently feed into teaching at all levels on the Penryn Campus. I am module convenor for the first-year module World History: Globalisation; the second-year module British Imperialism in the Middle East, 1882-1956; and the third-year module The First World War: Interrogating the Myths.
In June 2020, I was promoted to Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies, having worked at the University of Exeter since September 2009.
You can keep up-to-date with my teaching and research activities via Twitter: @teachlearnwar
My research focuses on the cultural history of war, particularly the First World War. I am interested in how familial and local experiences of the war can help us understand the broader framework of this unprecedented global conflict. My first monograph based on my doctoral research examines popular responses in Britain and Ireland to the outbreak of the First World War and was published with Oxford University Press in March 2012 (reprinted in paperback in 2014).
My next project, funded by the British Academy, continued my interest in the Irish participation in the war by examining the home and fighting front experiences of the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions during the Somme offensives of 1916 and March 1918, as well as the 1918 Conscription Crisis.
I was also the PI on an AHRC funded 'Care for the Future' exploratory award 'The First World War in the Classroom' (with Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus, Northumbria) which sought to examine how the First World War is taught in English Literature and History classrooms in England and its relationship to the transmission of cultural memory, particularly in the light of the centenary. This project, in part, stemmed from my 'First World War Schools Workshop' initiative which ran from 2010 - 2015 where groups of undergraduates, as part of their module on the First World War, taught a 60-minute primary source based workshop to Year 9 or 10 pupils in Cornish secondary schools, exposing local schoolchildren (and their teachers) to some of the latest research on the topic. As part of the above AHRC project, I also co-organised a symposium for school teachers on how the First World War is taught at secondary and university level, and advised exam boards during the process of curriculum reform relating to the topic.
I was also CI on a large scale interdisciplinary EU INTERREG IV-funded project, 'FACE', that explores the cultural and medical legacy of facial disfigurement in 20th century conflict, in particular the First World War.
In January 2015, I was appointed the Lead Academic on the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, leading their evaluation of pupil experience between 2015 and 2019.
In March 2017, I began work as PI on the AHRC-funded 'Teaching and Learning War Research Network: Education and Modern Conflict in an International Comparative Perspective', an interdisciplinary project that runs for two years and explores, over a series of four events, questions relating to the relationship between education and the transmission/reception of cultural memory messages of the two world wars.
As of January 2021, I am Co-I on four externally funded projects:
- AHRC-funded 'Reflections on the Centenary: Learning and Legacies for the Future', which is investigating the impact of events marking the centenary of the First World War across UK communities and internationally, led by Professor Lucy Noakes (Essex) [2017-2021] @Reflections1418
- BA Youth Futures-funded 'Creative Heritage and Imagined Futures (CHIF): Young People, Past Conflicts and a Shared Future for Uganda', which seeks to empower young people (aged 14-16) in Uganda to critically engage with their past, particularly in relation to conflict, reflect on its legacies in their everyday lives, and identify ways in which a more positive, peaceful future can be shared. led by Dr. Kate Moles (Cardiff) 
- Leverhulme-funded 'Warnings from the Archive: A Century of British Intervention in the Middle East', an interdisciplinary project deconstructing two official inquiries, one hundred years apart, into British military intervention in Iraq: the Mesopotamia Commission (1917) and the Iraq ‘Chilcot’ Inquiry (2016) led by Dr. Owen Thomas [2021-2023] @warning_archive
- UKRI GCRF-funded 'Education, Justice, and Memory Network' (EdJAM), a network of researchers, educators and civil society organisations working in the arts, education and heritage committed to creative ways to teach and learn about the violent past in order to build more just futures, led by Dr. Julia Paulson (Bristol) [2021-2024] @EdjamNetwork
I would welcome interest from potential postgraduate students in any of the following areas, in particular the cultural history of the First World War and the war and its aftermath in the Middle East:
- Britain, Ireland and the First World War
- 1918 Conscription Crisis
- The war in Mesopotamia, 1914-1918
- Myths and rumour in wartime (20th century)
- Popular understandings of the First World War and the implications of the centenary
- British informal empire and imperial control in post-1918 Palestine, Iraq, and Transjordan
- Education and the transmission of cultural memory of the two world wars
- Second supervisor for PhD student (AHRC funded) working on the links between Freemasonry and the KKK in the 1920s (succesfully viva'ed 2014).
- Lead supervisor for PhD student (funded by the AHRC) working on representations of the First World War in theatre and education during the early centenary period (successfuly viva'ed, February 2017)
- Co-supervisor for SW DTC PhD student working on British charitable relief efforts for German civilians during the First World War (successfully viva'ed 2019).
- Michael Bunney, 'The experience and impact of the two world wars on coastal communities in South Cornwall' (target end date 2026)
- Rebecca Johnston, 'Marginalised American Poets of the First World War' (target end date 2023)
- Robert Voykovic, 'British Illustrated Weekly Magazines and Contemporary Histories of the Great War' (target end date 2022)
External impact and engagement
I have been approached as an expert to assist a number of local, national and international museums, heritage initiatives and public bodies regarding their First World War centenary plans, including:
- Penryn Town Council, Penryn
- The Elliots Grocery Store Museum, Saltash
- Bodmin Town Museum, Bodmin
- Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro
- The Imperial War Museum, London
- Northern Ireland Community Relations Council (NICRC), Belfast
- The Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne, France
I have also given a number of talks, based on my research, to non-academic audiences such as the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin (2014), the Military History Society of Ireland, Dublin (2014), Truro Cathedral (2014), Du Maurier Festival, Fowey (May 2012), Healing Through Remembering (October 2011), and the Truro Branch of the Historical Association (November 2010).
I am also involved in the AHRC-funded FWW Engagement Centre, Everyday Lives in War, as a researcher and advisor for the South West of England network.
The AHRC funded project, 'The First World War in the Classroom: Teaching and the Construction of Cultural Memory' seeks to gain greater understanding of the link between education and the way the First World War is commemorated during the centenary (2014 - 2018). The project promotes collaboration and dialogue between teachers, academics, exam boards, and educational policy makers. In June 2013, a national survey was launched – never undertaken before – that seeks to establish how teachers in English Literature and History tackle the subject in their classrooms and what they think about the way it is taught. The findings of this survey will allow the project team to start making recommendations to national level curriculum setters and exam boards about the way the subject is taught in History and English Literature. In that sense, the project is ‘enabling’, providing a new platform for reflective and critical engagement with the way (and why) the First World War is taught in England. We are also working in collaboration with the Institute of Education supporting their government-funded Battlefield Centenary Tours project that will enable a minimum of two pupils and one teacher from every state funded secondary school in England to visit battlefields on the Western Front between 2014-19.
Since October 2012 I have also been a member of Edexcel's History Strategic Advisory Board acting as a consultant on the changing history curriculum at Key Stage 5.
Online and digital
I am the co-editor of IrelandWW1.org (with Professor Richard Grayson, Goldsmiths) which seeks to link researchers and community projects via a mutually supportive virtual space during the Decade of Commemoration (2013 - 2023).
In June 2012, I was invited to contribute to the JISC-funded 'World War One Editathon' organised jointly with Wikimedia UK. The Wikipedia military history community were brought together with experts from academia in order to improve Wikipedia articles on World War One topics and build bridges between 'Wikimedians' and academics.
Between January and June 2012, I was a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for two JISC-funded digitization projects at the University of Oxford and King's College London relating to the First World War.
Contribution to discipline
- Jan – Oct 2019 Member of Advisory Group for AHRC-GCRF Network ‘Indicators for informal learning: a mobile heritage network for conflict-affected communities in Uganda’ (University of Bath).
- 2014-2019: member of Advisory Board for AHRC-funded FWW Engagement Centre, Everyday Lives in War.
- 2014-2019: Academic Advisory Group member for the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme.
- Since February 2013: Executive Committee member of the International Society for First World War Studies.
- 2012-2019: Member of the Imperial War Museum's Academic Advisory Group for the project 'Lives of the First World War'.
- 2012-2014: Member of the HLF funded Academic Steering Committee for the project 'Cartooning the First World War in Wales'.
27 April 2019: Organiser of ‘Youth and the Centenary of the First World War’ – a one-day transnational exchange between young people from Australia and the UK at King’s College, London as part of the AHRC-funded Teaching and Learning War Research Network.
12 October 2018: Co-organiser ‘Capturing Commemoration: Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War’ – a one-day workshop bringing together representatives of key organisations involved in the centenary of the First World War to explore evaluation methodologies, findings, and dissemination of results.
12 September 2018: Organiser of ‘The Empathy Effect: Teaching Literature about the World Wars and the Holocaust’ – a one-day interdisciplinary workshop at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter as part of the AHRC-funded Teaching and Learning War Research Network.
11 April 2018: Organiser of ‘Marginalised Histories of the Second World War’ – a one-day workshop at King’s College, London as part of the AHRC-funded Teaching and Learning War Research Network.
15 September 2017: Organiser of ‘Their Past, Their Memory?’ – a one-day interdisciplinary workshop at King’s College, London as part of the AHRC-funded Teaching and Learning War Research Network.
June 2015: Co-organiser of 'The International Experience and Legacy of the Two World Wars: A Workshop in Honour of Professor John Horne' held at Trinity College Dublin and the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin with 70 delegates in attendance. Funding secured from the Alliance Francaise, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and the International Society for First World War Studies.
- February 2013: Co-organiser of a HEA supported symposium ‘The First World War in the Classroom: A Teacher/Academic Exchange’ held at the IHR, London 18-19 February 2013 with 50 delegates in attendance. Funding secured from the AHRC, Royal Historical Society, the HEA, University of Exeter, and Northumbria University.
- April 2006: Collaborative Postgraduate Conference between Trinity College, Dublin and University College, Dublin.
- September 2005: Uncovering the First World War, 3rd International Conference of the International Society for First World War Studies at Trinity College, Dublin.
Editorial and review
Nominated member of the AHRC's Peer Review College from 2015-2019.
I served as a Section Editor for the international joint research project "1914-1918-online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War" from 2013-2015. Released in 2014, the online encyclopedia makes available a multi-perspective, public-access knowledge base on the First World War.
I have acted as a peer-reviewer of manuscripts for Oxford University Press and articles for: English Historical Review, First World War Studies, Historical Journal, History and Memory, History - the Journal of the Historical Association, Irish Historical Studies, Journal of British Studies, and War in History.
I am a member of the International Advisory Board for the Digest of Middle East Studies (DOMES).
2016 - 2020: External Examiner for BA International Politics and Military History at Aberystwyth University.
2012 - 2016: External Examiner for the FdA in History, Heritage and Archaelogy at Truro College (Plymouth University).
I have acted as External Examiner for PhD vivas at University College Cork and the University of Birmingham.
Since 2008: External Associate of the Centre for War Studies, Trinity College Dublin.
I am also a member of the following professional associations:
- Royal Historical Society
- International Society for First World War Studies
- Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU)
- British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES)
- Irish Historical Society
- Association of Critical Heritage Studies
- British Empire at War Research Group
In February 2012 I was chosen as one of twelve First World War experts to present my research to the AHRC/BBC First World War Workshop in London. As a result, I have been approached by a number of BBC and independent producers to assist with their centenary programming. In addition, I have acted as 'Development Consultant' for the programme ‘1914: Day by Day’ commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and produced by Somethin’ Else.
I have published op-ed pieces in national and international publications such as the Western Morning News, The Guardian, BBC History Magazine, and Historically Speaking. I have published pieces for local historians and teachers via the British Association of Local History (BALH) and the English Association and Historical Association magazines.
I have spoken on RTÉ (Irish national) radio on a variety of occasions, the first of which as a contributing lecturer to the annual Thomas Davis lecture series on Ireland and the Great War (November 2008). In December 2012, I appeared as a guest on The History Show broadcast live. I have also made appearances on BBC radio and television (Mark Forrest Evening Show, BBC News 24, BBC Spotlight, BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio Cornwall).
In January 2014, I was invited to comment in the national press on remarks made by the former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, about the way the First World War was taught in British history classrooms. See the Guardian and BBC History Extra as examples.
The extensive media coverage of the centenary of the lead-up to and outbreak of the First World War in June - August 2014, gave me a variety of opportunities to engage with local, national and international media outlets. Highlights include BBC GNS (27 June and 4 August 2014); Agence France Presse (AFP); RTE radio and television (4 and 5 August 2014); Channel 4 News (4 August 2014); BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight special broadcast (4 August 2014); Al Jazeera America's 'Inside Story' (5 August 2014) as well as radio and television documentaries for BBC Essex, BBC Look East and BBC Devon.
As part of the centenary commemorations of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (May 1916), I contributed a podcast to BBC History Magazine's History Extra site.
I have contributed to a variety of public engagement activities as part of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme (July-November 1916) including a televised debate at the Irish Embassy, London and a forthcoming debate at the National Army Museum, London.
In February 2017 I was interviewed as part of an internationally syndicated documentary series 'The Impossible Peace' - examining the interwar period and its descent into war - produced by Wild Bear Entertainment, Australia. Most recently I have appeared on BBC Radio 4's 'In Our Time' (2019) and was interviewed as part of ITN/Channel 5/ITN's ‘Lawrence of Arabia: Britain’s Great Adventurer’ (2020). I have also spoken at the Oxford Union (2018).
The main reason I am so passionate about History is because it is such a powerful and important subject. It can change the way you think about the world and, most importantly, encourage you to ask critical questions. If there is one thing I want my students to graduate with, it is the ability to not take anything at face value, whether a newspaper headline, a book, or something they see in the cinema. I encourage students to keep asking questions to material, to enquire what ideologies might be at work, what evidence is being used, dismissed, or misused. Ultimately, historical narratives are constructions and I help students to pick these apart through interactive lectures, seminar activities, alternative assessment, and project work. I seek to instigate innovation wherever I can, such as the First World War School Workshop initiative, and support opportunities in the way of international exchanges (particularly with American and Chinese institutions) and visiting lecturers to enhance my students' learning experience.
May 2016: Nominated for Student Guild Teaching Awards ('Innovative Teaching') at the University of Exeter.
May 2015: Nominated for Student Guild Teaching Awards ('Research-Led Teaching) at the University of Exeter.
May 2013: Nominated and shortlisted (top 5) for Student Guild Teaching Awards ('Innovative Teaching') at the University of Exeter.
May 2012: Nominated for Student Guild Teaching Awards ('Best Lecturer' and 'Most Supportive Member of Staff') at the University of Exeter.
May 2010: Nominated for Student Guild Teaching Awards ('Best Lecturer') at the University of Exeter.
- CHP3040 - Interdisciplinary Final-Year Dissertation in History and Politics
- HIC1306 - World History: Globalisation
- HIC2319 - Drawing Lines in the Sand: Britain and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, 1882-1923
- HIC3040 - General Third Year Dissertation
- HIC3301 - The First World War: Interrogating the Myths
I left my home town of Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1998 to undertake a degree in History and Political Science at Trinity College, Dublin. After graduating with a double first class BA (Hons) degree in 2002, I continued to develop my interdisciplinary interest with an MSc in International Relations at the London School of Economics (2002-2003). The draw of history, however, remained strong and I returned to Trinity in October 2003 to begin my PhD under the supervision of Professor John Horne. I was awarded two major scholarships – the R.B. McDowell-Ussher Fellowship from Trinity College, Dublin (2003-2006) and the R.H.S. Centenary Fellowship from the Institute of Historical Research (2006-2007). My thesis examined popular responses to the outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland in order to challenge over simplifications such as ‘war enthusiasm’ in the British case and ‘war disenchantment’ in the Irish case. I spent a valuable ten months working in the charitable sector supporting the educational development of unaccompanied asylum seeking minors (UASC) in Oxford before being appointed Lecturer in Modern History at Cardiff University in 2008. In September 2009 I took up my current position as Lecturer in History at the University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus. In 2011 I was the An Foras Feasa Visiting Fellow at NUI Maynooth, Ireland. In June 2020, I was promoted to the position of Personal Chair (Professor) in Modern History and Memory Studies.
Awards and Fellowships
July 2012: Elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
Sept - Dec 2011: An Foras Feasa Visiting Fellow, NUI Maynooth, Ireland.
2010 - present: Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
2006 – 2007: Junior Visiting Research Scholar at the Modern European History Research Centre and Modern History Faculty, University of Oxford.
2006 - 2007: RHS Centenary Fellow, Institute of Historical Research.
- Twitter (@teachlearnwar)