The focus of this session was to question the ways in which cultural thinkers construct definitions of ‘Britishness’ in both the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We opened the session by watching a short propaganda film made by Humphrey Jennings, entitled ‘Words for Battle’. Members were interested by its title, as it suggested that the power of the written word was influential upon concepts of nationhood and identity, especially in relation to its World War Two context. The piece aligned footage of the 1940s conflict with readings of poetry and political speeches. Such a fusion proved thought-provoking, not only in its relation of battle to the written and spoken word, but also the way that speeches by figures such as Winston Churchill seemed to usurp the place previously occupied by poetry in national consciousness.
We discussed the choices of poetry in Jennings’ film, commenting that they were linked by a theme of conflict that transcended historical timeframes. For example, William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ lyric, reflecting on the failures of the French Revolution, and Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, lamenting the fall of the British Empire, seemed strikingly appropriate for